PERSONALITY Munaf Patel, the unsung hero of our World Cup victory in 2011, is not done yet
Lost to cricket? Not really. Munaf Patel, introvert but hugely talented, a man of integrity and solidly grounded, is clawing his way back. His was a motivational story of a humble cricketer from a rustic background rising to rattle some of the best in the elite school of cricket. But he has remained unsung and quite an under-achiever by his standards.
It is rare that a fast bowler comes out of the blue in Indian cricket. Munaf was one. All credit to Kiran More, who saw him first, and pushed him into the big league. “He was genuinely quick and I knew this was special talent. All Munaf needed was guidance because he was raw,” recalls More. Munaf was blessed with a rare ability to extract bounce and complemented it with a fine slower ball as well.
Munaf, battling injuries, has just played his first Ranji Trophy match (against Railways) in three years. “I was playing for India,” he points out when asked why this gap. He was also nursing a knee injury barring the World Cup in 2011 when he came in as a replacement for Praveen Kumar, ruled out on account of injury.
Not exactly a child of destiny but one who charted his course on the strength of his strong self-belief. “I always backed myself. Once I played in the big league things fell in place for me. It was a tough transition for me no doubt but I loved every moment of it,” says Munaf.
Munaf bowled 25 overs in the match against Railways at the Moti Bagh Stadium. “I’ve worked hard on my fitness,” Munaf insists. Why did he acquire this reputation if being lazy and shirker? “What can I say? This is loads of rubbish. I know my body best and have to bowl within my limitations. Who would like to miss out on opportunities,” he reacts sharply.
It is tough to be a fast bowler. “The hardest job in cricket,” Munaf asserts. “All the more tough in Indian conditions.” Ask his colleagues in Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) and they will vouch for his commitment and discipline. According to former Delhi batsman Gautam Vadehra, now sports in-charge at ONGC, Munaf is ever ready to play.
“He will come wherever you want him to. He has never demanded anything. In Delhi’s searing heat, he gave his best for us in local matches. If he is not playing a Ranji or international match, Munaf will call and ask when is the next ONGC match?” praises Vadehra.
Known for his unsettling pace and bounce, Munaf, who has played 13 Tests and 70 ODIs, made an unwise compromise with his style by cutting down on speed. “Not advisable,” Sourav Ganguly had commented. But Munaf has his side of the story. “Yes, I did compromise on my speed but that was because of my ankle and knee injuries. Look, people will talk but I can only do what my body responds to. I am not lazy. I am not a shirker. Ask my trainer. Ask my captain,” Munaf sounds agitated.
Kiran More is optimistic. “He has had some injury issues. I expect him to comeback a better and mature bowler. He has been part of two world cup winning teams and has never appeared a burden on the field. He has improved his training too.”
Munaf, 30, looks at his career realistically. “I made some mistakes but have learnt my lessons. I have learnt to manage my body well, learnt to monitor my recovery well, learnt to keep tension out of the system. I want to bowl like I bowled in the 2011 World Cup.”
Expect one more comeback from one of the quickest bowlers to have played for India; also one of the intriguing ones.