Mumbai v Rest of India, Irani Trophy, 1st day October 6, 2007

Tall and insipid



Munaf was a polar opposite to the bowler who rattled England on Test debut © Getty Images

Watching Munaf Patel, Ranadeb Bose and Ishant Sharma standing side by side on the eve of the Irani Trophy match, taking turns to bowl, one might have been tempted to feel for Mumbai's batsmen. Each one of these bowlers is six-and-a-half-feet tall, Bose and Sharma sport mullets and all can appear capable of mean acts. The trio were also India's second-string bowling attack - Munaf, when fit, is a shoo-in, Sharma had toured Bangladesh and Bose England.

Mumbai's batsmen on the other hand, Wasim Jaffer and Abhishek Nair apart, are diminutive in stature. Two of them, Ajinkya Rane and Prashant Naik, were just one game old and one, Sahil Kukreja, is still raw with one-and-a-half years of first-class cricket to his name.

All that said, on a non-supporting pitch it was the short batsmen dominating the tall bowlers. The menace was just restricted to their looks and the frustrated appeals every time they managed to strike the pads. And their captain Mohammad Kaif's persistence, introducing spin as late as the 36th over, didn't help the matters. By then, they were a battered lot.

Munaf, operating at a speed ranging from mid 120 kph to the mid 130s, rarely put any devil into the delivery. It was easy pickings for Rahane once he realised Munaf wasn't doing much with the ball. This was a far cry from the Munaf who rattled England on Test debut and the spearhead who was arguably India's best bowler on their tour to West Indies last year. In fact that bowler has been missing for a while now, what with Munaf ending with none for 71 in his 15 overs, including nine no-balls. Even those figures might not completely represent the tameness he bowled with.

At this stage of his career, with the selectors watching every move, Munaf can ill afford to have more such days

Few other than him may know what is wrong. His fitness issues are public knowledge: his ankle injury restricted him to only one Test innings throughout the tour of South Africa last year. He was then sent back from Bangladesh because of a back injury. Later, after having spent time at the MRF Pace Academy, he said he was fit and was selected for the one-dayers in England. Yet he wasn't half the bowler he used to be, forcing India's bowling coach Venkatesh Prasad to comment on his lack of intensity. At this stage of his career, with the selectors watching every move, he can ill afford to have more such days.

Bose, the domestic stalwart and the untiring warhorse, came into this match needing to take his game one notch higher. Instead his intensity dipped. He began spraying the ball at a gentle mid-120kph and was duly dealt with. Although he came back somewhat creditably, with a much more accurate spell, he would know that the extra zip was missing. It required him to grab 57 wickets last season for the selectors to take notice; anything less may not be enough.

Sharma, the tallest of the three, was thought of as a promising youngster. He had his moments in the tour games in England, showing signs of improvement with every game, but he was a bit too tepid on this occasion. With hardly any movement off the pitch, and a pace that rarely went beyond the mid-130 mark, he was unthreatening throughout the day. He strove manfully - even Abhishek Nayar, one of the centurions, admitted that later - but it was way short of good enough against a quality batting line-up.

Sidharth Monga is a staff writer with Cricinfo Magazine

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