February 20, 2014

Sandeep Patil: the Bombay Hammer

He only played international cricket for about half a decade, but his brutal, attacking style left its mark on the game in India

Patil tees off in the semi-final of the 1983 World Cup Adrian Murrell / © Getty Images

India versus Australia in Adelaide, January 1981. India have already lost the first Test of the series by an innings. Now, in response to Australia's first-innings score of 528, India are 130 for 4. They eventually score 419 and save the game.

India versus England at Old Trafford, June 1982. India have lost the first Test of the series by seven wickets. In response to England's first-innings total of 425, India are 136 for 5. They eventually recover to 379 and save the game.

India versus England, World Cup semi-final, June 1983. As India chase England's 213, their run rate flags, even as they keep wickets in hand. When the third wicket falls at 142, the game is still in the balance. Barely ten overs later, the game is over, decisively swung India's way.

India versus Pakistan in a one-day international in Jaipur, on Mahatma Gandhi's birthday, October 2, 1983. Pakistan make a modest 166, and in response, India are 52 for 2, before being sent hurtling to 135 for 6 by an innings that features a shot still remembered by any Indian schoolboy who saw the game.

If you remember these games, and these developments, you will also remember the batsman who was responsible for them.

For a brief period in the 1980s, one Indian batsman promised (or threatened, depending on your perspective) to reconceptualise Indian batting. He played some of the most memorable knocks of that period, in a distinctive yet unfamiliar, style. That batsman was Sandeep Patil.

In Adelaide against Australia, Patil scored 174 off 240 deliveries against an attack that included Lillee and Pascoe. At Old Trafford against England he scored 129 off 196 deliveries, including 18 fours and two sixes; six fours came in one over off Bob Willis. In the World Cup semi-final he hammered Willis, Graham Dilley and Paul Allott, scoring 51 off 32, turning a game that was in the balance into a rout. And in that India-Pakistan one-day international, during his innings of 51 off 28 deliveries, he launched a straight drive so fierce that the bowler - Mudassar Nazar - decided discretion was the better part of valour and nimbly skipped out of the way.

In each innings Patil, using a bat that was then the heaviest ever used by an Indian batsman, batted against fast bowling in a manner that Indian fans, not entirely used to counterattacks against the quicks, could delight in. They were used to the stoic defence of Gavaskar, the dazzling cut and thrust of Viswanath, and the bold hooks deployed by Mohinder Amarnath. But a tall, burly crasher of the ball through covers, who deployed a bludgeon for a bat, was still a novelty. Patil was not subtle; he hit the ball hard, and he intended for the ball to stay hit. His square drives and cuts were as fierce as could be imagined.

Srikkanth might have flailed away at the bowling a bit more and thus indicated a more kinetic performance was under way, but Patil conveyed the impression of a boxer whose punch, if it landed, would almost certainly knock you out. If I were a cricket ball, I could imagine Patil standing over me, saying, "Don't get up or I'll hit you again." And I'd listen. Small wonder that Mudassar decided to not risk bodily injury by attempting to field that fierce rocket off his own bowling.

I first heard of Patil from a cousin of mine, then studying dentistry in Bombay, who had seen him bat in local club games. Legend had it that he could hit sixes into the sea from the Wankhede. Another tall tale suggested he hit sixes all the way from Brabourne to Wankhede. And so on. Whatever he did, he seemed to have captured the local imagination like no other Bombay bat had in a very long time. We could barely wait for him to play for India. Which he did. He made his debut against Pakistan in 1980, and less than five years later, he had played his last Test.

It was a disappointingly short career, made all the more so for the brief glimpses he provided us of his undoubted talent. In that time, in the games above, and on other occasions when he shone, he batted like very few Indian batsmen had before or have since, in combining power and style. It was a physical and stylistic reconfiguration of a school of batting that desperately needed new blood.

Perhaps the fondest tribute I can pay Patil is that as a Delhi fan in the 1980s, he was a Bombay batsman I could not stop admiring. If only he'd stuck around a little longer to displace the then ruling paradigms of Indian batting.

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Milind on February 24, 2014, 5:11 GMT

    In today's world where mediocrities like Raina get 200 or so kicks at the ODI can, Patil's quick fading away is scarcely believable. With a little bit more support and a touch more luck he would have been a great. Even an all-time master. He will though, forever remain the man who smashed an all-time great English bowler for 6 4s in an over. And for those shots that will stay etched in my memory I shall remain forever a fan.

  • vikram on February 23, 2014, 5:10 GMT

    great to hear from our Pakistani brothers, cheers! @Mateen Chaudhry, great input cheers. @J751, I feel India searched too hard for crafters and stylists, hence the 'hammers' suffered as India felt a burly allrounder like Kapil or another can fulfil the role. This answers @Haaris's question partially!Well, it's also been argued that film acting distracted Sandeep to an ajnabi! @Sir_Ivor, I too was there at 8 years at the Bangalore '79 Test but missed that bit about Sandeep walking back. Thanks! @CricketLifer, superb input. few had the gumption to raise their scoring rate and risk 'careers' which Patil probably did. A martyr over a process so to speak. After redefining batting and helping the country to victories with sledgehammer batting the selectors can't expect him to crawl to 100s if that's what they wanted. a longer lease of life would have helped Sandeep perhaps, but alas! @sandy7965, beautiful input. Your pointers about his Madhya Pradesh stint point to his super professionalism

