Munaf Patel is back. Again. Patel, who has had a torrid two months owing to an ankle injury in South Africa and the fuss following it, joined the Indian team for the first time since they returned from South Africa.
On any other given day, the return of a team's strike bowler, kept out under controversial circumstances, would have created waves. But Munaf’s return, at the IPCL ground in Vadodara on Monday, was quiet. Only four Indian players, him included, trained with three members of the support staff during India's optional net session.
The lanky paceman, who has been resting in his hometown Ikhar (an hour's drive from Vadodara) over the last fortnight, was accused by the Indian Board of hiding his ankle injury in South Africa.
Munaf, it might be recalled, injured his ankle during India's second ODI against the Proteas on November 22 and then bowled only eight overs in any competitive game over the next six weeks.
Through this period, team physiotherapist John Gloster kept telling the Board that Munaf would be match fit in “another five to six days more”. The Board finally lost patience and asked Gloster for a final assessment on Munaf a week before the third Test.
Gloster pronounced the paceman fit but Munaf, who appeared not 100 per cent match fit, bowled just one over in the second innings of the final Test.
That was not all. BCCI secretary Niranjan Shah then accused Munaf of hiding the injury after the team returned before the Board's medical advisor Dr Anant Joshi cleared the air on January 9, saying, "Munaf has a mental block of sorts about the injury and I have advised him two weeks’ rest.”
After all this Bollywood-style drama that oft happens in Indian cricket, watching Munaf train in the national team's practice attire was an event to look forward to. First, he did some fielding drills that included running sideways, grabbing the ball and then throwing it back to biomechanic specialist Ian Frazer, who was feeding him the balls.
Then he bowled with a shorter run-up for more than 40 minutes to Robin Uthappa and Irfan Pathan. Though he didn't appear to be in trouble, maybe his shorter run-up had more to do with the damp conditions caused by an unseasonal light drizzle in Vadodara than anything else.
However, Munaf wasn't named in the Indian team. So how did he land up in Vadodara? “John (Gloster) wanted to assess him," Board chief administrative officer Prof Ratnakar Shetty told the Hindustan Times from Mumbai.
"After being cleared by Dr (Anant) Joshi (recently), John wanted to have a closer look at him, so he was asked to join the team."
Despite the earlier fuss over Munaf's injury, the Board's gesture has to be welcomed as with two weeks remaining for the World Cup squad to be named, the Indian team management is still struggling to find the third pace bowler in support of Zaheer Khan and Ajit Agarkar.
Is Munaf's presence a clear indication that he will be given a game or two before India's World Cup squad is named (most probably in Mumbai on February 12 and not in Rajkot on February 11)?
"Sure, I hope so, if he's fit," Frazer said. "He's critical to us. He's a tall, fast bowler who can hit the deck and bowl in the late 130s and 140s. He's a very dangerous one-day bowler. We'll be very keen to have him back."
Frazer was obviously cautious though, given the earlier furore over Munaf's injury. "He did his fielding today and did some running with Greg King,” said Frazer.
"We just needed to make sure that he can back it up. That's the most important thing. He is moving it okay today. All we need to see now is whether he can do it over the next three or four days to make sure he is all right. He showed today that he was moving quite fluently."
"But in South Africa too, he was moving well before that Test, so we need to make sure everything's okay over a period of time again. We've got to give him a few days.”
This has a sense of déjà vu --- that’s exactly what everyone was told about Munaf right through South Africa, that he needs a few days. Hopefully, this time around, the outcome will be different.