June 9, 2002

Parthiv Ajay Patel - the kid with a safe pair of hands

`If you hear a voice within you say "you cannot paint," then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.' --Vincent Van Gogh.

"Look at Ian Bell play the spinners, he is using the feet so well and getting to the ball before it can turn." These are the words of a fifteen-year-old boy, seated next to me in the press-box at the MA Chidambaram stadium in Chennai, in January 2001. Do not look any further; the youngster is none other than Parthiv Patel.

Patel's appetite for the wonderful game of cricket was highly apparent as he kept talking to me about the technical strength and weakness of the opponents. He did not play a single match for India Under-19s against England Under-19s, spending time in the media enclosure to help out the scorers and journalists with the names of the junior players. He also had the job of getting vital statistics and information for the team coach - Roger Binny.

The young lad was full of beans, bubbling around and finding it very difficult to be away from the action. It was then I asked him about his heroics against Maharashtra in the Under-16 west zone encounter, opening the innings, Parthiv Patel had scored 101 runs off the Gujarat U16s total of 196 runs in the first innings. Following on, Gujarat made 297/5 to draw the match; Patel's contribution was an amazing unbeaten 201. Yes, the sheer quantum of runs spoke a lot about this kid's ability.

The excellent batting added a new dimension to this classy wicket-keeper with such soft hands. Patel's sharp eye for the finer details and his analytical ability did not go un-noticed, the West Zone selectors entrusted Patel with the captaincy in the Under-19s match against the visiting English colts. There was no doubt at all that this kid was being groomed for bigger things.

Soon, Patel was picked into the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore, where he polished his wicket-keeping skills. There were three wicket-keepers in the academy at that time, the other two being Ajay Ratra and Deep Dasgupta. In the meanwhile, Patel led India Under-17s victorious campaign in the Asia Cup at Dhaka. Patel was on the fast track; he was rewarded with the prestigious Border-Gavaskar scholarship, which took him to a stint with the much-lauded Commonwealth Bank Cricket Academy in Adelaide. He was put through the rigours of modern training methods. The kid was completely in awe of Ian Chappell's lessons on how to deal with the media.

He picked up important lessons on wicket keeping from the Aussie legend Rodney Marsh, "Marsh taught me the importance of fast footwork and has given me some drills to go through. Unlike in India where wicket keepers are taught to gather the ball with the body right behind it, Marsh taught me to take the ball on either side the body so that you can cover till first slip, which allows the slips to be wider and cover more area."

Patel was learning fast and had to make a choice between spending time in the academy and playing for Gujarat. He chose the former, and it must be a bit ironical that he might play for India, much before he would actually play for Gujarat in the Ranji trophy. Yes, this is a very rare case of a genius coming to the fore.

Patel was not even seventeen, when he was named to lead the Indian team in the junior World Cup that was played in New Zealand. Patel impressed everyone with his leadership skills as well as his wonderful work behind the stumps. Patel did not have a great time with the bat, after having to sacrifice the opening batsman's role, the youngster also was asked to curb his natural strokeplay in the first three games.

India juniors did not win the World Cup, but the young Patel had learnt a few valuable lessons. It was a bit of a surprise for everyone when he was named in the India `A' squad to tour South Africa. Before the squad left for South Africa, the team coach Yashpal Sharma had only good words about Patel, "He is a very good young cricketer and looks very confident. As a wicket-keeper, he is technically very good, and he is also a hard-hitting batsman."

Patel had a successful campaign in South Africa, taking 14 catches and three stumpings. It was in an one-day match against South Africa "A', playing as an opening batsman for the first time in the tour, he scored a quick fire 32 against the likes of Andre Nel, which suggested that the boy had it in him to take on the best of fast bowlers.

The selectors retained Patel in the squad that toured Sri Lanka recently. Patel played remarkably well as a batsman, finishing at the top of the batting averages. When he got an opportunity to open the innings in a limited over match against Sri Lanka `A', Patel smashed 71 runs in a winning effort at Dambulla. He did justice to his reputation as a competent wicket keeper by pouching 13 catches in the tour.

The tour of England with the national side would do a world of good to the youngster, who has made such long strides in the last couple of years, ever since he scored all those runs against Maharshtra Under-16s at Kholapur on 7th December 2000. Not at all bad for a youngster who took to cricket at the age of nine, inspired after watching Ian Healy's wicket keeping. Parthiv Patel is a little bundle of energy; no wonder his hero is the one and only Adam Gilchrist.

It might all sound like a fairy tale, but, then, Patel has defied the time by believing in his own ability - and most importantly enjoying in what he does best - playing cricket. Now it is time to play with the big boys, and in a time when England struggles to figure out whether to give Bell a chance at the international level, Patel would go on adding to the legend that he almost is.

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