Self-belief pays off for Patel
Back in the land of his forefathers, Jeetan Patel will have a quiet Diwali evening. New Zealand need to bat well into the fourth day if they are to get so much as a draw from this game, and even the wicket of Sachin Tendulkar won't be reason enough for excessive celebration. But five years after making his debut, and having been forever on the fringes of the Test side, Patel is finally getting used to the feeling that he belongs.
His first 105 deliveries in this match had gone for 102 runs. On an opening day when Virender Sehwag wasted no time in declaring intent, he had seen both centurions dropped off his bowling. The caught-and-bowled chance that Sehwag offered could have rearranged his features had his palms not got in the way, while the thinnest of edges off Rahul Dravid's bat didn't stick in Gareth Hopkins' gloves. When you've gone for six an over, such lapses are salt on an open sore.
But with Hamish Bennett nursing a groin strain and no reverse swing on offer for either Chris Martin or Jesse Ryder, there was no less of a workload for Patel on the second day. What had he told himself before walking on to the field, knowing that Tendulkar and VVS Laxman, two batsmen in prime form, awaited him? "Just keep believing," he said. "I've got to believe that I'm good enough to be here, and that I can take wickets at this level."
The first of those wickets was the one that silenced the sparse holiday crowd. Tendulkar shimmied down the track and got to the pitch of the ball, but the shot that followed was more a pitch than a drive. This time, Patel held on to the chance. "It's always good to get a big scalp like that," he said later. "For him to be on so many Test runs and pushing for his 50th Test hundred... it's always exciting to get Sachin out. But my main focus was me today. I got a little bit away from that yesterday."
The sense of relief went hand-in-hand with new-found confidence. "Getting any wicket would have helped," he said. "It could have been anyone, to be honest. I think it was a bit of payback for working so hard to get one. Maybe yesterday, I tried too hard."
You couldn't really fault him for that. On the eve of the game, most were unsure whether he would play. The left-arm pace of Andy McKay offered one option, and Tim Southee was also in the mix. It wouldn't have surprised many if New Zealand had gone in with three pacers, and left Kane Williamson's off spin to play the supporting role to Daniel Vettori.
Patel is now 30, while Williamson is a decade younger. Playing just his 12th Test in four years, Patel is well aware that his is not one of the first names on the team-sheet. "I've got to keep stepping up my game and try to get better," he said. "There's always someone on your tail. I'm hoping that the changes I've made will bring some success."
Those changes have included shortening his run-up. "I thought I needed a little less momentum," he said. "I thought I was a bit too quick last year. This morning, I had a chance to look at the computer and see where I was going wrong. I had a chance to fix it and go back to what I know, which is to spin the ball hard. I thought I was getting a bit long in the delivery stride. At this level, you need to create bounce as well as drift and turn."
Including the wicket of Tendulkar, Patel's last 11.3 overs saw him take 3 for 33. That both Tendulkar and Laxman are such exceptional players of spin would only have added to the satisfaction of a job well done.
There was certainly appreciation from his opposite number. "Patel bowled well in the given conditions," said Harbhajan Singh, who smacked him for a four and a six in one over. "He bowled on the first day and there was nothing much in the track. You would have seen my reaction after we won the toss. I was really thrilled and happy. I know what kind of wicket this is. It can get really tough for the bowlers on the first day. They bowled their hearts out and a lot of credit goes to Daniel and his bowlers."
Patel smiled when asked if he'd set up the Tendulkar dismissal. "We were trying to bowl as many dot balls as we could and it paid off in the end with those three wickets before lunch," he said. "Dan bowled a lot of dot balls and that created opportunities elsewhere."
The first session where India could eke out only 63 runs gave New Zealand some belief, and despite Harbhajan's cavalier 69, 487 was some way short of what India would have expected when they resumed on 329 for 3. The job is not even half done though and Patel admitted as much. "There wasn't much turn out there for me, or Dan," he said. "But as the Test match wears on, there should be a little bit more as it gets a bit dustier.
"It's starting to keep a little bit lower now. Tim McIntosh's dismissal was off a short-of-length ball. That's Test cricket in the subcontinent. You expect the ball to go up and down, so we have to deal with it."
Given how strokeplayers like Tendulkar and Laxman struggled to find a semblance of fluent on a slow pitch, it's too much to expect that New Zealand will rattle along on day three. For now, survival is the first thing on their minds. "You've got to bat five sessions in every game, whether you're trying to save a Test match or win it," said Patel. "At the moment, we're just trying to bat time and we'll see what happens from there."
John Bracewell, New Zealand's most successful offspinner of the modern era, went wicketless in two of his three Tests in India in 1988. In the other one, he took eight, including 6 for 51 in the second innings as John Wright's side left Mumbai victorious. Patel, who now has 40 wickets at 43, knows that the breakthroughs won't come easily. But unlike his better-known namesake, Dipak - forever associated with Martin Crowe's innovative World Cup captaincy - he can at least boast of wickets in the mother country.