It was, perhaps, easier for him to scalp 11 batsmen in eight matches and help India win the World Cup after 28 years in 2011. And, dream of doing a Shoaib Akhtar by bowling at 160 kmph, having already clocked 144 kmph that earned him the sobriquet of ‘Ikhar Express.’
But when former India pacer Munaf Patel went back to his village Ikhar in Gujarat’s Bharuch district in April this year to find Covid striking, it was certainly not an easy task to convince villagers to practice social distancing.

This tiny village with 8,000 people had not woken up to the enormity of the threat, till it struck Ikhar in the second week of April when five persons tested positive for Covid-19.
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Ikhar was the only village in the whole taluka to report positive cases and was declared a containment zone. But it wasn’t easy to convince the villagers about the importance of maintaining social distancing and putting on masks.
It was then that local lad Munaf stepped in. The 38-year-old former pacer took it upon himself to educate his village and ensure that the virus did not spread further. Not a single positive case was reported in Ikhar since those initial five cases.
“When the lockdown was announced, Ikhar did not have much idea about the virus. It was when five persons, who had arrived from Tamil Nadu to Ikhar, tested positive in April, that there was a sudden scare,” said Munaf.
Munaf being a role model in Ikhar, local health authorities roped him in.
“It was an alien concept for villagers used to maintaining regular social contact. They felt they were being targeted. I had to explain to them the perils of the virus,” said Munaf. He also began educating people to make them wear face masks.
“One of the challenging moments was when farmers in my village wanted to harvest their crop in April. They were not allowed to go out under the lockdown as there was risk of infection if they gathered in large groups,” said Munaf.
“It was only after Munaf convinced the local police and health officials that farmers will maintain social distancing that they were allowed to harvest crops,” said Ikhar sarpanch Haroon Haindi.
“During the lockdown, Munaf visited the panchayat office daily and spent hours discussing and planning ways to prevent the virus spread. Villagers followed his instructions and it proved to be a blessing for us,” he added.
“Initially, many locals were reluctant to even get tested when they got fever or cough as they were scared of getting quarantined. But after Munaf’s interactions, they came forward for tests,” said Munir Patel who works for the health centre in Ikhar.
(This story is part of a series in association with Facebook. Facebook has no editorial role in this story.)


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