After playing 15 years of competitive cricket former India pacer Munaf Patel has decided to quit all forms of game. In his typical blunt fashion, he summarised his decision: “There is no regret; after all the cricketers I played with have retired. Only Dhoni is left! Baki sab done ho chuke hain. So, there is no sadness as such. Sabka time khatam ho chuka hain, ghum hota jab saare khel rahe hote aur mein retire kar raha hota (everyone’s time is up; there will be sadness only if others are playing and only I had quit!).
Munaf will be making his appearance in T10 League to be held in Dubai and he wants to pursue a coaching career. Still, for a man who has spent all his life playing cricket, the decision couldn’t have been easy. It was one of the reasons he kept lingering on, despite last playing for India many years back. “Mera mann aaj bhi nahi maan raha hai ke cricket chhodoon as I don’t know anything else. Cricket hi samaj mein aata hain.” (I still can’t believe I am quitting cricket as I don’t know anything else. I understand only cricket.”
Munaf says he discussed the decision with his close friend Ismail bhai of Matadar cricket club before he took the call. “There is no special reason, age ho chuka hai, fitness is not the same. Youngsters are there waiting for chances and it doesn’t look nice if I keep hanging on. The main thing is there is no motivation left. I was part of World Cup winning team in 2011; there can’t be a greater high than that,” the 35-year-old told The Indian Express.
Eric Simons, India’s bowling coach during that 2011 world cup, had hailed Munaf as the “unsung hero of the world cup win”, after he had ended the tournament as India’s third-highest wicket-taker, behind Zaheer Khan and Yuvraj Singh, with 11 wickets.
It has been a dream run from emerging from the anonymity of a small village Ikhar to playing for India. “If it wasn’t for cricket, I would have been a worker, a labourer, in some company in Africa. Most Gujaratis from this region go there. Probably, I would have been cleaning and arranging tiles. I never thought I would go on playing cricket for so long.
When he was young, Munaf worked in a tile factory, packing the tiles in boxes and earning 35 rupees for an eight-hour shift. “Dukh hi dukh tha lekin jhelne ki aadat ho gayi thi. There wasn’t enough money, but what could we do? Father was the only one earning, and we were in school … Whatever I have achieved it come because of cricket. I never had any other circle before – whatever friend circle, family circle happened was due to cricket. Agar cricket chhod ke gaya toh naya circle banana padega, that is not possible now,” he laughs.
Many had misunderstood him in his early part of the career. He believes it was because of his upbringing in a village and the differences that exist between city and rural lifestyle. “Na language thi, na koi background tha. (I didn’t have the language or any background. I was in village and was dealing with big people from city. When people started to understand me, they started to like me. By the end, people did start understanding me),” he says.
His penchant for straight-talking warmed him to superstars like the legendary spinner Shane Warne. Munaf was principled, unwilling to bend, quick on temper and willing to take seemingly rash decisions – and even Warne has been at the receiving end at times. Like this one time in South Africa in 2009, when he shut the door on his captain Warne and threatened to quit. Piqued at not being given any over in an IPL game, which the Rajasthan Royals eventually lost, he stormed to his hotel room and asked team owner Manoj Badale for his passport back. Soon, a knock on the door. Patel peeped through the eyehole to see Warne. “Please open the door”. ‘Shane sir, I won’t’. “Let me explain.” “I don’t want to hear a thing. Bye.” Of course, he had admiration for Warne’s captaincy.
He recalls an incident when post RR lost to Deccan Chargers where Patel was bowled only one over. Few of RR players decided to go for wildlife hunting in night. “I, Andrew Symonds, Rob Quiney, Yusuf Pathan went. As we got down, Quniey asked shikar pe tu kya karega, mein bola pure support staff ko khada karo sabko goli marni hai,” he recollects.
In the next match meeting, it was discussed and everybody laughed. Later Warne came and said Munaf please understand I can’t make everyone happy. He understood that he was upset because RR had lost the game. “Next match was in Durban and they had needed some five runs off the last over and I won that game with my bowling. Warne hugged me and said you are the best,” he recalls.
In his book ‘No Spin’, Warne had written about Munaf. “I had a lot of time for Munaf, who had a huge heart and a great sense of humour. I was sitting at the back of a bus with him one day, early on and asked how old he was. “Skipper, do you want real age or IPL age as others would ask?” Munaf asked. Warne said: “I just want to know how old you are.”
The answer that Munaf gave impressed Warne. “I am 24 but if my real age was 34, I would still tell you my IPL age was 24, because this is a good gig and I very much wanted to play. If I am 34, no one picks me. If I am 28, people think I have a few good years left……I’m going to stay in my 20s for a long time to come,” Munaf said. Good thinking Munaf.