Cricket shines in the backwaters called Ikhar
Munaf Patel came to Vadodara to try his luck at an age when Irfan Pathan was already a star, and many Indian cricketers had established themselves as future prospects. Abhijeet Kulkarni reports.cricket Updated: Feb 06, 2011 00:05 IST
But the late start, at 19 years, has hardly been a deterrent for the lanky paceman from this small village in Bharuch district, with a population of just about 10,000.
Even Munaf's contemporaries in the Kiran More International Academy admit that when the paceman came to Vadodara he was raw in many ways but never looked short of match practice or experience.
And a lot of credit for that should go to the competitive cricket culture in Ikhar and surrounding villages, where a regular cricketer gets to play at least 45-50 one-day games in a season.
"Even teams from Mumbai, Ahmedabad come to play matches here," says Imran Abdul Kadir, a left arm spinner who has been called for the Gujarat under-19 camp and will play for a Delhi team in some invitational tournaments this year.
Ikhar, in fact, boasts of a registered cricket club - Golden CC - since 1939. Old timers reminisce about the time when teams from Vadodara would come calling, to ask players from the village to turn out for them in invitational tournaments.
"We are still told those stories, and sometimes even get reprimanded for not having the same passion for the game," Imran points out.
That cricket culture had suffered a setback in the post independence era, with many families shifting base to Africa and the Middle East to earn a living. However, things have begun to change ever since Haroon Handi took over the reigns of the club in the 90s, and the village's contribution in Munaf's success cannot be overlooked.
"The ground Munaf grew up playing on has been given to the club by the village panchayat, and the entire village contributes for its upkeep," says Handi, the first player from Ikhar to turn professional and play for a few lower division clubs in England.
"We have now raised money for constructing a turf wicket here and the work will start soon," he adds.