The selectors are on to something here. For the format that was belligerently associated with youth during its inception and tilted towards experience somewhere during its journey, the selectors too have gone with the wind. They are packing the T20 World Cup squad with players who spent youth before mobile phones were in fashion. Ashish Nehra, Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh, and now Parthiv Patel. Consider this: There was one other player, Sanjay Bangar, apart from these in the 2003 World Cup squad who is also currently associated with the Indian team but as India’s batting coach now. The selectors have gone analog in this digital age.
There is wisdom to most of the selections. For a while now, Nehra has been one of the best Indian bowlers in the T20 format in pressure situations, whom most of his captains turn to. Yuvraj Singh too keeps raking in the cash in IPLs and his all-round value in Indian conditions isn’t unknown commodity. Harbhajan Singh has been probably bowling somewhere near his best in the recent times.
However, Patel seems to be a bit of a stretch. He has been in good form, having scored 333 runs in the recently concluded Vijay Hazare trophy, and been doing well for various IPL teams over the years, but most of his good times with the bat have come top of the order. If MS Dhoni’s injury forces him to sit out a match, are we going to give that rare break to Patel at top of the order? There doesn’t seem any sense in breaking rhythm of Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan by separating them few weeks before the big event.
It’s difficult to see Patel coming out to bat in the middle order in a crunch situation. The committed cricketer that he is, he will definitely have a go at it, give his best. On that there is no doubt. It’s just that Patel the batsman is better off in the batting Powerplay in this format where he can use the fielding restrictions and score a breezy 30-odd runs. That is now going to be slightly more difficult in the lower middle order.
No dearth of options
It’s not as if there weren’t other alternatives. There was Naman Ojha, who has recently played for India, and then there are candidates such as Robin Uthappa and Dinesh Karthik who are used to biffing around in the middle order. And if they wanted the best wicketkeeper, as the team is full of batsmen anyway, then what’s Wriddhaman Saha doing in the Test team? They keep talking him up as the best keeper. So there are a few puzzling issues on the Patel selection.
Not that he is going to care. It’s a reward for consistency and, truth be told, his keeping skills have definitely improved in the recent years. The man himself puts it down to the change in the training pattern. Where he previously used to club both in the same session, these days he has split them in two different sessions. “ My training method changed. I used to bat and keep in same session before but I decided to change it. I keep in the morning, and practice my batting in the evening. This way I could give more time to both and make some real improvements. Previously I used to get tired – there wouldn’t be energy after batting to keep properly,” Patel told The Indian Express.
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Needless to say he is thrilled to be back. “I feel a sense of satisfaction and a sense of reward for doing well in domestic cricket for the last three-four years. IPL went well, domestic season went well… So I am not surprised at all about this selection.”
He was in New Mumbai about to play DY Patil T20 tournament, a corporate tournament when he got the call that he has been selected for India. He took a flight back to Ahmedabad to be with his family on Monday afternoon, packed his bags, took the 9.15 pm flight back to Mumbai, and would fly out to Bangladesh on Tuesday morning.
That Patel was to play in a corporate tournament should surprise no one. He has taken nearly every opportunity to play cricket, whatever the grade of competition be. No wonder, he has talked about how his five-year-old daughter Venika asked his mom, after spotting him playing on the telly, “Will dad come out of the TV set and play with me?”
“I am passionate about playing cricket,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what level — club, district, I play every game possible and I don’t see these four years of being away from the Indian team as some vanvaas (exile) or something. I just enjoyed playing and am finally rewarded for it. That’s how I look at it.”
There have been down times, obviously. Not so dire to make him slip into depression, he says, but those odd moments where one wonders what’s happening with life.
“There were times when I felt low but there was no use in continuing that way. I had to motivate myself and I kept challenging myself. That’s the reason I have managed to score consistently the last few years. As the Gujarat captain, I wanted to win games, and similarly, I always wanted to contribute to my IPL teams. When you go into domestic season, you want to score as many runs as possible.
‘The driving force’
“Then there is the motivation of playing for India. That’s the driving force. I was working hard for it. Every year I would think that I would get the call for India. There was always that hope, and runs were coming. So I never got depressed.”
For the sake of their own sanity, sportspersons somehow manage to strike a balance between hope and a slight sense of detachment about their dreams. “You also have to tell yourself that forget an India call-up, just continue focussing on the games you play. If it comes, it comes. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t matter. Keep performing. That’s what I have been doing and this call feels good.”
For someone to whom the India cap had come easily as a teenager, it must have been difficult to sit and stare from outside, and see a whole range of players go past him. All those years of waiting has given Patel a good perspective to view his own situation. “The India call-up hasn’t come easily. I got it easily when I was 17. And so, there is no harm in working real hard to regain it. I have enjoyed the challenge.”
Starting that young has also meant that he has played with the likes of Bangar who have gone on to post-retirement opportunities. “Lots of players have gone to become coaches,” he says with a laugh. “That’s because I started so early. Sachin Tendulkar had played against John Wright, Gary Kirsten , both became India coaches in his time!”
In all probability, he might not even get a game to play as there is no clarity on the seriousness of Dhoni’s back spasm yet, but Patel is in a good space of mind. “I am happy that I am picked, I am going without any expectation, and if I get a chance, I shall try to win matches for India.” One can’t fault that argument; it’s the selectors’ call to pick him that seems to have a few holes, but who can grudge Patel his good fortune?
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