January 31, 2001

Parthiv Patel: Youngster destined for greater heights

Ahmedabad is a city in ruins. The massive earthquake that hit Gujarat has been the worst in independent India. A concerned Parthiv Patel has sorrow in his eyes, as he enquires about the update from the state. He does miss his family and friends, having to travel and play for the best part of the long cricket season. He tells me, "I tried calling home last night, did not get through. At last I got them on the line this morning; all are fine". Perhaps Patel is destiny's child in the country of 'Karma and Dharma'.

"Bliss was it that dawn to be alive, But to be young was very heaven."

William Wordsworth wrote those words in the wake of the French revolution. There is another kind of revolution going on in Indian cricket. And it needs all the energy and aspirations of the young cricketers to reclaim the glory days.

If the young Parthiv Patel were to be given a wish, he wouldn't hesitate to wrap the pitch at Shivaji Park, Kholapur and take it with him. There is a sense of humility, when he talks about the three days he had at Shivaji Park, between December 5 and 7, 2000, as Gujarat Under-16s played against Maharashtra Under-16s in a West Zone league match.

Opening the batting for Gujarat, Patel scored 101 out of the team score off 189. And in the second innings he smashed his way to an unbeaten 201 out off the total of 287/6. Patel is a wicket-keeper with the dream and talent to play for his beloved country. Everyone who has seen him with the keeping gloves will testify that this kid has something special about him.

Parthiv Ajay Patel was born in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, on March 9, 1985. His love for the game got a kick-start at the age of nine, while watching cricket on television. The young lad took Ian Healy as his hero and started keeping wickets.

He sees Adam Gilchrist as a role model to follow. Though he bats left-handed and opens the innings as Gilchrist does, he is more of a sedate player, unlike the belligerent Aussie. Patel's appetite for runs is as good as his love for his favourite Chinese food. He is quick to add, "I am a wicket-keeper/batsman, not a batsman/wicket-keeper".

The diminutive Patel started playing for his school in 1996, turning up for his team as a handy keeper. He has never looked back since. Making his debut for Gujarat in February 1998 for the Under-14s, Patel took three catches and scored a brilliant 92 off just 111 balls against the powerhouse, Mumbai.

This humble lad who is currently studying in the 11th standard at Vidya Nagar High School, Ahmedabad, is all praise for his coach and trainers who have always been there to help him. He says, "The Gujarat Cricket Association is a great help to me, not only in conducting camps at the Motera stadium, but also by preparing good practice wickets and providing plenty of cricket balls to play with.

"Yoginder Singh, Shailaish Pandya and Narendar Sharma have been my coaches so far. They have been of great help to me. It has been a great learning experience to spend time with Sir (Roger Binny) and the India Under-19s team"

In a span of two years, Patel has climbed up the ladder in a hurry. Currently he is a member of the India Under-19s team as the second choice keeper to captain Ajay Ratra. His growth from school cricket to the India juniors has been phenomenal.

Against the visiting England Under-19s, Patel who hasn't turned 16 yet was chosen to lead the West Zone Under-19s at Pune. The selectors have true signs of great faith in the teenager's leadership qualities. The experience was overwhelming, says Patel, "I was quite tense about being the captain of older boys. I didn't know how it would go. I was quite worried whether I would get good support from the senior players. But to my good luck all worked out well. The boys were simply terrific."

As a matter of fact, Patel's first taste of being the captain came about in 1999. He was made the captain of the Gujarat Under-14s, just into his second season. His impressive wicket-keeping and batting abilities enabled him to break through to the Under-16s in 1998-99. Ever since, he has been a regular in the Gujarat Under-16s.

This season, the selectors threw him into the deep end by fielding him in the Under-19 category. He did not let them down, scoring 445 runs and taking 13 catches and in the process carried Gujarat to the Zonal championship. His phenomenal form continued in the Under-16 category too. As the Gujarat captain, he carried the fortunes of the team on his shoulders, scoring 663 runs including three centuries and a double, which incidentally is the highest aggregate of this season by an Indian Under-16 batsman. With 14 catches and three stumpings added to his booty, Patel forced himself into the West Zone U19s against the visiting England colts - and as captain. Patel kept wickets for the junior Rest of India team against the visiting English U19s, snapping three catches and three stumpings.

Patel knows what he wants, "I wish to play for India as a wicketkeeper for a long time". He certainly has the natural gift and the focus to achieve what he has set out to. Owen Meredith could not have been anymore true when he said, "Talent does what it can; Genius does what it must". This boy is much more than the talent that meets the eye. Watch out for Parthiv Patel, for you are going to hear more about him.

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