He was hailed as the Sultan of Swing. His bowling style was compared to Wasim Akram. His audacious batting reminded viewers of Kapil Dev. And, who could forget his hat-trick in the first over of the Karachi Test against Pakistan in 2006?
Yet, Irfan Pathan quickly vanished off the pitch. Now, even as Irfan is working hard to make a comeback, his childhood cricketing playmate Tanvir Mukadam has got a PhD from Gujarat University on him. Her thesis is titled A Case Study on International Cricketer Irfan Pathan.
Tanvir, 37, is an assistant professor at Shri C.P. Degree College for Physical Education in Rajpipla, 70km from Vadodara, Gujarat.
“I did not involve Irfan’s personal life,” said the mother of three girls. “I focused on him as a player and an inspiration for others.”
Data collection was easy, as they had grown up playing local club matches together in Vadodara. Her father, Mehndi Shaikh, had mentored him and his brother Yusuf Pathan, another talented player who faded away. Shaikh, a cricket coach, had taken Tanvir and her younger sister Tasleem (also a cricketer) to the Bhutadi Zampa Grounds for fitness training. The girls, however, went for the bat and ball.
For her thesis, Tanvir sent questionnaires to about 200 people. V.V.S. Laxman told her about his favourite Irfan delivery: a brilliant reverse swinger that got the better of Adam Gilchrist during the 2003-04 tour Down Under. Kiran More spoke of Irfan’s mental toughness.
Her father told her about an Under-16 Baroda vs Mumbai match in which Irfan was hit by a bouncer, and had to be taken to the hospital with a bleeding nose.
Though he was advised rest, Irfan resumed his innings, a la Sachin vs Waqar (1989). With a bandaged face, he scored a match-winning 72, and was named Man of the Match.
“Irfan suffered many injuries in his career. Too many people offered him advice, and he heeded to everyone,” said Tanvir. “And that, probably, affected his natural style.”
Tanvir, however, is confident that Irfan will bounce back. “He has done it before,” she says. “There are few cricketers with such persistence.”
Tanvir, too, has been persistent about her passion. She captained the M.S. University of Baroda’s cricket team at three national tournaments. She then coached the university team for two years. She also coached the Baroda women’s cricket team for two years. She is a level-I coach and umpire of the Board of Control for Cricket in India.
A commerce graduate, Tanvir married at age 23. She and her husband, Fazal, were expecting their first child, when she went to Nagpur to do a bachelor’s in physical education. During that time, her father-in-law and sister-in-law stayed with her. Later, she did her master’s and conquered the dream of becoming a sports teacher.
Tanvir inspires girls to take up higher education and sports. She said some of her father’s friends had believed girls need not study beyond class 10. “Thanks to my father’s strong will, we went to college,” she said.
Tanvir’s guide N.J. Chaniyara said he was certain that she was the first woman cricketer in Gujarat—if not in India—to have done a PhD on a cricketer.
For Irfan, it was “a great feeling” to be part of the project. “A PhD, and that, too, by a cricketer on a cricketer, is rare,” he told me. About his comeback, he said: “I have fought many battles in my career, and I am sure I can fight this one, too.