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The swinging fortunes of Munaf

cricket Updated: Nov 16, 2008 00:15 IST
Nilankur Das
Nilankur Das
Hindustan Times
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Ever since he came into the limelight and that was long before a sparkling Test debut against England at Mohali the last time they toured India, words like inconsistent, temperamental and injury-prone have gradually become associated with this quickie from Bharuch.

Questions had also been raised on whether Munaf Patel was fully fit and hence lacked intensity during Sourav Ganguly's comeback tour of South Africa. Here it seemed it was a classic case of one suffering from "the fear of getting dropped" syndrome.

One thing is certain though: Even after two years into international cricket and with quite a few match-winning performances against his name, Munaf has not been able to cement his place in the side.

Drafted into the squad in place of an injured R.P. Singh for the one-dayers in Australia early this year, Munaf was a letdown. Again after a decent tour of Sri Lanka and a splendid show against Delhi in the Irani Cup he is slowly settling in the squad.

On Friday, he played a perfect foil to Zaheer Khan with the new ball in the absence of injured Ishant Sharma. His, incidentally, was the first breakthrough.

It was not surprising even after seeing the English quicks getting mauled in the first session. Munaf had looked the sharpest among a host of medium-pacers who had bowled for the two teams in Thursday's nets session and there has been a marked change in his body language; something which did not look as overzealous that it would brim over like against Aakash Chopra and Virender Sehwag when he was docked 75 per cent of his Irani Cup match fee. He appeared a lot more composed. Actually it was rather heartening to see him sprinting to embrace his vice-captain after he had taken Matt Prior's catch at slip.

At the Irani Cup post-match media conference Gary Kirsten had accepted that if fit, his current seam-bowling attack is one of the strongest.

What Munaf's comeback has done is opened a scope of rotating the ageing Zaheer and the injury-prone Ishant around him. The immediate effect: The India thinktank can now afford to give Ishant more time to recover by retaining the same XI for Monday.

The Maharani Usha Raje Cricket Centre wicket looked solid on an overcast and chilly Saturday morning.

By the time the sun came to full glow it was already half-an-hour after the scheduled match start time. Add to it curator Samandar Singh's words: "The wicket is hard and there are slight cracks in it from where sprouts of grass are growing. We are working hard to ensure that the wicket remains same for both innings.

“I think a score of 280 will be chaseable on this strip and there will be very little in it for spinners."

The predominant red soil content in the wickets in this part of the country offers bounce which makes stroke-making slightly easier.

Add to it short boundaries and a hard and very quick outfield and another run-feast looks on the cards. The last and only ODI on this ground was when India comfortably chased England's total of 288 to record a seven-wicket win on Robin Uthappa's debut.