IN THE NEWS
With the emergence of Munaf Patel, Team India has found a lethal new-ball bowler, reports Gopal Sharma
Rarely has an Indian bowler generated so much interest on his Test debut as Munaf Musa Patel. His crucial blows during the first session on the final day of the Mohali Test dashed whatever hopes England had of saving the game.
It’s not just the strikes but the manner in which the 22-year-old speedster bowled that was most impressive. The in-swinging yorker bowled at over 145 kmph that flummoxed Matthew Hoggard was a gem. Earlier, he had bowled a stinging yorker at 144.7 kmph which Paul Collingwood barely survived. Once into the rhythm, Munaf consistently bowled at a decent pace and kept the batsmen on tenterhooks.
After claiming the key scalp of danger man Kevin Pietersen, he dismissed Andrew Flintoff. For his perseverance, Munaf got seven wickets in the match. He showed a remarkable ability to reverse swing the ball.
Rahul Dravid was profuse in his praise of the new pace sensation. "It is just not the speed, but the areas in which he put the ball. He bowled accurately. He swung the ball well and troubled batsmen with his lively pace."
"Munaf is a decent bowler. He can bowl reverse at a decent pace. I was not surprised by his performance in the Test as he did so well in the warm-up game at Baroda," England stand-in skipper Flintoff said after the Mohali match.
Though Anil Kumble hogged the limelight for his stupendous feat of taking 500 Test wickets — he also bagged the man-of-the-match award — the contribution of the gangling fast bowler in the victory was no less significant.
Ever since he was dubbed "India’s Brett Lee" by Australian pace legend Dennis Lillee, Munaf has found himself under the kind of spotlight which can make any raw youngster lose his balance. But not Munaf.
He made his first-class debut against the visiting New Zealand in a three-day game in 2002. Munaf made an impact by claiming three wickets, including those of Nathan Astle and Scott Styris. But he was soon afflicted by a shoulder injury and some indifferent form pushed him into the background.
But ever since the Bharuch player switched allegiance to Maharashtra, becoming their spearhead, he has regained his rhythm. In fact, the hard-working Munaf has come out stronger.
He gave ample indication of his form when he took 10 wickets in the three-day match against England before the start of the Test series. His effort was the vital factor which resulted in a humiliating defeat for the formidable visitors.
Making his Test debut, Munaf needed some time to overcome the jitters. Understandably, his first spell was ordinary. But once the nerves settled, Munaf went about his task admirably. "We can now give back to our rivals what we had been getting from them for so long," a jubilant Dravid said after the match.
Munaf has well and truly arrived on the international stage. He has shown the spark which the bowling attack has lacked for some time. He has it in him to become Irfan Pathan’s new-ball bowling partner. There are reports that an English county is interested in signing him as their overseas player. After just one Test, Munaf has become a force to reckon with.
They might be known as "slow" bowlers, but when it comes to taking wickets by the bagful, they have proved to be much faster than the pacers. Contemporary cricket is privileged to have three spin wizards — Anil Kumble, Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan. They share among them a whopping 1,764 Test wickets, having foxed the best batsmen in the world umpteen times.
The three ruled the roost during the 1990s, stealing the limelight from leading pace bowlers, and their appetite for wickets has remained insatiable even in recent years.
Kumble and Muralitharan have done wonders on the spin-friendly home wickets of their respective countries. In contrast, their record on foreign turf is mediocre. Warne is the only one of the three whose bowling average (runs conceded per wicket) is lower on foreign pitches than on home soil, which shows how adaptable the Australian has been.
Winning matches virtually on their own is nothing new for them. Of the 105 Tests Kumble has played, India have won 36 and lost 25. The great leg-spinner’s form has been extremely crucial to the team’s fortunes — his average in matches won is as low as 18.57, while in matches lost it is a poor 42.95. This gap is the narrowest in the case of Warne. Even Muralitharan has done better than Kumble in matches lost by his team.
Warne recently observed that Muralitharan had taken a lot of "easy" wickets against minnows Bangladesh and Zimbabwe (137 to be precise, in only 20 Tests). However, the Sri Lankan has also done extremely well against top teams like Australia, England and Pakistan. Kumble has played seven Tests against Zimbabwe (38 wickets) and two versus Bangladesh (10 wickets). Had he played more matches against these teams, his record would have been even better. Warne, on the other hand, has played just one match against Zimbabwe (six wickets).
