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Munaf - showstopper at Motera

Munaf Patel is back on home turf ahead of his first ODI and the locals cannot be happier, writes Kadambari Murali.

india Updated: Oct 24, 2006 12:48 IST

The star of the day was undoubtedly the man who has his roots in a village about a four-hour drive from here. Munaf Patel, once upon a time of Ikhar village in Gujarat's Bharuch district, is back on home turf ahead of his first One day International (ODI) here and the locals cannot be happier - even though some say that he abandoned Gujarat after the under-22s for Mumbai's greener pastures.

"He was offered a job there and after all, how many people does Sachin Tendulkar take an interest in?" asked a Gujarat Cricket Association (GCA) official.

What Munaf himself - a Muslim come good in Narendra Modi's bastion of Hindutva, ironically - thinks of all the attention is as yet unknown. But he was seen accepting the kudos and wishes in the same casual manner he greets all comers with. He answered the calls in Gujarati in the same language, smiled at the kids who were asking for "Munnabhai" through the fence, spoke at length to GCA officials and was generally at home.

Even while most of the attention was on Munaf, a large part of the rest at the Sardar Patel Gujarat stadium's B ground was on a man who became a star many, many years ago. Sachin Tendulkar bowled after ages - he did bowl a bit during his charity games with the Lashings club earlier in the year - and was the cynosure of all eyes during his 3-0-8-0 spell.

And incidentally, India's most in-form batsman of late was also easily India's best bat during the Twenty20 practice game the Indians played along with a mix of Gujarat Ranji and u-19 players.

Tendulkar's unbeaten 43 came in quick time and was lovely to watch after the hash some of the other Indian batsmen, looking for quality time in the middle, made of their practice. Sehwag, Yuvraj and Kaif all made two trips to the wicket and were back in quick time. Yuvraj showed his frustration too, hurling the bat a few metres into the covers after getting out for the second time. It was not a pretty sight from the man who should be the ICC's One-day Cricketer of the Year for his golden run last year.

As they finished up and headed back to the bus, a silent Harbhajan Singh was waylaid by the electronic media, and he obliged with a few bites. He is confident about India's chances in the tournament, and his own against Brian Lara. Hopefully, we have a real contest in three days'