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Munaf back, fit & fine

But looking at the performance of the first match, he is almost the only positive the Indian team can draw from a match they will hope to forget, reports Anand Vasu.

cricket Updated: Aug 20, 2008 01:12 IST
Anand Vasu

IF YOU are looking for a hero in this confident, sometimes verging on brash, Indian ODI unit, the most unlikely, and almost reluctant one, you can zone in on is Munaf Patel.

But looking at the performance of the first match, he is almost the only positive the Indian team can draw from a match they will hope to forget.

When he burst onto the scene in early 2006, Munaf was rightly hailed one of the quickest bowlers in the country. With a muscular round-arm action, he hit the deck hard and hurried batsmen with what is referred to as a "heavy ball" in the trade. He picked up seven English wickets at Mohali, and no Indian fast bowler has more scalps on debut. But injuries soon took their toll and a succession of coaches worked on how best to use him.

What resulted was a bowler who spoke more of line and length than pace and bounce. It was as though someone who set off trying to be Shoaib Akhtar somehow decided it might be less physically demanding to ape Glenn McGrath. The advantage Munaf had was the length he naturally hit when on song, similar to that of Ashish Nehra. This nagging length, which did not allow batsmen to commit to either front- or back-foot, coupled with an ability to extract lateral movement off the pitch, brought initial success.

But while a bowler who has sacrificed pace for accuracy is an excellent third seam bowling option, he's not a certainty to make the playing eleven if only two quick men are deployed. And this is just what happened to Munaf as he exit the Indian set-up after going wicket-less and conceding 51 runs against Sri Lanka in Hobart earlier this year.

Having spent half a year out of the side, Monday's game was crucial for Munaf and once more he defied his detractors by bowling a sustained spell that constantly tested Sri Lanka's batsmen. He removed Sanath Jayasuriya and Kumar Sangakkara in an extended nine-over first spell, and if he stays fit, will play a crucial role in the matches to come.

"He has been in good rhythm," Mahendra Singh Dhoni said of Munaf. "If a fast bowler is in good rhythm, he tends to bowl much better, and at much better pace. The practice throughout the Test series has helped him. If he can continue doing what he did in the first match, it will be great for the side.

"Against Sri Lanka, seam bowlers have generally been successful. Even in Australia, Munaf had success against them. Here, he was up to the mark, bowling at decent pace, hitting the right areas. He is putting in more effort in the fielding as well, his throwing has improved. He batted well also — overall he has improved. That's a positive note for him and for the side as well."

All that remains for Munaf to ensure that he does not slip back into a comfort zone. When he's training hard, pushing himself to bowl at pace, even while keeping the ball in the right areas, Munaf is a handful, and that's certainly what India need.