Royal London One-Day Cup July 24, 2014

'Unhappy' Samit Patel seeks 50-over solace

After a five-year hiatus, 50-over cricket returns to the English county programme under the guise of the Royal London One-Day Cup this weekend amid no little scepticism and many questions.

It is a format for which public enthusiasm at domestic level is debatable, at the very least, reintroduced in some respects at the worst time of the year and with a block schedule deemed no longer appropriate for the other short form of the game that disrupts a County Championship season approaching its climax in a way that no other sport would consider even for a moment.

And that is without even mentioning the side-effect of having no four-day cricket at a time when England is desperate to see spin bowlers coming to the fore on dry summer pitches.

Its trumpeted importance to the future fortunes of England's 50-over team, meanwhile, is undermined at the start by the absence of the whole of the Test squad and, for at least half of it, of the 13 England Lions players named for a triangular 50-over series against Sri Lanka A and New Zealand A.

In short, it is an addition to the fixture list that seems to have very little going for it, which means that to have a player in Samit Patel's position welcoming its arrival with genuine sincerity must seem almost like the answer to an ECB prayer.

Patel, the Nottinghamshire allrounder, turned up to launch the competition at Trent Bridge to discover that almost by accident he had become its perfect ambassador.

Without an England appearance in any format in 18 months, overlooked for every one-day squad last winter and this spring, passed over even for the England Lions squad in which his co-hosts at the launch, Harry Gurney and Alex Hales, are both included, Patel knows the Royal London One-Day Cup is literally his one opportunity, with the 50-over World Cup in Australia and New Zealand only seven months away, to put himself back in contention.

As a spokesman for its relevance, therefore, he had no need of a script to say all the right things. Forty-over cricket is the past; fifty overs is where it's at.

"I'm a fan of it," Patel said. "Solely because England play it. The new competition is chance for anyone who wants to play for England to press their case.

"We begin with three games in four days starting at Horsham on Sunday and I think it is important for me personally to get off to a good start as it is for the team. Starting well is massive for me."

Actually, such is Patel's disappointment at the way his England career has stalled he needs little prompting anyway to express his frustration.

A batsman who combines elegance and clean-hitting power and a left-arm spinner of skill and adaptability, he has not played for England since the one-day series in India in January 2013.

He admits he is not only frustrated but "unhappy" at his failure to win a recall and craves any opportunity he can find to advertise his international credentials.

"The selectors told me to go back to county cricket and get some runs, which I have, and still I'm not selected," he said. "I'm okay - kind of okay - with the reasons they have given me, but I am frustrated and unhappy, to be honest."

You can see his point. He made more than 1800 runs in all cricket for Nottinghamshire last year, 566 of which came in the Yorkshire Bank 40 competition which they won, when Patel's 3 for 21 in the final at Lord's was crucial to their victory over Glamorgan.

This year he already has more than 1,000 runs in first-class cricket as well as 300 runs and 14 wickets in helping Nottinghamshire qualify for the quarter-finals of the NatWest T20 Blast. He knows he has been held back in the past by his struggle to maintain his weight, but says that part of his history is not the concern.

"I had a fitness test in May and came through that okay so there is no issue there," he said. "It is just down to performances in the middle."

No one is better placed to judge his candidacy now, of course, that Mick Newell, director of cricket at Nottinghamshire and England selector. He is clear unequivocally that Patel has an opportunity to push himself forward and points out, too, the competition's importance to several other players with England ambitions, while offering a typically candid assessment of the good points and the shortcomings of its introduction at this time.

"The 50-over game is the one they play at international level and we have been in a position when we are looking to identify prospective England players who have never played 50-over cricket," he said.

"It is a different game from 40 overs, different tactically with that period in the middle of the innings and one that needs players to concentrate for three and a half hours.

"A good 40-over player might be a good 50-over player too but you want to give players, whether it be Alex Hales and Harry Gurney here, or the likes of Jason Roy and James Vince the chance to develop some solid 50-over form and with a World Cup coming up in seven months' time it is important to have the chance to assess players in the 50-over format."

Newell thinks, too, that the quality of cricket will be good enough, despite the absence of established England players because of the ongoing Test series. "I think the overseas players will keep the standard high and the players picked for the Lions will be able to play in five of their county's eight games.

"There have been suggestions that some counties might see it as an opportunity to rest players and if they want to do that it is up to them. It will be a competition where you will see some of the younger players given some first-team experience, as was the case with the 40-over game.

"But with four teams in each group going through to the quarter-finals there will be plenty of counties who will think they can win it and will be keen to field strong sides.

"There may be tweaks in the format down the line. Taking spinners out of the picture at this time of year is probably not ideal and for that reason I'd favour playing it in two blocks of four matches, one in late May and one now. But that's just my opinion."

An opinion worth heeding, though. Few people in English cricket speak more sense, more readily.

Another opinion, supported strongly in these pages earlier in the year, by the former New Zealand captain Martin Crowe, is that international one-day cricket should be played over 40 overs in any case. Marketing men across the counties would endorse that argument, shuddering as they undoubtedly are at the thought of how to sell 10.30am starts to punters who would much rather come after lunch.

For the moment, though, 50 overs is back, for better or worse. Samit, at least, can't wait.

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