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Curious case of the missing Munaf

Munaf has received bad advice from people, leading him to take his India place for granted, reports Kadambari Murali.

cricket Updated: Dec 27, 2007 14:09 IST
Kadambari Murali

On Wednesday, even as India's pacemen wilted under an Aussie onslaught in the morning session, people here were talking about the continual Munaf Patel mystery.

What exactly is the man who was once dubbed India's fastest bowler up to? Whose advice is the Indian paceman taking? Why is he periodically disappearing into Ikhar, his hometown in Gujarat's Bharuch district, and refusing to get in touch with anyone from the outside world for days on end?

And finally, if he is a rare, precious find for India and unable to come to terms with that and the fame factor, why is no one sitting him down and explaining the facts of the cricketing life to him?

When the selection committee met to pick up the squad for the Australia Tests, they chose 16 players, with the understanding that they would probably send Munaf here after the second Test, once he had proved his fitness in the interim by playing Ranji games.

But then, bizarrely, just after he wasn't picked, Munaf disappeared. Maharashtra Cricket Association president Ajay Shirke had admitted to Hindustan Times a few days ago that the state association gave up on Munaf after a week of trying to trace him. "He was supposed to join the team for the match against Saurashtra (in Nagothane from December 17-20). Our chairman of selectors (Pandurang Salgaokar) was trying to call him up for over a week, but Munaf just didn't respond. The least he could have done was to call back or send an SMS to any of the team management members. But he didn't. We had to drop him for the last league game," Shirke had told the Hindustan Times.

Munaf finally got in touch with the MCA after he was dropped, apparently on "disciplinary grounds", but was told it was too late to play.

According to sources, Munaf, insecure, unsure of himself and uncomfortable in a world vastly different from the one he is used to, runs back to his village at every available opportunity to hide and heal himself in his head every time he feels done in.

"He (Munaf) has received bad advice from people close to him, leading him to take his India place for granted. But he has realised that things are at crisis point now and he has kept in touch with a selector finally over these past five days," said a source in the Munaf camp.

But the selectors are deeply unhappy with what they see as an "attitude problem" with the paceman. "How are we supposed to trust an India berth to a man who himself does not have a clue what he is up to?" a national selector told HT from India. "He is more or less incommunicado at will and we cannot be expected to tolerate that."

Another selector said that they were not sure if they would send a 17th player at all now, though added that a final call would be taken only after the Sydney Test. "We wanted to send a paceman, specifically Munaf really, but now that idea might not make sense. Munaf now has to play the Duleep Trophy later in January and then we'll take a call on what to do with him. Let's see what we do."

There were reports on Wednesday that the Indian team management had sent an SOS to Munaf. These were emphatically denied by BCCI secretary Niranjan Shah and, later, by Indian team sources themselves. Whatever the truth, this is another Indian cricketing chapter that really shows nobody in good light. However, if Munaf matters that much, it's high time someone took him in hand and made him understand the importance of being Munaf.