Updated: December 7, 2021 8:30:44 am
When his parents told an eight-year old Ajaz Patel that they would be moving to New Zealand, the first thought that came to his mind was, “Yay! More Chocolates”. The boy would see his immigrant father slog hard as a refrigeration mechanic, find mentors who saw in him what he himself didn’t see — that he wasn’t a fast bowler but a spinner in waiting — and would one day return to his hometown as a man to find Mumbai gift-wrapping an achievement that only a kid can dream of. All 10 wickets in an innings, only the third bowler ever to achieve the feat in 144 years of cricket history — a fairy-tale story if ever there was one.
Nothing has come easily. He was 19, and a few years into age-group cricket, when he realised he wasn’t going to make it as a fast bowler, and turned to spin. He was 30 when New Zealand selectors called him with good news. But since then, good tidings have come in a flood. On his Test debut, he picked a five-for to pull off a heist and picked another five in the third Test to enable New Zealand win their first away-series against Pakistan in 49 years. His tryst with history would continue in Mumbai.
As the first Muslim cricketer to represent New Zealand, he has become a poster boy for the country’s multicultural ambitions — his views about Islam were highlighted after the 2019 terror strike in Christchurch. Once reluctant to discuss his faith, Patel warmed up to the attention and spoke about how the New Zealand rugby player, and a Muslim, Sonny Bill Williams, has raised the profile of 50,000 odd Muslims in the country. A fan of Indo-Chinese cuisine, he loves his chicken lollypops with Schezwan sauce, but on a memorable day in the city of his birth, he would feast on 10 Indians.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on December 7, 2021 under the title ‘Spinning a fairy tale’.
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