Dileep Premachandran
Associate editor, ESPNcricinfo

The case for Yuvraj and Munaf

Despite his problems in Tests, Yuvraj Singh is an integral part of India's World Cup XI, while Munaf Patel would make an ideal third seam option

Dileep Premachandran

December 6, 2010

Comments: 72 | Text size: A | A

Munaf Patel appeals unsuccessfully for an lbw against Jacques Kallis, South Africa v India, 3rd Test, Cape Town, 3rd day, January 4, 2007
Munaf Patel was a disappointment in Cape Town in 2006-07 but he's improved since then Alexander Joe / © AFP
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Players/Officials: Munaf Patel | Yuvraj Singh
Teams: India

Cast your mind back nearly four years, to a New Year Test in Cape Town. After being thrashed in the one-day series preceding the Tests, few had expected India to win convincingly in Johannesburg. South Africa, with Makhaya Ntini bowling an inspired spell, evened it up in Durban and there was everything to play for in the shadow of Table Mountain.

On the eve of the game, much of the discussion focused on Munaf Patel. Having injured his ankle early on in the one-day series, he had watched the first two Tests from the sidelines. VRV Singh, who replaced him, had been a liability, especially in Durban where 10 overs in the second innings had gone for 64 at a time when the game was in the balance. The team management faced a straightforward choice - either gamble on Munaf's fitness or play Harbhajan Singh, with a dry, subcontinent-like pitch expected to take turn.

They went for Munaf. He bowled 20 overs in the first innings, taking the crucial wicket of Mark Boucher as India established a slender 41-run lead. But then, after the batsmen had lost their nerve and the plot, leaving South Africa a tricky 211 to win, he bowled just one over with the game on the line. "Not fit" was the word from the dressing room.

After South Africa clinched the series, the inquests began in earnest. Board officials labelled Munaf "less than honest" and he has played only five Tests for India since. There are still players in the team who shake their heads when they talk of the game, insisting that the man who was just 23 at the time had let the side down.

Vince Lombardi, one of the great coaches in the history of sport, once said: "The greatest accomplishment is not in never falling, but in rising again after you fall. For Munaf, that challenge came at the World Cup a few months later. In the ultimately decisive loss to Bangladesh, a game where very few of his team-mates distinguished themselves, he made 15 and took 2 for 39. It didn't really help. Since then, he has fought frequent battles with injury, and when fit, has been looked at suspiciously by the establishment.

Even if he was in the wrong in Cape Town, it's time that things moved on. In the three games that he's played against New Zealand, Munaf has shown how he can be the ideal third seamer for India's World Cup XI. As canny as Praveen Kumar, he can be a whole lot quicker on his day. And though he may currently lack the pace that Ishant Sharma and Sreesanth can operate at, he bowls with far more discipline and control. When you think back to that astonishing debut in Mohali nearly five years ago, what sticks in the mind isn't so much the pace but the fact that he looked like he'd been doing it for years.

There are two factors to think of while choosing a World Cup squad. You don't want too many scarred by repeated failures or defeat. But you do wish for a core of men with something to prove, those who have experienced soul-destroying disappointments and come back from them

The unreliable tag should be binned. Recall Matthew Hayden in his first avatar, deer in the headlights against West Indian pace. He averaged 21.75 in his first seven Tests and had no complaints when he was dropped. He came back six years later and in a second innings that lasted nearly a decade, he scored 29 of his 30 Test hundreds and averaged well over 50.

Think too of Damien Martyn, another dumped after seven Tests. In his penultimate innings, he scored 59, but the fact that he holed out to cover off Allan Donald with a Sydney Test in the balance was to be held against him for years. He too returned only in the new millennium, playing 60 more Tests with a grace and economy of movement that few batsmen in the history of the game have matched.

The same examples are valid when we talk of Yuvraj Singh. He scored a half-century in the last Test that he played in Galle, but hasn't even been able to find a place in the squad since, thwarted first by injury and then the emergence of Suresh Raina and Cheteshwar Pujara. Yuvraj's Test average of 35.63 is disappointing, but it's also undeniable that he's never enjoyed the kind of steady run in the team that others have had. Before Kolkata 2001, VVS Laxman averaged 27 from 20 Tests, many of those innings having been played as a makeshift opener. If the selectors had closed the book on him then, Indian cricket wouldn't have enjoyed a smidgen of the success that it has since.

Yuvraj may well struggle to reclaim a spot in the Test side, but it's ludicrous to mix up his performance in whites with his value to the one-day side. If India are to have any chance of winning the World Cup in a few months time, they will need to play seven specialist batsmen, at least two of whom will also bowl regularly. Would Yuvraj make that list of seven? Of course he would.

If the choice comes down to playing him or the faux allrounders that India possess, Yusuf Pathan and Ravindra Jadeja, it's really no choice at all. In home conditions, Yuvraj averages nearly 42 with a strike-rate of 91.48. In the last five years, he's had one bad one (2009). Add in his bowling, with an economy-rate of 5.04 after 258 games, and you're looking at the best left-handed option that India has by some distance.

There are two factors to think of while choosing a World Cup squad. You don't want too many scarred by repeated failures or defeat. But you do wish for a core of men with something to prove, those who have experienced soul-destroying disappointments and come back from them.

Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra and Harbhajan all played alongside Yuvraj when India were brushed aside in the 2003 final. Nehra apart, the other five were also on duty when Bangladesh pushed India towards the exit four years later. In Freedom From Fear, the recently released Aung Sang Suu Kyi wrote: It is his capacity for self-improvement and self-redemption which most distinguishes man from the mere brute. If the selectors remember that, then Indian cricket has a lot to look forward to.

Dileep Premachandran is an associate editor at Cricinfo

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Posted by   on (December 9, 2010, 10:15 GMT)

Sehwag, Tendulkar, Gambhir, Yuvraj, Dhoni, Yusuf, Harbhajan, Zaheer, Nehra, Sreesanth.

Posted by cricket_ftw on (December 9, 2010, 9:03 GMT)

yuvraj in ODI is obvious .. his is not required in tests though ..

Posted by Rushikey on (December 8, 2010, 21:57 GMT)

I think despite a blazing inning by Pathan and Good bowling performance by Munaf, BCCI will choose Sir. Ravindra Jadeja for World Cup squad, Since he is the most experienced and inform towel boy and 12th player.. Nobody can beat his record for 12th player.

Posted by cric_follower on (December 8, 2010, 20:13 GMT)

don't understand the article. nobody is doubting Yuvraj's place in the world cup!!

Posted by Bamarolls on (December 8, 2010, 16:18 GMT)

IMHO, these guys have a secure spot on the XI barring injuries: Sehwag, Tendulkar, Gambhir, Dhoni, Khan, Singh (Bhajji), Kumar. That leaves room for 1 Bowler an 3 batsmen/part-time bowler - it would be a mistake to go with anything less that 4 specialist bowlers. Not all the bowlers would click in every game. Choice is between Ishant, Ashwin, Sreesanth, and Ojha. My choice would depend upon wicket. For the batsmen the choice is between Yuvi, Raina, Kohli, Pathan. I will rotate Yuvi and Pathan based on strength of opponent. Who should we drop to make room for Kartnik as a back-up WK?

Posted by Vnott on (December 8, 2010, 13:39 GMT)

So many comments on Irfan. But unfortunately he is injured and is undergoing rehabilitation. There is no way he can be in the world cup side... Our only issue is the bowling in the end overs. Ashwin had done well before before the previous one day. We need to solve this.....This is the only missing link which can stop India in the world cup.

Posted by Vnott on (December 8, 2010, 13:31 GMT)

Very interesting article and isn't it amazing how the selectors almost killed VVS by making him a makeshift opener. The stats paint such a poignant picture. Average of 27 in 20 tests before the epic 281 in calcutta which redefined VVS. I hope the selectors stop tinkering with middle order batsmen who are pushed to open. Rohit Sharma, Dinesh Karthik. While Karthik is no VVS, he was a terrific team man and had to prove himself with 1-2 appearances every time and compete with Dhoni himself for a spot. He also averages 27.77 in 23 tests and has the same average in One days too.... Wish someone realizes this, he is still the best 2nd keeper in the country and just needs to be given a patient run in the middle order. He will succeed....

Posted by   on (December 8, 2010, 8:21 GMT)

WC XI should Be 1. Sachin 2. Sehwag 3.Gambir 4. Yuvraj 5. Kohli 6.Raina 7. Dhoni 8. Yousuf 9. Bhajji 10. Nehra 11. Zaheer 12. Munaf 13.Ashwin 14. Parthiv patel 15.Praveen Kumar

Posted by Percy_Fender on (December 8, 2010, 5:13 GMT)

My team for the Word Cup is Sehwag, Gambhir, Tendulkar,Kohli,Yuvraj,Raina,Dhoni,Ashwin,Harbhajan,Zaheer,Nehra,Munaf,Rohit Sharma,Saurabh Tiwari and Yusuf Pathan.

Posted by msn2507 on (December 8, 2010, 3:08 GMT)

My choice of the WC 2011 Indian team -

1. Sehwag 2. Gambir 3. Raina 4. Tendulkar 5. Yuvaraj 6. Dhoni 7. Y Pathan 8. Harbhajan 9. Z Khan 10. Ishant 11. R Ashwin

Sustitutes 1.Kohli 2.Pujara 3.Vijay 4.Ojha 5.Nehra

...and hopefully Sachin does it for India before he retirees :)

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Dileep PremachandranClose
Dileep Premachandran Associate editor Dileep Premachandran gave up the joys of studying thermodynamics and strength of materials with a view to following in the footsteps of his literary heroes. Instead, he wound up at the Free Press Journal in Mumbai, writing on sport and politics before Gentleman gave him a column called Replay. A move to MyIndia.com followed, where he teamed up with Sambit Bal, and he arrived at ESPNCricinfo after having also worked for Cricket Talk and total-cricket.com. Sunil Gavaskar and Greg Chappell were his early cricketing heroes, though attempts to emulate their silken touch had hideous results. He considers himself obscenely fortunate to have watched live the two greatest comebacks in sporting history - India against invincible Australia at the Eden Gardens in 2001, and Liverpool's inc-RED-ible resurrection in the 2005 Champions' League final. He lives in Bangalore with his wife, who remains astonishingly tolerant of his sporting obsessions.

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