September 10, 2003

Forget the elevator

When you approached the Chinnaswamy Stadium from the south in the afternoon, you saw a sea of people dressed in white - sporting bright green scarves - milling around Mahatma Gandhi Park. They were farmers protesting against the SM Krishna government's "anti-farmer" policies, though you could also glimpse the odd billboard that said, very dramatically, "Kill the WTO". While the fat cats in their Saville Row suits divide up the world-trade pie in Cancun, the little man's voice continues to be heard above the din the world over.

One or two of the younger ones seemed a little bored, glancing wistfully in the direction of the stadium. The older bunch contented themselves with peanuts and snoozing, interrupted by the sporadic slogan. In any event, the atmosphere there was a great deal more lively than what you found inside the stadium itself.

The smattering of supporters were spread over three stands, and they roused themselves only when a certain Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar started putting bat to ball after a hesitant start. There was also applause for Wasim Jaffer, who started off-driving like a dream, and then went for one too many. The main topic of discussion in the stands then was the "no-ball" with which Lakshmipathy Balaji had made a mess of Tendulkar's stumps. More than the five wickets he took, bowling with great verve, accuracy and discipline, it was that delivery that made the spectators sit up and take notice of Balaji - who is a far better bowler than his one-day debut against West Indies suggested.

Zaheer Khan, by contrast, was all over the place. It should surprise no-one that the key performers in this match were all part of the India A team that toured England. While their senior colleagues appeared woefully short of match practice - even Tendulkar was a pale shadow of his usually authoritative self - the likes of Balaji, Rohan Gavaskar, Sridharan Sriram and Irfan Pathan were in fine fettle. So much for those who write off the Challenger as a waste of time. Imagine India's plight if its finest had gone into the series against New Zealand on the back of just one Irani Trophy game.

The other welcome thing about today was the absence of the M word, Munaf to those of you that have been deprived of news over the past fortnight. If you read some of the reports, you might have been convinced that Munaf Patel was a combination of Dennis Lillee, Jesus Christ, Moses and Harry Houdini, the "secret weapon" who would irreparably scar the Australian psyche this winter.

Did we miss something? Munaf has yet to play a first-class game, and already the hype machine suggests that he's the man to stymie Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer, Ricky Ponting, Damien Martyn, Steve Waugh and Adam Gilchrist, who only comprise the best batting line-up on the planet. Figures like 150 kmph - only Brett Lee and Shoaib Akhtar clock that with any consistency - are freely bandied about. But who has put a radar gun on him? The media?

To add some weight to flimsy arguments, they quote his coaches at MRF, who are hardly likely to give him anything but favourable press, come to think of it. You can almost understand why Sourav Ganguly, who knows a thing or two about earning the India cap, brushed off the hullabaloo by saying that it would be best to wait until he had actually shown his stuff in the middle. Like some of us, he can remember names like Iqbal Siddiqui and Tinu Yohannan, who aren't even Challengers anymore. Munaf should forget about the elevator and take the stairs just like everyone else. The thing is, men like Aavishkar Salvi, Balaji and Pathan are already a couple of flights ahead.


Munaf Patel - The whirlwind from Gujarat

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