Munaf Patel, the Indian fast bowler, has far more serious concerns than a sore ankle with the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) openly questioning his integrity. Munaf, who was injured after the second one-dayer in South Africa took no further part in the series until the final Test, where he was obviously well below peak fitness, and bowled at less than full capacity.
Niranjan Shah, the BCCI secretary, said that he had summoned John Gloster, the physiotherapist of the Indian team, to the offices of the board in Mumbai on Monday for a full debriefing on what exactly happened with Munaf, but backed the team management and the physio to the hilt. "I had yesterday summoned John Gloster to get a report from him on Munaf Patel. According to his report Gloster said they had taken all the fitness tests necessary and felt that he was totally fit. I think Rahul [Dravid] and the other members of the team management must also have been convinced of Munaf's fitness before taking him in the eleven. Certain injuries are such that the physio may believe that the player will recover any time. Whether the player has that same confidence or not is something else. The players should be honest with themselves, there's no point blaming the physio."
In a more damning statement, Shah, speaking for the BCCI, laid the blame squarely at Munaf. "Then we were surprised, when Dr Anant Joshi conducted tests, and Munaf complained about pain. Joshi then advised a couple of weeks' rest," he said. "Here I am a little concerned about the player himself. The player himself should be honest enough about his own fitness. The last 5% has to come from the player. The doctor cannot say how much pain you are experiencing. Many players can play even with a big injury but some players cannot play even with a small injury. The honesty of the player - at least in the case of Munaf Patel - is in question.
"During the series Munaf's fitness was being monitored and there was the hope from Gloster that Munaf would recover any day," revealed Shah, who is believed to have been in favour of a move to send Munaf home along with Irfan Pathan. "That prolonged his stay and the board went with it. But after seeing his performance in the third Test the board is worried."
When asked if there were larger concerns, as Sachin Tendulkar too looked off colour in the third Test, and has subsequently pulled out of Mumbai's final Ranji Trophy match against Maharashtra, Shah was more careful. "That's a small thing, the hamstring problem," Shah said. "He will be fit soon. Tendukar is a responsible player."
Shah did not think it was fair to blame Munaf for the loss in the final Test and consequently the series. "You can't say that any one player cost the match or the series," he said, while adding, "even one player not putting in full effort will hamper the team's chances of winning."
At the same time, Shah dismissed the suggestion that this situation had arisen as a result of friction between himself and Dilip Vengsarkar, the chairman of selectors. "It was not friction. I said what the board feels, but we don't interfere in the matter of team selection," said Shah, who had earlier said that it was the board's prerogative to send a player back from a tour whenever they felt it appropriate. Vengsarkar had publicly disagreed, saying a player would only be sent back in case of injury. "That is for Vengsarkar and the team management to decide. Whether to send someone home or not is for the selection committee to decide. [Virender] Sehwag's failure was such that maybe he should have been replaced by somebody else."
Interestingly, Dr Joshi, the board's consulting orthopaedic doctor, has not spared Munaf either after examining him. "Clinically he has full range of ankle motion, good joint stability, and no appreciable swelling. His ankle seems to be normal as compared to the non-injured side," wrote Dr. Joshi in his report to the board. "The X-ray did not reveal any significant pathology. Going through his medical record in South Africa I find that the treatment given to him has been top class. It appears that Munaf continues to be apprehensive about the injury, more psychological than physical. He needs to overcome this problem himself. I have suggested rest and continued physiotherapy over the next 2-3 weeks before he can be re-evaluated and start playing domestic cricket."
Munaf has been ruled out of the first two one-day internationals against West Indies at home starting January 21.
Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo