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Mohali munafa: A quickie

IN OCTOBER 2003, a 20-year-old who could barely speak Hindi was catapulted into the limelight because of reports that he had become the first Indian to break the 100-mile barrier -- later denied because he had never been properly clocked -- and played his first first-class match ever. For the record, it was for India 'A' against the touring Kiwis. For the young man from Ikhar, about 35 km from Bharuch, picked up at a talent hunt in the Gujarati hinterland, it was all quite dreamlike -- quite fantastic but also quite unreal.

india Updated: Mar 14, 2006 01:57 IST

IN OCTOBER 2003, a 20-year-old who could barely speak Hindi was catapulted into the limelight because of reports that he had become the first Indian to break the 100-mile barrier -- later denied because he had never been properly clocked -- and played his first first-class match ever. For the record, it was for India 'A' against the touring Kiwis.

For the young man from Ikhar, about 35 km from Bharuch, picked up at a talent hunt in the Gujarati hinterland, it was all quite dreamlike -- quite fantastic but also quite unreal.

The son of farmer Musa Patel, Munaf -- who made a significant debut for India and played a major part in India's victory over England in the Mohali Test on Monday -- had been brought to Kiran More's academy in Baroda during the summer of 2002 without even a pair of decent shoes.

He was taken aback by the attention. "The publicity was nice at first but is now very confusing," he remarked then, ahead of that three-day tour game.

"Somewhat scary actually… And when I go back to my village now, I can't stay home. Every few minutes, someone comes and takes me to their house."

Even then, despite his inexperience at coping with this sort of hype, Munaf, by far the fastest Indian bowler in recent memory, seemed to have his feet firmly planted on the ground. "I know the same people who picked me up will finish me if I fail to take wickets," he said with disarming candour. A devout Muslim, he said he found his peace in doing namaaz five times a day. Other than when the cricket called, of course.

In that game, Munaf looked sharp but very raw, having a problem controlling both line and length.

He opened the bowling but like in his Test debut in Mohali -- where he not only bowled fast but also reverse-swung the ball -- looked far more comfortable with an older ball, coming in after lunch to scalp the wickets of Stephen Fleming, Nathan Astle and Scott Styris.

His Ranji career since has been intriguing. He has moved from almost playing for both Gujarat and Baroda to playing for Mumbai after Sachin Tendulkar had a word with the Mumbai Cricket Association about him.

Then followed a period of battles with injury and somewhat erratic performances at various levels before he moved to Maharashtra last season and spearheaded their attack.

He bowled extremely well and had definitely gained in confidence, even personality-wise -- his reputation as somewhat of a maverick character on the field, as fast with words as with the ball, was fast gaining ground.

This Test call-up was obviously because of his 10-91 against the English in the Baroda tour game and he has probably justified the faith put in him with his performance here. He has looked fast -- the ball that zoomed off Matthew Hoggard's toe onto the stumps clocked at over 145 kmph. More importantly, he used the old ball well, had complete control over his line and length and added the ability to reverse-swing to his CV.

He has also looked unfazed by the situation, something that will stand him in good stead on more than one front if he stays this way.

Over the next few days, everyone who thinks they have a claim, however slight, on India's new hero, will probably fete Munaf. Hopefully, someone will take the time to tell him these are early days yet and to take it easy.

He is young; he is the toast of a grateful nation that lives and loves its cricket but puts its heroes to the sword quite as easily, often with callous disregard. In the new India, glorying in the age of instant gratification, you never know when and what will suddenly take you out of the heady glare of the arclights and back into the dimly-lit wings.

Just for those interested in coincidences, the Rajkot game where Munaf made his first-class debut saw two more young pacers being tried out: S. Sreesunth (then Sreesanth) and Rudra Pratap Singh.

First Published: Mar 14, 2006 01:57 IST