Versatile Munaf is back

Munaf Patel is rated high by Dilip Vengsarkar, the chairman of the Indian selection panel.-V. GANESAN

The selectors and the team-management realise Munaf’s worth. He can achieve telling movement with the new ball, check the flow of runs in the middle overs, and get his deliveries to reverse swing at the Death, writes S. Dinakar.

Munaf Patel is rated high

Munaf Patel’s versatility should add to the Indian attack. The paceman returns for the seven-match ODI series against host England, replacing Santhakumaran Sreesanth, who has not so much been dropped as disciplined for his temperamental ways.

Otherwise, the 15-member team for England is on expected lines. The selectors might have thought long and hard about including either Irfan Pathan or S. Badrinath for Rohit Sharma, but, eventually, decided to give the young batsman a longer run.

Munaf has come through a tough rehabilitation programme, following a back strain that cut short his tour of Bangladesh this year.

The focus during this phase was on strengthening his body and correcting his technique. Munaf spent more than a month at the MRF Pace Foundation in Chennai, where he declared: “I want to bowl fast again.” The statement oozed a new-found self-belief.

There has been much debate about how Munaf, gifted with natural ability and speed, should bowl. There is also a belief that he could cause more damage if he moved the ball at speeds well over the 140 kmph mark, which he clocked consistently in his early days with the Indian team.

Subsequently, he bowled at a reduced speed but with greater accuracy and control. Munaf also made a couple of technical changes which might have had a detrimental effect on his fitness.

T. A. Sekar, Head Coach, MRF Pace Foundation, says Munaf was attempting to bowl like the Aussie legend, Glenn McGrath, which could have led to the back injury.

“McGrath, in his last stride, jumped in closer to the stumps, which created a bit of imbalance in his action. He has a semi-open technique where the top-half rotates a bit. McGrath was still able to hold his action because of his core strength. He is extremely fit and had perfected this method. It is not easy for the others to do so,” says Sekar.

Sreesanth ran into on-field problems of the temperamental kind during the Test series in England. Consequently, his bowling suffered.-K. BHAGYA PRAKASH

Sreesanth ran into on-field problems

When Munaf jumped in, he almost ended up with a mixed action, and there was a slight rotation of his spine. Resultantly, says Sekar, Munaf also lost pace.

While Munaf, under trainer Ramji Srinivasan, followed the guidelines laid down by Team India physio John Gloster to mend his back, he also remodelled his action under pace guru Dennis Lillee and Sekar.

The paceman was asked to run straight and then come in at a slight angle as he neared the stumps. The jump was removed. Says Sekar: “We also worked on his front-arm usage which increased the efficiency of his action. Now his bowling arm finished across his body. All his forces were towards the target.”

The selectors and the team-management realise Munaf’s worth. He can achieve telling movement with the new ball, check the flow of runs in the middle overs, and get his deliveries to reverse swing at the Death.

Munaf is one of those talented pacemen who can, both, swing and cut his deliveries. The use of the wrist is the key element here.

Although Munaf wants to switch his pace gears, it is unlikely that he would go flat out in the one-day format. The quicker delivery could be employed as a surprise weapon.

His record in One Day International cricket is creditable. Munaf has 26 wickets in 22 ODIs with an Economy Rate of 4.54 and a Strike Rate of 40.65. These are creditable figures.

His three for 18 off eight incisive overs against England — Munaf’s victims included dangerman Kevin Pietersen — in an ICC Champions Trophy match in Jaipur last year was an outstanding effort.

That was a day when he bowled a length, neither full enough for the drive nor short enough to venture into aggressive back-footed strokes, that is so hard to achieve in limited overs cricket. The Englishmen would be wary of Munaf. The bowler, rated high by the chairman of the Indian selection panel, Dilip Vengsarkar, has emerged from a career crisis.

An ankle injury dogged Munaf on the tour of South Africa. And when he was, under controversial circumstances, chosen for the decider in Cape Town, he appeared to be struggling with his fitness, although he sent down a couple of worthy but unproductive spells.

Gloster said Munaf was “physically fit” but carried with him the mental scars of his injury. The tour of Bangladesh once again put him under a fitness cloud. His ability was never in question though.

Sreesanth, too, is not without ability. He is sharp and can swing the ball. And on days when his body and mind are in sync, he can be lethal.

He can also press the self-destruct button. An expressive personality, Sreesanth ran into on-field problems of the temperamental kind during the Test series in England. Consequently, his bowling suffered.

In the first two Tests, he was impressive in spells, but not consistently good. He needs to put a lid on his emotions. Sreesanth is an attacking bowler, even in the one-day format; his 38 wickets in 29 ODIs at a strike rate of 37.00 indicates this. However, Sreesanth’s Economy Rate of 5.66 is surely on the higher side.

Genuine out-swing bowlers can be expensive in the ODIs. The slip cordon is, invariably, not in place and runs can leak through edges. Generally, save the early phase, the ball darting into the batsman is a bigger threat in one-day cricket.

Like leg-spinners, the out-swing bowlers need to be backed by the captain. If provided the right field, these bowlers can strike. Often, the best way to peg the run-rate back is by picking up wickets at regular intervals. The skipper has to find the right balance between attack and defence and this is easier said than done.

There is also an opposite view that the denial of runs can create pressure in the one-dayers, leading to wickets when the enmeshed batsmen resort to desperate means.

Sreesanth has had his moments in the shorter format, with his six for 55 that sunk England in the Indore ODI in 2005-06 displaying his attributes as a strike bowler.

He has also used a deceptive short ball rather effectively in the ODIs. During his match-winning four for 58 in Karachi (2005-2006) Sreesanth forced the Pakistani batsmen to miscue their pulls since the ball climbed quicker on to them than they expected.

Then, there have been occasions when he has been taken for runs. There is a view that Sreesanth is attempting too many variations, not focussing on consistency.

The paceman has strength, speed, an ideal seam position, and outswing. Included in the squad for the Twenty20 World Cup, Sreesanth should, at some stage, make a comeback into the ODI arena. Meanwhile, he has the time to work on his yorker.

India has the momentum in its favour after the 2-1 ODI series triumph over South Africa in Belfast, but has to sort out the No. 3 slot.

The logic behind sending Gautam Gambhir in this position in two of the matches against South Africa could not be faulted — the team required a shot-maker in the Power Play overs in case one of the openers departed early.

However, Gambhir, who needs to adopt a tighter game without compromising on his stroke-making ability, returned scores of 0 and 5 and India is still seeking answers to this vital batting slot. The in form Dinesh Karthik or Robin Uthappa could be tried out in England in this slot.

THE SQUAD:

Rahul Dravid (Capt.), Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Yuvraj Singh, Ramesh Powar, Dinesh Karthik, Zaheer Khan, R. P. Singh, Munaf Patel, Rohin Uthappa, Rohit Sharma, Piyush Chawla, Gautam Gambhir, Ajit Agarkar.