| Munaf Patel
Rajkot: Eknath Solkar, Vinod Kambli and Wasim Jaffer have had less than privileged backgrounds, but rarely has a village lad almost forced himself into contention for a Team India berth. One is, of course, talking of Munaf Musa Patel, a 20-year-old quick from Ikhar in Bharuch district.
In fact, the national selectors need to be complimented for naming him in the India A XIV and, then, giving a first XI berth in the match against New Zealand. Clearly, Munaf didn’t let anybody down on his first-class debut, but should have done much better in Thursday’s opening session at the Madhavrao Scindia Cricket Ground.
Munaf went wicketless in session No.1 but, after lunch, picked up three big ones in quick succession: Captain Stephen Fleming, Scott Styris and Nathan Astle, the last two on consecutive deliveries. “I wasn’t nervous and, to a large extent, that helped. Din theek gaya,” the six-feet-four Munaf told The Telegraph.
Not too long ago, Munaf was getting nowhere by spraying the ball all over the village parks. Then, he was spotted by Ankleshwar’s Matadar Cricket Club and, eventually, sent to Kiran More’s academy in Vadodara. It can only help that More is a national selector.
“Munaf’s height impressed me most... I don’t think we’d ever handled such a tall cricketer at the academy... Soon enough, the batsmen began admitting they hadn’t faced anybody who was quicker. With that feedback, I suggested to (MRF’s) T.A.Sekar that he have a look... The rest is reasonably well known,” a distinctly happy More pointed out.
The quick was off to Chennai for the MRF trials in February and, predictably, was chosen for the session which began in April and ended last month. It’s there that Munaf interacted with Dennis Lillee, who felt he was the fastest around in India.
“Lillee Sir asked me to improve my (round arm, by the way) action and, besides, kept reminding that I should concentrate on line and length... Kapil Dev Sir had much the same thing to say when I met him in Bangalore (during the second phase of the conditioning camp),” Munaf remarked.
Though Munaf wasn’t a probable, he was invited to bowl at nets and, straightaway, impressed the Sourav Gangulys and Sachin Tendulkars. “Yes, I did speak to both and sought their guidance on where I should improve,” Munaf recalled.
Describing himself as a “natural,” Munaf insisted he didn’t idolise any bowler, but acknowledged he was a fan of Zaheer Khan and Brett Lee. “They have speed and control, they have the fast bowler’s attitude... Main bhi unki tarah bowling karna chahta hoon... Just being fast, however, is not going to help... Bowling short won’t carry me far either,” he said, grinning.
The eldest among four siblings (the younger ones are all sisters), Munaf has no immediate plans of shifting to a city. “For the time being, I’m happy being in Ikhar... I don’t see why I should cut myself from my roots,” was his candid (and refreshing) assertion.
Asked if he was excited at the possibility of soon playing in the biggest of all leagues, Munaf replied: “One game won’t make or break me... Mujhe hamesha consistent hona ho ga... Sab mehnat ka khel hai, jisne kum kiya, woh nirash ho ga...”
While it’s to be seen when Munaf does get a call from Team India, he is bound to have an impact on Gujarat in the Ranji Trophy. Last season, he made the XIV once; this time, he is going to be their spearhead. It’s a deserving jump for somebody who stopped studying after class X so that he could devote all his time to cricket.
Munaf, incidentally, is fond of movies. Well, his own story should invite the attention of many a scriptwriter.