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The curious case of Irfan and Munaf

( 2012 views )

India_bowling_fast_bowlers_cricketIt was rather distressing to watch Irfan Pathan and Munaf Patel make brief appearances in IPL 2017. Once touted as the future of Indian cricket’s pace bowling, the two appeared to be mere shadows of their previous selves. After one game for Irfan and two for Munaf – both representing the Gujarat Lions – the duo have been relegated to the benches in the tournament. 

In fact, one felt quite sorry for the two Indian fast bowlers even as they sat in the dugout. They seemed lost out there among the galaxy of young and exciting Indian talents and look resigned to their fates.

With Indian fans already gushing over the likes of Jasprit Bumrah, Sandeep Sharma, and Mohammad Shami as India’s next fast bowling stars, the chances of Irfan and Munaf making any sort of a comeback into the national team look absolutely miniscule. And that would be rather unfortunate as the two had oodles of talent to go a long way, but fate and regular dips in form have rendered them the might-have-beens of Indian cricket.

The case of Irfan Pathan and Munaf Patel is not just an aberration, though. Through the past decade or so, we have seen the rise and fall of several talented fast bowlers who have shown fleeting glimpses of brilliance before wilting away. Here, along with Irfan and Munaf, we look at some of India’s lost pace sensations. 

Irfan Pathan :

It feels strange that Irfan is still 32 years of age. Having made his name as a curly-haired 19-year-old boy who sent back Adam Gilchrist with an incredible in-swinging yorker in the Sydney Test of 2003-04, Baroda boy Pathan became an instant heartthrob.

In the months to follow, Irfan would go on to become one of India’s most fancied bowlers. With his ability to swing the ball both ways along with his boyish charm, Pathan was well and truly Indian cricket’s next big thing. A Test hat-trick against Pakistan, regular match-winning performances in the shorter format and a sprightly attitude were Irfan’s best features in his prime. 

However, as coach Greg Chappell uncovered his batting abilities and coerced him to be India’s much-needed all-rounder, Irfan lost his way. A match-winning 3-16 in the 2007 World T20 final and another match-winning effort in the Perth Test against Australia in 2008 were his last cherished moments after which regular injuries and dips in form resulted in him no longer being in contention for the national team.

He continues to fight hard in the domestic circuit and, occasionally, shines as well. However, it is unlikely that Irfan will reach his prime again.

RP Singh :

A natural swing bowler with a smooth action who could move the ball both ways at pace, RP Singh from Uttar Pradesh was a real revelation when he burst through the scenes at the World T20 2007. Outstanding match-winning spells of 4-13 against South Africa and 3-26 against Pakistan in the tournament got him instant recognition. A year later, he played a vital part in India’s famous humbling of Australia at Perth and it seemed another new Indian bowling sensation had arrived.

When in full flow, RP Singh could be unplayable. His inswinger was lethal and he had also developed some great variations which troubled batsmen greatly. The 2007-08 season was his best but after that his form and pace both slipped away drastically. Singh last played for India in The Oval Test against England in 2011 where he went wicketless. Since then he has been struggling to find a permanent place in any IPL side but has been doing quite well for Gujarat, his newly adopted state team, in the Ranji Trophy. 

Lakshmipathy Balaji :

Lakshmipathy Balaji made headlines on India’s historic tour to Pakistan in 2003-04, where he played an essential role in the tourists clinching the Test and ODI series. His career-best 4 for 63 in the third Test in Rawalpindi was a majestic effort that made Balaji an overnight star in India.  

A million-watt smile and a rare ability to swing the ball away made him a difficult bowler to reckon with. A whippy action and an ability to produce quick deliveries, slower ones, bouncers, and yorkers without any noticeable change in action got him many wickets and suddenly Balaji was the new poster boy of Indian pace bowling.

However, a stress fracture in 2005 took him out of the game for three years and even though he played for a few years in the IPL after that, and made a brief national comeback in the 2012 World T20, he couldn’t really reach the heights he had in his initial days.

Today, with a remodeled action, Balaji quietly continues to play for his home state Tamil Nadu but the high of listening to the roar of the students of the Lahore University of Management Studies cheering his name will reverberate in Indian cricket forever. 

Munaf Patel : 

He was one bowler who had become a sensation even before playing a first-class game. In the early 2000s, national dailies carried a front page news of a young boy named Munaf Musa Patel hailing from the small town of Ikhar in Bharuch, Gujarat, as India’s fastest ever bowler. Public interested peaked in him and Munaf trained at MRF Pace Foundation in Chennai for a few years before making his national debut in the Mohali Test against England in 2006. Getting figures of 7 for 97 in his first ever Test and following it by some consistent performances, Munaf established himself as a genuine member of India’s pace attack.

However, just as his rise was phenomenal, so was his fall. Munaf lost pace at drastic rate and regular niggles & injuries reduced him to a medium-pace bowler. He did stage a comeback in India’s 2011 World Cup triumph where he was India's third-highest wicket-taker. But that turned out to be an exception as Munaf, through some inconsistent performances and a lethargic approach, lost his place in the side.

Today, Munaf continues to play for his home state Baroda and has featured in the IPL after four years this season. But there is no doubt that he is just a shadow of the promising fast bowler he once was.

End note :

These names apart, there have also been bowlers like Praveen Kumar, S Sreesanth, VRV Singh, among quite a few others, who have had eerily similar fates in Indian cricket. Why exactly this keeps happening with Indian fast bowlers is a discussion for another day. 

One just hopes now that the new breed of promising Indian pacers finds a way to be durable, especially in this age of break-neck cricket, and prospers long for Indian cricket’s advancement. After all, the next Kapil Dev is still being awaited.

 

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