Watch out for Dhoni who may bat like he used to before becoming captain: Irfan

NEW DELHI: Irfan Pathan is in Mumbai these days, but not doing what you would usually associate with the Indian all-rounder. Instead, he is locked inside a hotel room, preparing for a commentary stint like he has never done before –quarantining himself before entering a bio-secure bubble.
Part of the Star Sports commentary team for the upcoming Indian Premier League (IPL), Pathan and other members of the IPL broadcasting team are part of a special bio-bubble of their own — a prerequisite for sports ever since action resumed in the Covid era after lockdown. While it gave Pathan time to catch up on a few online web series and books, he also stepped into the shoes of IPL players, determining what kind of mental challenges they must be facing in a similar environment in the Emirates.
The 2020 IPL was moved to the UAE amid the raging pandemic in India and will be played from September 19 to November 10 in Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi. But unlike the glitzy affair the T20 league is accustomed to, its usual festivities and the hustle and bustle have been pared-down considerably to keep the virus at bay.

With a room-ground-room routine that the eight teams have to follow for two months, Pathan believes it throws up different challenges that the players have never dealt with before, but at the same time returning to cricket is the biggest incentive everyone associated with the IPL can derive.
So while it’s going to be different and difficult, Pathan believes fearing the virus is not an option for players who have the best of immune systems and fitness to ward it off.
Talking about how things may pan out on the field, Pathan does share his two cents on how he feels the action is going to unfold starting this Saturday.
In an interview with, the T20 World Cup winner talks about how defending champions Mumbai Indians may miss their home turf, while the bowlers need to come prepared to face a fearless Mahendra Singh Dhoni of old, even as the Chennai Super Kings try to fill the void created by the absence of Suresh Raina and Harbhajan Singh, and more.
We saw some pictures of you in quarantine…
Yes. Just waiting for it to end and we start our work.
It’s a different start to the job these days for cricketers and members of the broadcast team, like you as a commentator….
Never expected something like this before and I wish and pray for the whole world, not only for myself, that we never witness something like this again because it’s a very unique world at the moment, very extraordinary times, and obviously extraordinary time requires extraordinary measures. Star (network) has been doing everything in terms of taking all the precautions, doing all the tests, etc. It’s been a different experience so far. I just can’t wait to start the work and can’t wait to go back to the studio and start doing the live matches and commentary.
But just talking about this experience of staying in the hotel room, it is very different than staying at home because at home you have the luxury of open spaces…there is the luxury of moving around the house. Here it’s not like that but obviously we all have to follow the protocols and just wait. (I am) trying to keep myself busy with reading, watching (online web) series, doing video calls and all.
Hearing that makes one wonder what the mental state of the players who would be in a similar biosecure environment will be, where they can’t move around apart from during training. So there’s also a mental battle that they have to fight…
It will be the biggest challenge for the IPL cricketers; but they will be very, very happy, even though it’s a mental challenge where they will not be having the comfort of their family. Most of the team members are not with their family, so you are going to be out of your comfort zone, because when you are there playing IPL every year (in normal circumstances), you have lots of friends coming in, you go out easily, you are free basically after the matches, practice or team meetings are over. But this time it’s going to be only playing cricket, coming back to your bio-bubble and going back to the ground again. As far as I’ve spoken to some of the cricketers, they feel much more relaxed being there on the ground rather than being in the hotel.
It’s very different. If you perform well in a match, then everything is rosy but when you’re not performing, you have to come back to your confined place, which is your bubble, and you have to battle through that for those two months in the IPL. It’s a big challenge for them, mentally more than physically…One could spend time with family once back at the hotel after a bad performance in a game, and feel comforted; but it’s the opposite this time. Players will feel more comfortable at the ground with team members.
So do you think the key to performing well in this IPL is going to be to not be afraid of the virus?
You cannot avoid that, right? But sportspersons are generally healthier, their heart is much more stronger, their lungs are much more stronger. That is why emphasis on fitness has been there all around the world. So the cricketers have that advantage. Once you have that advantage, you will be a bit stronger both mentally and physically. A lot of people might think that this (fear of the virus) might be a factor. It will be a factor. Every individual cricketer behaves and thinks differently. So it will be up to the individual how he goes through this.

(Delhi Capitals’ captain Shreyas Iyer during a yoga session at the hotel in UAE)
I think the most important role will be played by the support staff: the coaches, the trainers, the physios. They will have to take care of the mental part of the cricketer much more than the other IPL (seasons in the past). This is not the IPL where you just think about how they’re performing or not performing and if their confidence is up or down, you have to manage it. No, it’s just not only about that this time. You need to add on to that. Are they making themselves comfortable with this whole bubble? Are they comfortable being away from the family, even whether they are comfortable with the food they eat every day. That’s the added responsibility of the support staff.
But as far as the question you asked, the challenge to perform (is related to fear of) the virus or not, I don’t think so because they are already very, very strong. Once you have made yourself available, you need to give your 100 percent when you are out on the field.
Coming back to the real thing, the cricket. Do you think it’s going to be title number five for Mumbai or do you believe Chennai are going to hit back and draw level at four titles each or will some other team clinch the title?
Obviously you can never take Mumbai Indians out of any IPL, wherever you play, but not playing in Mumbai, that’s a disadvantage for them.
About CSK, a lot of people talk about the age (of their players), a lot of people talk about their fitness and many things every year. That’s a question every year and then they come in and go through to the playoffs. Obviously not having two (major) players, Harbhajan Singh and Suresh Raina, will make a massive impact. How they go (perform) will depend on how they fill those two important positions. They have quite a few match-winners and that’s what a team wants. They have more than two all-rounders in the playing XI, which makes a team very, very successful. Any T20 team needs at least two quality all-rounders. They have (Ravindra) Jadeja and (Dwayne) Bravo for that. Bravo played the CPL and Jadeja is a spinner, so he won’t take much time to get back into groove.

(CSK will be without Raina and Harbhajan, while Dhoni will be seen playing for the first time since 2019 WC)
Continuing with CSK, Dhoni has announced his retirement and will be coming into the IPL without any baggage like trying to make an India comeback, etc. Do you think that makes him more dangerous?
All the bowlers, please watch out! Be careful when you are bowling against Mahendra Singh Dhoni. We might see the Dhoni that we saw before he became the (India) captain. Before he became the captain, he didn’t have that extra responsibility, so he used to play freely. As I say in Hindi, “Woh bebaak hoke khelega (he will play uninhibitedly)”. If that happens, the bowlers will lose control. So it’s very difficult for all the bowlers to get going against Dhoni. Don’t look at his age, don’t look at that he hasn’t played cricket for so long. Don’t look at all those things. He will be the player to watch out for this season and I am pretty certain as well that we might see Dhoni bludgeoning the bowlers and playing freely, the way he used to before he became the captain. I totally expect that.
Lastly Irfan, the slow and low UAE tracks are going to be a major factor and the teams with more spin options will make a bigger impact this season. You agree?
Definitely slow wickets as the tournament progresses, but it depends on a lot of factors as well. How much preparation time they (ground staff) get, how many pitches they are using, what kind of pitches they are giving at the start, if they are putting more grass at the start of the tournament or not. So it will all depend on that. Expectation is there that it will be a slow track, a lot of spinners will come into play; but the team whose batting is very well equipped against spinners, that team will have a really good chance to come in top four (playoffs).

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