Sudeshna Guha Roy
Life always follows this trend: ‘One’s loss is another’s gain’!
Just when the Indian cricket team was gearing up for the three-match Test series against their island neighbours, Sri Lanka, they faced a horrible problem - Sreesanth too failed to prove his fitness for the tournament, with Zaheer Khan already featuring in the injured-list.
Left with two pacers short, the national selection committee dug deep into the history of Indian cricket and re-discovered the name of a long-lost controversial fast bowler, Munaf Patel- to replace Sree, so as to somehow bolster the already depleted pace attack in the team.
Sreesanth’s knee injury has proved to be a blessing in disguise for Munaf, as he had been an absolute recluse in the international arena, and a recall in the Indian Test team truly gave him a new lease of life on his birthday.
Munaf last featured in Test cricket for India almost one-and-half years back in New Zealand, where he managed to clinch a paltry one wicket at an expense of 42 runs. The three-match series saw him grabbing just 6 wickets in all. Since then, he has had only domestic appearances in the last season; a total of four Ranji matches and one Duleep Trophy match with a form far from good.
Having said that, the selectors did not have a wider range to choose from either, as the likes of Irfan Pathan and RP Singh were themselves struggling to get back to shape and the young brigade has still not proved their worth at the top level.
Had it been the snack-version of the game, the issue of pace bowling could have been dealt with the inclusion of players like Praveen Kumar and Ashish Nehra. However, their selection in the Test-series could have severely exposed our lack of quality pacers, who can take gruelling pressure of a five-day match.
Nevertheless, the debate on whether Munaf has been the right choice to replace Sree can wage on forever, as the past records of the former raise some questions.
With a dream start to his Test career, Munaf’s graph saw an erratic combination of crests and troughs. In his debut two-match Test series against England in 2006, he picked a total of 10 wickets. His form continued in his next Test series against the West Indies where he claimed 14 wickets.
However, a steep downfall came his way the following year as the series against Pakistan and South Africa were disastrous as ever with just 3 and 1 wicket respectively being added to his account.
His record in the ODI format has not been that glorious either as his last appearance in the 50-over format against Australia saw him claiming just a single scalp.
Nevertheless, his casual approach and apathetic attitude toward the game has always been under scrutiny. In the Commonwealth Bank Series in February, Munaf invited a lot of criticism from cricket legend Sunil Gavaskar, who even went on to say that he was an ‘useless’ addition to the team as being a bowler is not enough and that he also had to be a decent enough fielder.
Gavaskar said that Munaf’s lackadaisical attitude on the field was worrying and that he should not have been included in the side that lost to Australia in the ODI tri-series.
Funny as it may seem, he even went missing in 2007, just before India’s four-Test series against Australia. Even though he was ruled out of the tournament Down Under due to the back spasms, he was asked to prove his fitness by playing a couple of Ranji matches. Apparently, his Ranji team Maharashtra too could give no account of his whereabouts.
Having last featured in the Indian Premier League-III in April, where he played just four matches, it is difficult to judge what shape Munaf actually is in. With uncertainty over his form flowing over the brim, a recall into the Test team is indeed a lifeline for the out-of-favour pacer.
With the Sri Lanka series just round the corner, the million dollar question now is, can the Baroda lad be trusted with the responsibility to lead Indian pace attack in the island? If yes, we surely have positive news for the Indian pace brigade!