Ishant Sharma to replace injured Munaf

Ishant Sharma, the young Delhi fast bowler, will replace the injured Munaf Patel in the Indian Test squad in Bangladesh. Munaf, who missed the first Test in Chittagong with pain in his lower back, will fly back to India, and it is expected that Ishant will leave Delhi for Chittagong on Saturday.

On Friday morning Ravi Shastri, the cricket manager of the Indian team for this tour, spoke to a senior Indian board official to convey the news of Munaf's unavailability. Following this Dilip Vengsarkar, the chairman of the national selection committee, spoke to his colleagues over the telephone and it was decided that Munaf would return to India immediately and be replaced by Ishant. It is understood that the team management specifically requested the selection committee to send Ishant to Bangladesh.

Sharma, who has enjoyed a good first-class season for Delhi, was first in the news when it was suggested that he would be sent to South Africa as cover for the injury-hit Indian squad late last year. The Indian team in South Africa then thought it would be a good idea for the 18-year-old Sharma to be a part of the Indian dressing-room and get a feel for cricket at the highest level. However, after some confusion in the board it was decided that Sharma would not be sent to South Africa after all.

This latest injury could be a serious blow to Munaf's career. It's worth remembering that Munaf came under a serious cloud of suspicion during India's tour of South Africa where he did not play a part in the majority of the tour and yet remained with the squad. Munaf made a comeback in the final Test, but was clearly well below full fitness, and did not perform to expectations. When India returned from that tour the Board of Control for Cricket in India did not take the Munaf issue lightly.

As soon as India returned from South Africa Niranjan Shah, the secretary of the BCCI, summoned John Gloster, the physio, to the Mumbai offices of the board for a full briefing on what exactly happened with Munaf. The board then raised concerns that Munaf had gone into the final Test carrying an injury and that this might have impacted India's chances. "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," Shah had told Cricinfo back then. "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."

Most damningly, however, Shah laid the blame squarely at the feet of Munaf in a strong statement. "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."

With Munaf once again breaking down just before the start of a Test series, serious questions are bound to arise over his long-term fitness.