Special Correspondent

In the absence of a time frame set for Munaf Patel's return to competitive cricket the national selectors are anticipating only a long shot chance of the Maharashtra seamer being recalled for India duty.

The cycle of injuries he has suffered since the early part of the tour of South Africa last year has convinced the selectors that the Maharashtra seamer has not been anywhere close to his physical and mental best. The first signs of something had gone awry with his fitness was observed in the ICC Champions Trophy 2006.

Munaf declared unfit after playing in the first two one-day internationals against Bangladesh was referred to Dr. Abhay Nene, a consultant orthopaedic spinal surgeon at the P. D. Hinduja National Hospital, Mumbai for a thorough check-up. MRI scans revealed an acute problem in a single joint of the vertebrae of the lower back.

Weak back

Touching upon the precise nature of the injury Dr. Nene told The Hindu that Munaf's back is weak. "Munaf has sprained a single joint in his lower back. He has to undergo rehabilitation/physiotherapy to strengthen the muscles around the affected part. The focus is on his back, which was not the case before.''

Dr. Nene who specialises in spine rehabilitation and sports medicine had words of comfort for Munaf. "The injury is definitely not alarming, but since he's a fast bowler it places a heavy demand on his back. It will take some time for him to get back into action. I am not setting a specific time frame, but he has to undergo four to six weeks of rehabilitation and physiotherapy. He should be back to bowling after the rehab period.''

When asked if the particular injury could recur and nag him right through his career, Dr. Nene said: "It's unlikely, but Munaf has to follow a proper exercise routine to stay fit.''

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has been informed of the current status of Munaf's injury and the rehabilitation programme he has been advised to adhere to.

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