January 12, 2007

Munaf Patel - Home truths after "lies" overseas

By H Natarajan

The Indian cricket team is back from South Africa with arrows flying thick and fast at the players. Among the plethora of accusations, the two that rankles most are: Questioning the integrity of a player and the professional competency of a team support member. The attack on fast bowler Munaf Patel was direct while the one aimed at physio John Gloster was veiled. But there was no mistaking the intent behind the statement that came from no less a person of authority than the honorary secretary of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, Niranjan Shah. Coming from him, it’s a damning statement, an official public indictment.

Niranjan’s forceful words are indicative of BCCI mood. I know Niranjan for a long, long time and he is a very mild-mannered person. He would not have dared to make such a bold statement unless he had the approval of the powers that be.

He was only expressing what many concluded after seeing Munaf bowl in the third Test. It was apparent that a genuine fast bowler, capable of generating speeds anywhere between 140-145 kmph, was bowling at a pace close to Anil Kumble! India is probably the only country where fast bowlers arrive on the scene with speeds exceeding 140 kmph and then keep dropping pace to settle at around 125-130 kmph while most young fast bowlers in other country generate more pace as gain in experience and their body fills out in the right places. But it’s another matter and a topic in itself which can be taken up sometime in the future.

Niranjan told the media that Munaf “should have been honest about his ankle injury”. In fact, he was emphatic and unambiguous when he added that both Munaf and Virender Sehwag should have been packed off home midway through the tour. To me that’s a veiled attack by the BCCI on the Indian tour management - captain Rahul Dravid, vice-captain VVS Laxman, coach Greg Chappell and selection committee chairman Dilip Vengsarkar - for its failure to take necessary action. The BCCI had to cop severe embarrassment when, at the eleventh hour, it had to ask Delhi teenager Ishant Sharma not to reinforce the team in South Africa. There is no clarity whose decision it was to stall Ishaant’s trip, but the general belief it was Vengsarkar’s decision.

It seems scandalous that a player could go through an entire tour remaining unfit. And the BCCI is fully justified in questioning Gloster. The fact that the BCCI doctor in Mumbai, Dr Anant Joshi, has deemed Munaf be rested for at least two more weeks, does not do the Indian physio any good as he was asked by the BCCI thrice during the course of the tour for a detailed explanation on Munaf’s fitness. The players are representing the country and the countrymen have every right to know answers to the many pertinent questions that crop up as a result of Dr Joshi’s declaration. What was the basis in keeping Munaf on the sidelines for so long? Why was he played in the third Test when he is not even fit now? Who took the decision to keep him back and who were the people responsible in playing him? A fitter fast bowler, instead of the passenger in Munaf, or Harbhajan Singh could have helped India clinch the third Test and with it a historic series. It was a monumental blunder that needs to be probed.

Gloster was present when the fitness test on Munaf was conducted by Dr Joshi on the player’s return back home with the team. There has been no comment from Gloster, but the truth has to come out as the incident questions his professional competence if not his credibility.

To add to the mess, national selector Bhupinder Singh Senior told a newspaper that the Indian captain’s “mind was not on the game” in the third Test. Clearly, Bhupinder clearly went beyond his powers to not only speak out of turn but also speak in a manner that publicly censured. The last has not been heard on the matter and one can expect the BCCI to issue a stinging warning to Bhupinder in a manner that all others, present and future selectors, get the message.

The successes of Dinesh Kartik and Shantakumar Sreesanth have shown what young men hungry for success can achieve. As for the battle-scarred veterans, it’s time to give them a break and help them exorcise their cricketing ghosts in domestic circuit. The break will rejuvenate them and help them rediscover their hunger to start afresh as Sourav Ganguly, Zaheer Khan, VVS Laxman and Wasim Jaffer have proved. If there is a problem anywhere, it just that India the corrective measures have been delayed a bit too late in the day as the World Cup is too close for comfort.

But India does not have too many options. The bullet has to be bitten.


At 8:54 pm, Anonymous Milton said...

We should also ask the question ....
What has been Greg Chappel's value addition to the Indian team?
We seem to have lot of controversies during his tenure, but the question is ... has Indian cricket benifitted significantly due to his involvement?


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