Way back in 2002, after a Test against the West Indies at Eden Gardens, Sourav Ganguly, then India captain, was asked about Parthiv Patel at the post-match press conference. Parthiv’s 47 in the first innings under pressure had taken India to safety and Ganguly responded to the question by describing the pint-sized wicketkeeper a “special talent”. “You have to be special to play Test cricket for India at the age of 17,” Ganguly had said.
Eighteen years ago, Parthiv was a whizz-kid. He made his Test debut in England as a teenager and his inconsistent glovework notwithstanding, the Ahmedabad boy was considered to be India’s ‘keeping solution post Nayan Mongia. A wiry ‘keeper from New South Wales, Australia, answering to the name of Adam Gilchrist, had already redefined wicketkeeping by then.
For Parthiv, his batting was natural. The challenge was to improve his ‘keeping that would have cemented his place in the Indian team. On Thursday at Eden, as the Gujarat captain, now 34, spoke about Rishabh Pant, his early days afforded a striking similarity to India’s current white-ball glovesman. The senior pro said youngsters these days have the advantage to become battle-hardened through the IPL.
“When you play for India at a young age, the important thing is to shut out the noise, not to read too much into the opinions from outside. Pant is having the backing on the selectors and the team management. He just needs to go out there and express himself. When I started, we didn’t have the IPL. We didn’t have the opportunity to become battle-hardened through the pressure situations in the IPL.
“Now, young players have the advantage of playing alongside the big stars before getting into the Indian team. So they don’t feel the pressure of international cricket too much. But when you aren’t doing well, opinions come thick and fast from different quarters. It’s important to keep yourself immune to those opinions,” Parthiv told reporters.
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The IPL was still four years away when Parthiv had lost his place in the Indian team. Dinesh Karthik came, offering quality batsmanship and, arguably, better glovework. Then Mahendra Singh Dhoni emerged and that was that for a whole generation of Indian wicketkeepers. For over a decade, there was no vacancy in any format. The best the others could hope for was a reserve ‘keeper’s slot for away series. Back in 2004, the only option for an India discard was to go back to the grind of domestic cricket, which didn’t capture the eyeballs of the global media and fans.
Lack of competition
Pant, a left-hander like Parthiv, also has another advantage. The latter had to fight a losing battle with Dhoni. Pant barely has any competitor in limited-overs cricket. Yes, Sanju Samson oozes batting talent, but it is widely believed that the Kerala stumper still has some way to go with regards to his ‘keeping. Then again, Pant bears the burden of stepping into the shoes of a legend. For every dropped catch and missed stumping, boo-boys are ready.
Like Parthiv, Pant, too, made his India debut at a young age, although not as a teenager. Like Parthiv, he, too, is an accomplished batsman with questionable glovework. A lack of serious competition at the moment might give Pant a longer rope, but he can’t push the envelope too far. Parthiv backed Pant to come through.
“When you are playing for India, you will be under pressure. There’s nothing wrong with it. Every player faces it. Pant is dealing with the pressure. He batted well in the limited-overs series (against the West Indies). His ‘keeping was OK. And I saw him playing with a smile even under pressure. So I’m sure when he will get through this phase he will become a big player,” Parthiv observed.
Pant’s ‘keeping technique has been constantly under the scanner. Parthiv put things in perspective.
“You have to have something extra to play for India and he (Pant) has the experience of ‘keeping in the most difficult conditions, in England. The ball was wobbling. He is doing well. He is young and it’s a matter of confidence. Just one good performance can change everything.”
‘Saha, world’s best’
By his own admission, Parthiv now plays the game because he is “enjoying” it. His role has changed to “grooming” the youngsters. He had been in the Indian team’s scheme of things till 2018, when he played Tests in South Africa. For the likes of Parthiv and Karthik, Dhoni’s retirement from Test cricket in December 2014 had made the door ajar. But Wriddhiman Saha was waiting in the wings and the Bengal ‘keeper was a level above. He was world class.
Parthiv has made peace with the fact that Saha is head and shoulders above his peers. “There’s no doubt about it. The way he (Saha) ‘keeps, takes catches, his energy level – he is the world’s best. I mean, we are not even talking about India here. He doesn’t have a match as far as world cricket is concerned. The way he goes about his business, the way he trains… I have been with him on tours twice or thrice, everybody knows he is the No. 1. In Test cricket, for the rest it’s about getting into the squad as the second wicketkeeper.”
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