Patil faces old friends in Perth
The village of Darpale and the town of Dombivli are almost equidistant to the north from the maidans of south Mumbai. But they have to be reached by different suburban railway lines. Several years ago, two boys used to regularly take those separate, but equally crowded, trains to the city to play the game they loved. Over the years, they progressed through the ranks in junior cricket and represented the city at various age-group levels. They went on to play for the same club side too: Mulund Gymkhana. Naturally a bond developed between the two. Both were among the probables for the Mumbai Ranji Trophy side.
But it has been said for good reason in the past that it was once tougher to make the Mumbai team than the India team. About a decade ago, wicketkeeper-batsman Swapnil Patil, three years senior to his friend, decided that he was not going to be able to break through into the Ranji team. For there are few cricketers grittier than Vinayak Samant, and for eight successive seasons after having himself being denied by Sameer Dighe, the veteran keeper held down a spot in the Mumbai line-up, keeping numerous youngsters out.
In 2006, Patil received an offer to become a player-employee for Emirates Contracting in the UAE. The dream to play for Mumbai nowhere near fulfillment, Patil took up the job and moved countries.
His friend stayed put in India, and the next year, debuted for Mumbai. Ajinkya Rahane went on to reel off century after century in domestic cricket. Three years later, Patil debuted for UAE. A year later, Rahane debuted for India, and another four years later, he is now an integral part of the national side.
Separated by distance, Patil and Rahane gradually grew out of touch, but will meet on the field against each other next afternoon at the WACA. In a World Cup match, of all occasions. No wonder Patil is excited at the prospect of going up against Rahane, as well as Rohit Sharma, his team-mate in age-group teams. He has not been able to meet them yet since travelling to Perth a day ago after UAE's previous game in Brisbane.
Back home in Darpale, his family wants him to do well but his brother and neighbours have said that at the same time, they will be supporting India. Patil laughs when this is mentioned, but cannot wait to get on to the field.
"From within my heart, I am liking it that I come from India and am playing them tomorrow. It feels really nice. I am very happy that I am playing a World Cup. More than me, my family and friends are happy. My coaches are happy that after going away from home, I have managed to play international cricket for UAE."
Patil says he does not have any regrets now about not having made it in India. "Now I have been here in UAE for ten years. I am settled and very happy."
He uses the Marathi word majja - fun - many times when asked how he is looking forward to playing against the Indians. "I'll find out how I feel tomorrow. There will be a lot of Indian supporters. There will be a few UAE ones as well. Playing in front of such a crowd and against the Indian team will be great fun. Let us see what happens tomorrow. I do want to score against India." If he does, he will have an old friend in the opposition camp feeling happy for him.
Abhishek Purohit is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo