The Lowdown on Munaf Patel March 9, 2006

'I have to remain disciplined'

The Lowdown on Munaf Patel

With so much cricket played these days it is often difficult to keep track of who is who and what they are doing. In this weekly feature Cricinfo will take a look at one player who is making the news, whether at the highest level or an aspiring talent, and tell you what they are all about. This week, it's the turn of Indian fast bowler Munaf Patel



Munaf Patel: "My job is to bowl - wickets will come" © Getty Images

An unkempt stubble, four paces, and a fiery fling to fame - that was Munaf Musa Patel in 2003. He was called on to bowl at the legendary Steve Waugh in the nets, and surprised him with pace. "This bloke's quick, where did he come from?" shot out an impressed Waugh.

A few months earlier another legend, Dennis Lillee, had hailed Munaf as the fastest bowler in India. A hype-hungry media didn't need any more invitations to start spinning, while a pace-starved nation were delighted that a special talent from Ikhar in Gujarat had apparently been unearthed.

Patel picked up the game at the age of 12, enjoying tennis ball cricket before playing for various clubs. His father, a farmer, discouraged him from taking up the game but he caught the eye of Kiran More, the current chairman of selectors, and joined his academy. A stint at the MRF Pace Foundation followed, from April to September 2003, before Sachin Tendulkar was impressed enough to urge Munaf to switch loyalties from Gujarat to Mumbai.

However, it was to be a bumpy ride filled with injuries. With Avishkar Salvi breaking down injured and Ajit Agarkar away on national duty, Munaf had to shoulder the burden of spearheading the pace attack. It left him no time to visit the gym to build up his muscles.

Added to that were technical deficiencies. An unstill head position, an almost round-arm action, a failure to use the supporting arm effectively, and the fall-over to the left side meant he was often too erratic. His pacy spells produced an impressive debut season in 2003-04, with 14 wickets at 27.50, but a spate of injuries halted his progress. After missing all but three games in his second season and was written off by many as one lost in the labyrinth of injury and hype.

But this season a renewed Munaf has emerged, with a more straight-armed action, with more prodigious swing, with a more effective 'heavy ball'. There might be a dip in pace but batsmen around the country have struggled. Thirty four wickets, including a ten-wicket haul that ripped apart England in the tour game, propelled him back into the limelight and helped him break through to the Indian squad.

Timeline

2003 Bags 7 for 78 in the Buchi Babu tournament, running through Spic-TNCA XI, a club comprising stalwarts like Sadagoppan Ramesh and Sreedharan Sharath.

November 2003 Makes his first-class debut against the visiting New Zealand side, snapping up five wickets in the match. Snares 14 victims at 27.50 in the 2003-04 season.

2004 Undergoes a three-day bio-mechanical tests, at the reputed Australian Institute of Sport, Canberra.

2004 Criticised by Sandeep Patil , the India A coach: "Munaf was a big disappointment. He developed a shoulder injury and I see it more of a mental problem than physical."

2005 Moves to Maharashtra and stars with the bat in his first game. Ends with 34 wickets in seven games at 19.70.

January 2006 He stars with a nine-wicket haul against Mumbai, his former team.

February 2006 Wrecks England in a tour game with his first ten-wicket haul, accounting for Andrew Struass and Andrew Flintoff in both the innings.

March 2006 is selected in the squad for the second Test against England at Mohali.

What he says about himself
" My job is to bowl, that's it. Wickets will come, but I have to remain disciplined in whatever I do."

What they say about him
Kiran More
"Munaf's height impressed me most... I don't think we'd ever handled such a tall cricketer at the academy... Soon enough, the batsmen began admitting they hadn't faced anybody who was quicker."

TA Sekhar - his coach at the MRF Pace Foundation
"He's got the potential to become the fastest bowler in our country. Munaf has natural pace. There are some people who have fast-twitch muscles and can bowl quick; Munaf is one of them. Once he gets into his rhythm he'll easily clock over 145 kph. Fast bowlers over a period of time get refined and increase their pace. If he continues to do his fitness training, he might even hit 150 kph.

What you may not know

His family didn't want him to play cricket. "My parents know nothing about cricket," said Munaf. "They used to ask, where will cricket take you? Don't play the game."

Sriram Veera is editorial assistant of Cricinfo

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