Sunday, May 29, 2011

Boys chase a dream-Munaf Patel

Inspired by their idol who plays for Team India, hundreds of youngsters in dusty Bharuch villages are taking up the game

Till a few years, Ikhar was not a familiar village. Many in Gujarat would have struggled and wracked their brains to figure out where the village was located. Now, it is on the lips of the most people.

The lanky pacer from this village, who answers to the name Munaf Patel, has made this possible. Though the cricketer’s family does not live in the village anymore, residents still take pride that Munaf Patel was from their village and vividly recall his exploits as a youngster.

To reach Ikhar, one has to take a dusty road that branches off the Vadodara-Bharuch highway in South Gujarat. The village, with over 100 families living below the poverty Line (BPL), could easily pass off as one of the thousands of poor villages across the country.

Munaf’s father Musa Patel was a smalltime cotton farm worker, earning a measly Rs 2,500 a month to support his family of wife, two daughters and a son. Till recently, the family lived in a one-room building in Ikhar. Now they have shifted to Bharuch city and stay in a bigger house, courtesy Munaf. His mother is a homemaker and his sisters go to school. For Musa, even affording Munaf’s cricket gear was difficult and he had to borrow money. The family did not have even a TV set to watch Munaf in action in his first Test match in Mohali some years back.

By making his way into the national squad, the 28-year old Munaf has spurred the imagination and aspirations of the people in several villages across Bharuch. Many boys and teenagers want to follow the footsteps of the pacer, who is in the World Cup squad.

His achievements have triggered a trickle-down effect with hundreds of children taking to cricket seriously in southern Gujarat. Children travel several kilometres and sometimes hitch-hiking rides to pick up the basics of the game at the academies that have mushroomed in the wake of Munaf becoming a star. The coaching camps in Bharuch are flooded with requests from parents to admit their wards.

Shoaib Sopariya, 17, is one among them and he travelled 28 km to Bharuch to attend a special coaching camp organised by the Bharuch District Cricket association recently for a talent search by MRF Academy. Those in the talent hunt felt the boy was promising and Shoaib came in for praise from T Sekhar, who had coached Munaf.

Shoaib virtually breathes cricket and gets excited while talking about the game. He reels out the teams playing in the World cup. He is happy that his role model, Munaf and Yusuf Pathan from the neighbouring district of Vadodara are in the World Cup squad.

Shoaib resides in a one-room tenement along with his parents and two siblings in Ikhar, Munaf’s village. Many days, he does not get to eat his favourite mutton as his father cannot afford it. His father, Ibrahim Sopariya, travels 28 km from the village to Bharuch to earn his daily wage. All he can make after drudgery is around Rs 2,500 a month. But the father is willing to give part of the earnings for his son’s future.

Cricket being his passion, Shoaib bowled in the village cricket ground with a tennis ball like Munaf. When the Bharuch District Cricket Association announced the talent search camp, Shoaib saw it as a chance to showcase his skills. Shoaib’s coach Harun Handi knew his ward would find a place and his talent would definitely be recognised. “I have been training Shoaib on how to increase his run up and pace since he is a right arm pacer,” says his coach.

Shoaib’s is not an isolated case. Harshad Chelwani, a young pacer like Shoaib, travels to Vadodara regularly by train to practise cricket in one of the academies there, could not afford the cricketing spikes till recently. His father Ramesh Chelwani, who owns a shop of the famous Gujarati snacks near the Bharuch railway station, decided to buy him one, straining his shoe-string household budget.

Chelwani says: “Ours is a joint family business and cricket is the last priority in the family, but Harshad always had this passion and we could not afford to send him to a cricket coaching centre. When I noticed him during club matches, I realised that my son is notches above others and needs to be encouraged. Though it is a heavy burden to me, I have decided to back Harshad to achieve his dream of playing for the country.”

Harshad had given up hopes of making it big as there were no resources or contacts to recognise his talent till the recent the talent search camp in Bharuch. Harshad, like Shoaib, will now head for at the MRF academy and hopes to get some specialised tips that will enable him to rub shoulders with the great pacemen of the Indian team someday.

Shoaib Pendi of Shegwa village had only heard of Munaf and recently had an opportunity to interact with his “idol”. Shoaib is the son of a small farmer and the family barely manages a decent living.

Shoaib dreams about a career in cricket. He is too young to understand that coaching centre for him is beyond the means of his father’s income. But he knows well that cricketing spikes are expensive and so is the cricketing gear. His father always thought that the hours that he was playing in the cricket ground was a waste of time and it would be beneficial if Shoaib could contribute his mite at the family farm.

While his friends in the city go to the gyms to strengthen their muscles, Shoaib would take rounds at his village ground and do some exercising at home without any equipment to stay fit. Shoaib, too, has been selected for the senior category at the MRF academy.

“We are happy for him as he would walk up to 15 km every day to attend the coaching camp organised by the cricket association and get a chance to show his talent,” says his elated father.

Ismail Matadar, vice-president of the Bharuch District Cricket Association, says: “It was a difficult task, as there were 450 boys. We found it difficult to deny an opportunity to any of them.” Most of the boys came from very poor families and on the last day of the camp, when five deserving boys got selected for the academy, the association felt that its purpose was served.

“Munaf indeed is a magic name and inspiration for not only his village but also neighbouring villages and it is this name that has inspired scores of boys to dare and for once forget all their hardships to achieve. He said that the district has talent in abundance and in future they want to organise a camp for spinners and wicket keepers”.

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