Though these three have excelled against all kinds of opposition, they have found the going tough while facing a particular rival. For Kumble, it has been Pakistan, even though he has his best innings figures (10-74) against them. Warne and Muralitharan have often suffered at the hands of Indian batsmen (The Aussie’s average against India is an abysmal 47.18, way above his career average of 25.15).
One quality they share is tenacity. Kumble has repeatedly bounced back despite being written off by his detractors; the unending controversy over his bowling action has failed to deter Muralitharan; Warne has been going great guns despite some embarrassing off-field episodes.
Though they have entered the last phase of their illustrious careers, they are still an asset to their team. Irreplaceable — that’s what they are. Before leaving the scene, they will ensure that the current decade is also remembered more for the exploits of spinners rather than pacers.
NO matter which part of the world it travels to, the Barmy Army makes its presence felt loud and clear. Their lung power and flashiness was a big draw at the PCA Stadium in Mohali during the India-England Test.
The army, which has become an integral part of British sports, came into existence around 11 years ago when the England cricket team toured Australia in 1994-95. As thousands of cricket lovers travelled the country with the team, the Australian media nicknamed the group the Barmy Army.
"Barmy — because we spent so much money on the team that kept losing, and Army — because there were a lot of us", explains Victor Flower.
Members of the army are not just cheerleaders. The group has been doing a lot of charity work by earning money through merchandising, auctioning of sports gears belonging to big stars and by organising matches.
Of late, the Barmy Army has emerged as a company being run by Paul Burnham, its founder. "All our affairs are handled by six employees", says Kaity, who is one of them.
Over 700 group members have come to India to cheer the Indian team. "Most of us will return after the Mumbai Test", says Kaity. Talking about the charity work, she says, "We organised a match in Pakistan last year and distributed money among earthquake victims. We will also hold a match in Mumbai for the purpose".
Fredy, Martyn Hughes and Richard Edward, all lawyers, are accompanying the group in India for the first time.
The group wants to make it clear that they are different from English soccer fans, who are notorious for hooliganism. "Enlisting" in the army is a click away. "Log on to www.barmyarmy.com," says Fredy, "and have a blast."
THE infamous spat between coach Greg Chappell and former captain Sourav Ganguly was an unfortunate event and should have died down with the passage of time. However, Chappell’s recent interview to a British daily has again raked up the issue. Some of his remarks against Ganguly are not only unsavoury but also smack of vindictiveness. He seems to be trying to hog the limelight by his utterances.
It is high time this ugly chapter in Indian cricket history is closed once and for all. The coach should know his limits and not try to acquire a larger-than-life image. One hopes the BCCI will do the needful in this respect.
Hoshiarpur Fine comeback
The Indian hockey team lost the first three Tests to Pakistan at home but bounced back in the matches held in the neighbouring country. They did not lose even a single match in Pakistan, winning one and drawing two. In the last encounter of the six-match series in Rawalpindi, the Indians showed their fighting capability when they scored three goals in the last eight minutes.
The Indian team taking part in the Commonwealth Games is a good outfit. Most of the players have been selected on the basis of their performance in the recently held Premier Hockey League (PHL).
It is good that the IHF has recalled Deepak Thakur. Gagan Ajit Singh and Prabhjot Singh also deserve a place in the team. Shortcomings like low penalty-corner conversion rate and missing chances in the ‘D’ should be removed. Drag-flicker Sandeep Singh should take a direct hit/flick instead of trying a variation. Coach Rajinder Singh Junior is doing a good job but he should rectify the flaws noticed during the Pakistan series.
Pritpal Singh, Patiala
Pakistan’s hockey team deserves congratulations for winning the six-match Test series 3-1. India were outclassed in every department of the game. Moreover, India could not score many a time despite earning several penalty corners.
An analysis of the Indian team’s performance reveals that the following factors were responsible for the defeat: lack of regular intensive training; lack of perfect coordination and determination; imperfect finishing and penalty-corner conversion; inadequate utilisation of Sandeep Singh by the coach; absence of full-back Dilip Tirkey and centre-half Viren Rasquinha.
Iqbal Singh Saroya, Mohali