Vadodara (Gujarat) [India], August 8: The cries of “Munna, Munna” were common at the cricket grounds of Bharuch and Vadodara and also at the international level subsequently. His magic was such that he became one of the secret weapons of the 2011 cricket world cup-winning Indian team. This former cricketer has now committed himself to creating an army of fast bowlers like himself. This Munna we are talking about is none other than Munaf Patel, also known as Ikhar Express.

Munaf, who terrorised some of the world’s best batsmen with bowling speeds of 140 kmph and more, has taken up the responsibility of discovering new talent instead of enjoying retirement. His hard work and dedication can give a new Munaf Patel to the Indian cricket team.

Village boys training under Munaf can break into Team India.

The Baroda Cricket Association, with the support of Aditya Birla Capital, is conducting a talent search, and Munaf is the scout and mentor for the programme. Munaf is holding camps in the villages of Bharuch and Vadodara and scouting for fast bowlers. Munaf says his focus is on discovering cricketing talent from villages and preparing them for the Indian team.

“We have identified talented youngsters aged 16 to 21 and are giving the necessary training. When I, Zaheer Khan, Rakesh Patel, and Lukman can break into the team despite coming from small villages, why can’t others? I am confident we will get good results in the coming days,” he says.

Farmer’s son finds a place in the Indian team.

Munaf, whose father Musabhai was a farmer in the Ikhar village of Bharuch, didn’t have any dream of making a career in cricket. He used to play the sport only as a hobby but gained fame in neighbouring villages as a fast bowler and a wicket-taker. Munaf’s father did not want him to be playing even for fun. The family’s poor financial condition forced the fast bowler to find work in a tile manufacturing unit with daily pay of Rs. 35. However, teachers in his school encouraged him to play cricket. The name Munna started echoing around cricket grounds in Bharuch and Vadodara. But the condition was so dire that he used to play cricket with the season ball in slippers.

Kiran More and Sachin Tendulkar extended help to Munaf.

Seeing Munaf’s talent, one of the NRIs from the village, Yusufbhai Patel, gifted shoes to him and offered to sponsor his professional training at Baroda Cricket Association. Father Musabhai wasn’t happy as he wanted Munaf to study and start working with his uncle in Zambia. But fate had different ideas as a former wicketkeeper spotted Munaf and realised his talent. Munaf soon started playing first-class cricket for Gujarat. More subsequently sent him to the MRF Pace Foundation, where he trained under Dennis Lillee. Master Blaster Sachin Tendulkar was also impressed with Munaf and advised him to play in the Ranji Trophy for Mumbai.

Munaf was included in the test against England in 2006 after he picked 10 English wickets for the Board President’s XI. He picked 7 for 97, the best performance by an Indian fast bowler on his test debut. He was also selected in the team for the 2007 world cup, but the team made an early exit. He became a regular in the squad for tests, ODIs, and T20s and also played in the IPL. After an injury ruled out Praveen Kumar from the squad, Munaf was included in the 2011 world cup team and made the most of the opportunity. He was India’s third-highest wicket-taker in the world cup behind Zaheer Khan and Yuvraj Singh with 11 victims, including two in the final. Bowling coach Eric Simons called Munaf the unsung hero of the world cup victory.

Ankle injury brought curtains on Munaf’s career.

An ankle injury forced Munaf out of action for six months, and he could not find a place in the Indian team again. He played for the Rajasthan Royals in the IPL for six seasons but went unpicked in 2014. The Gujarat Lions picked him in 2017 for Rs. 30 lakh, but injuries forced Munaf to call time on his playing career in 2018. Munaf has taken 199 wickets in tests, ODIs, T20s, and IPL matches. A rare bowler who could swing the ball both ways, Munaf consistently bowled at speeds of 140 kmph and more.

Munaf is grateful to God for the heights he touched in his life. His one regret is that he had to quit playing because of injuries. He is, however, focused on making up for it by playing an active role in finding and training new fast bowlers.

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