At his prime, the multi-talented Irfan Pathan had a mean incoming delivery, but he has other strings to his bow. You wouldn't want to challenge him to a dogfight of kites on Makar Sankranti, for instance. He’s just as proficient in the art of cutting a rival’s cut as he used to be in getting through batsmen’s defences.
This Sankranti, the 35-year-old all-rounder, who last week announced his retirement from all cricket, will have enough time to indulge in his kite-flying skills.
Makar Sankrati is a widely celebrated festival in certain parts of India, nowhere more ardently than in Telangana and Gujarat.
"We always look forward to this festival. You can say it is an extension of the New Year celebration," says India's chief selector, M S K Prasad. “We celebrate it for three days, usually on 13th, 14th and 15th January."
Back where Prasad comes from, coastal Andhdra, Sankranti goes with sumptuous fare: “pulihora, payasam, garelu, ariselu, laddus, and a handsome helping of spicy chicken curry” says Prasad, salivating.
And there are the games: cock fights, kite-flying, kabbadi matches, ball badminton competitions. Thousands of people gather to watch the cock and kite fights.
"It is mid-winter and a happy season for farmers. They harvest their crops and pile up the grain for sale," Prasad added.
Ex-cricketer Venkatpathy Raju is another Sankranti enthusiast. “I don't fly kites but love to watch them. We cricket friends meet at one place to watch the kites and enjoy a beautiful lunch of mutton and biryani," Raju said.
Former right-arm off-spinner Noel Dravid is a true-blue kite-loving Hyderabadi."Makara Sankranti is a festival of kites and sweets. I’ve always loved flying kites. As a childh I couldn't wait for the festival. My friends and I used to enjoy flying kites while loud music played on t,he terrace of uur house. It’s always a thrill to cut someone else’s kite.”
Another former India spinner, Pragyan Ojha is a stickler for a temple visit before the festivities get under way. "Once the pooja is done we have pachadi and bobbatlu and pulihora, my favourite Sankranti dishes. Then over to the kites,” he said.
India's former woman cricketer Rita Dey, who has played two Tests and six ODIs says people do fly kites in Kanpur but not her. “In my childhood days, I did fly kites but not any more. We eat khichadi, gazak and til chikki on this day. In almost all houses, khichadi is surely made,” Dey added....