TIMES NEWS NETWORK[ TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 02, 2003 02:19:00 PM ]
VADODARA: Move over Shoaib; Bret, beat it! The Bharuch Blaster is here.
Yes, if pace legend Dennis Lillee is to be believed, this unknown lad from a nondescript Gujarat village Ikhar in Bharuch has been sending down 140-150 kmph zingers on a regular basis.
So, this means Munaf Patel has been outdoing the Zaheers, Nehras and Agarkars of the national squad on average. And, believe it or not, the country's fastest speedster hasn't played even a Ranji match yet.
So, if you imagine Patel in the national squad, you would be looking at world's most formidable pace attack. And backed by the world's best batting line-up, the next world series could just be India's.
But even if this lad makes it to Team India, his father probably would not be able to watch him on TV. Patel comes from a conservative Muslim family, which doesn't even own a television at home.
The 22-year-old, 6.4-footer Patel caught Lillee's eyes at Chennai's MRF Pace Academy, where he had come for a stint recently. Lillee has now pitted the Bharuch boy against the likes of Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly at the on-going training camp at Bangalore to test his mettle.
"We have identified a handful of promising boys to train with the Indian team and Munaf is one of them," says national selector and Baroda Cricket Association secretary Kiran More.
"Sachin and Sourav can have a look at these youngsters. Besides, Kapil Dev will also spend a few days at the camp which will be good for young lads like Munaf," he adds.
Back in Gujarat's local circuit, Patel's scorching deliveries are legendary, especially as they have singed quite a few.
Playing his debut first-class, U-25 match for Gujarat against Saurashtra his bouncer sent off Saurashtra captain Jaydev Shah with a broken finger, while another batsman had his ribs tingled.
The rookie himself ended up with five wickets. With another three wickets in the second innings, he ended up with eight in the match.
Patel was first spotted last year by former Gujarat pacer Dhansukh Patel during an inter-district match between Surat and Bharuch. Though coaching the Surat team, Dhansukh could not help but be impressed by the lanky pacer in the opposition who was making wickets tumble at will.
In two matches, Patel notched up 16 wickets and Dhansukh knew he had spotted a diamond. Later, playing for Gujarat, Patel bagged 18 wickets in three matches, mostly by scaring the wits out of the batsmen with his scorchers.
Taking advantage of his height, Patel would make the ball zip across the batsmen's face, many of whom would lob simple catches while fending off rising deliveries.
"We are expecting him to get even better with a little experience," says Gujarat under-25 coach Rajeev Desai.
Gujarat Cricket Association president Narhari Amin has already delivered his verdict: "I would not be surprised if he makes it to the Indian team soon," he says. "He is easily the fastest bowler we have."
His father, Musa Patel, a small-time cotton farmer, proudly offers a perspective to his son's feats. "They are fascinated by his pace, but you should see him bat," says Musa. "Crowds gather in local tournaments just to see him hit sixers!"
It seems India's quest for the Holy Grail has finally ended at this nondescript village in Gujarat.