  • Harsh on February 23, 2014, 3:56 GMT

    The memories of Sandeep Patil's best batting is etched in my mind forever.In the most difficult situations he proved that attack was the best form of defence.In Australia in 1980-81 he tackled pace bowling like few Indian batsmen ever did . After being felled in the 1st test scoring 65 he scored a spectacular 174 at Adelaide in the 2nd test when India were reeling.His hook shots and drives were simply audacious.At Old Trafford in 1982 he executed on the finest attacking Innings ever seen in test cricket when he banged Bob Willis for 6 boundaries in a single over.The field simply looked like pawns on a chess board.He repeated it in 1983 in the world cup,winning the semi-final for India.Without doubt Patil was one of the most entertaining batsmen ever with his dynamic approach. Sadly we never saw him enough against the great West Indian quartet. He proved how lack of temperament can curtail a great career,something so relevant in the modern era with so much money coming in the game.

  • Sandip on February 22, 2014, 8:30 GMT

    Excellent article and judging by the responses from Delhi and Pakistan, both otherwise sworn enemies, Sandeep Patil was and still is clearly among the most popular of cricketers. CricketLifer - it was the 82-83 Ranji Trophy final where Mumbai were behind on 1st innings and Patil came and hammered 121 unbeaten runs before lunch on the last day, declared and tried to make a match of it. Thereafter, his stint with Madhya Pradesh as their captain in the Ranji Trophy saw them win it inspite of not having any international players in their ranks. One also recalls him coaching minnows Kenya to the ICC World Cup semi-finals in 2003. Encouraging an inexperienced bunch to punch above their weight was his speciality. His disciplinarian stamp as the current selection committee Chairman is also evident in the way heavyweight seniors have been eased out. May his tribe increase!!

  • vikram on February 22, 2014, 4:47 GMT

    Quite right, Samir. Call him Longshanks - the hammer of the English! For Mumbai's batting finesse of recent, credit has been given to the Gavaskars and Wadekars for building the foundations of Tendulkar and Kambli's generation but Sandeep has been ommitted. He played in an era where attacking batsmen were considered unworthy of literature. How things have changed! And by the way, as a Mumbai-bred I laud your Delhi's Dil-waala spirit in singling out this player. Reminds me of when Akash Lall, the selector from North Zone spoke in favour of Kambli from West Zone at a time when selectors risked getting their heads chopped off by diverting attention from their own zones' players! May your tribe increase! And may India thrive!

  • P on February 22, 2014, 4:08 GMT

    Sandeep Patil was a real stroke maker and in the days when scoring at 2 runs per over was the norm in test cricket, he scored at much higher rate. I don't recall the exact test but in a late session on 4th day he scored almost 100 to move a test heading for a draw to result by giving India enough runs and time to bowl the opposition out. One of the comment here mentioned that his test career came to an end because of one rash stroke! He could have served India well for many more years! He was also a great fielder.

  • ESPN on February 22, 2014, 3:41 GMT

    Sandeep Patil was one of the most exciting players of that early 80s generation. Along with srikanth and kapil dev he could provide great entertainment to fans plus his looks, style made him a great persona. Real pity that one bad shot led to his being dropped and thereafter circumstances conspired against him with his replacement Azharuddin scoring 3 consecutive hundreds. There was no way back. He could have contributed to indian cricket for at least next 5-7 years. The one argument against his potential was his lack of success against the West Indies fast bowlers of that era that defined greatness of technique, character like Gavaskar, Amarnarh, Vengsarkar and even to some extent Yashpal Sharma. Barring this, great hero to follow in that era. Pity it couldn't last long enough.

  • naresh on February 21, 2014, 15:27 GMT

    I also remember this guy - probably the most handsome batsmen I have ever seen - I mean he was good looking, had the physical presence and the way he used to punch rising deliveries into covers off the back foot (just like you described) - I just could not believe it. Just a little handsome flourish and it was gone. For many of my Mumbaikar friends, he was the man who displaced even Sunny as "our guy".

    Its amazing that he went on to be a pretty handy coach and selector etc....he was a bit of a Philanderer in his playing days. Anyway, thanks to him for some incredibly joyous moments watching him bat.

  • Subramani on February 21, 2014, 14:37 GMT

    contd... I was taken in by this courageous young man against the Australain fast bowling. I remember him being hit on the head by a bouncer from Pascoe resuming his innings and scoring some forty odd I think. He hit that brilliant 174 against the same bowling at Adelaide. The Australians took to him instantly,as much for his batting and courage as for his good looks. In England it was Willis and Botham that he came up against and his 6 fours of Willis in a Test is part of folklore. That over had one no ball though ! I have till this day wondered why Patil did not get to play in more Tests. But I think it was over him getting out playing a rash shot against England in 1986. He was dropped just as Kapil was for one Test. Thouh Kapil came back, I am not sure if Sandip did because by then Azhar had made 3 hundreds. It was unfortunate because if Sandip had continued Indian cricket would have played attacking cricket much before the Kohlis and Dhawans of this world. Sandip was matchless.