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Kwazulu Natal Invitation XI v Indians, Durban

Munaf's chance to stake a claim

Dileep Premachandran in Durban

December 21, 2006

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Munaf hasn't bowled in the middle in a month, and this game represents a last realistic chance to stake his claim for a place in the XI for Durban © Getty Images

The Indians will head to the Crusaders Ground in Durban on Friday for a two-day warm-up that was primarily engineered to take a look at Munaf Patel's fitness. Munaf hasn't bowled in the middle in a month, and this game represents a last realistic chance to stake his claim for a place in the XI for Durban, where he tweaked his ankle in a one-day game in November.

Sreesanth, who played a pivotal part in the Wanderers win, will be rested for the game, as will Anil Kumble. Irfan Pathan and Harbhajan Singh, neither of whom has much chance of playing the Test, will also get an opportunity to get some overs in, while most of the batsmen will be glad of some practice. One of the middle-order batsmen could also make way so that Gautam Gambhir can get a knock.

If India decide to go for a change at the top for the second Test, they could opt for a specialist like Gambhir. Greg Chappell had said that opening is a specialist job and he would be wary of going with a makeshift opener. "I think if we make a change, it would be more likely to go with someone who is a specialist in the squad [Gambhir]," Chappell said.

With the match not being a first-class fixture, India will also use more than 11 players. Dravid, who experienced a rare failure at Johannesburg, will certainly play, but all eyes will be on Munaf. The team management was more than happy with what the three-man pace attack did at the Wanderers, but for the moment, Munaf is a far more polished option than the rough-at-the-edges VRV Singh.

Chappell had said that India will go with Munaf if and only if he is fully fit. " We can get him to bowl two or three spells in that game [tour game], and that would give us a much better idea as opposed to bowling two or three spells in a net session.

But if there's the slightest doubt when we get to Kingsmead, we'll err on the conservative side and make sure that whenever he next plays, he'll be 100 percent fit. He's too important to us in the medium to long term to risk short-term benefit."

Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo

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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 followed, where he teamed up with Sambit Bal, and he arrived at ESPNCricinfo after having also worked for Cricket Talk and 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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