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Munaf Patel: A tale of grit and guts

From a remote village in Gujarat, he has come a long way to be in Team India, writes Rituraj Borkakoty.

india Updated: Mar 09, 2006 11:39 IST

It's not known whether Nagesh Kukunoor had actually heard of Munaf Patel before making Iqbal, the much acclaimed movie that inspires you to chase your dreams, as if they do come true.

Bare-footed and with jaws wide open, like an ignorant villager trying to listen to what the teacher had to say on child marriage, Munaf, the Iqbalof real life, gave an answer which could not have been more innocent, yet upright.

It was the same way Iqbal would express his dreams. The only difference was that Iqbal would use his eyes to make you hear his voice of hope, which is to play for India.

This was September 2003. And the news was that a boy from a remote village called Ikhar of Gujarat was bowling at 150km per hour under the watchful eyes of Dennis Lille at MRF Pace Foundation in Chennai.

 Munaf: A dream journey

The boy was yet to play a district match, let alone playing Ranji Trophy. And yet he was already the next big thing in Indian cricket!

It was then that this scribe met Munaf during a club match in which his team Indian Airlines was playing ONGC in Delhi.

Resting on a chair as his teammates were cheering the two batsmen Reetinder Sodhi and Nikhil Chopra, he was all ear to the question this scribe threw: So, you are really bowling at 150?

"Yeh toh log bol rahe hain," came the reply.

"Mujhe speed ke bare me kuch malum nehi. Bus bowling karna hai mujhe, aur sikhna hai."

That time Munaf Patel was the name on the lips of everyone concerned about the health of Indian cricket.

Thirty months have gone by since that day, and it was a period when Munaf was almost forgotten, only to come out of the shadows of the adversary called injury.

Now, with Sreesanth fighting to recover from fever, Munaf is almost certain to earn his first India cap on the morrow.

In the three-day match against England at Baroda, it was not the 10 wickets that he got, but the way he bowled.

With that nagging line while rarely erring in length, moving the ball both ways and showing the ease even while coming fromround the wicket, there he was telling the worldhow much he has learned since then.

It wasn't easy. When you are out for a whole season with injury, then coming back and making a mark with a new team (Maharashtra), forcing your way to the Board President XI against a top visiting team and then ripping through the tourists' batting heart. Well, it has been like a story so far. A story of determination and defiance.

It shows that he has a mind bold enough to fight the obstacles and that augurs well. Cricket, as they say, is a game won and lost in the mind.

His 24 first-class matches have so far fetched him 88 wickets at 21.07, all at a staggering strike rate of 46.97. He is bowling at a pace which is not express, but lively enough to put the fear of death into the batsman's mind.

Experts felt he hardly jumped while delivering in 2003 when he was the biggest news. He learned the basics and now everything is falling in place.

But international cricket often turns out to be a hurdle some of the most gifted have failed to clear. It would all be a new beginning for the 22-year-old.

How long would he go? No one knows. But with that match-winning haul in Baroda, he has already embarrassed the selectors who opted for VRV Singh in the Nagpur Test.

And on the biggest stage, if he could embarrass the Englishmen once more, it could well be the journey, which has to bear the pressure of expectations, the pressure of lasting the distance.

First Published: Mar 08, 2006 20:28 IST