Go Jumpin' Jack go
With so much cricket played these days it is often difficult to keep track of who is who and what they are doing. In this weekly feature, Cricinfo will take a look at one player who is making the news, whether at the highest level or as an aspiring talent, and tell you what they are all about. This week, it's the turn of Jeetan Patel, the New Zealand offspinner.
He doesn't quite feel at home in India, where New Zealand are currently battling for survival in the Champions Trophy, but Jeetan Patel understands that for many in the country of his origin he is unique. Nicknamed 'Jack' because he's usually batting at No.11 for his club, state and national side, Patel has been a crowd favourite on two separate starry Mumbai evenings. The crowd at Mumbai's Brabourne Stadium clamoured for his attention when he fielded near the midwicket ropes - "Hey, Jeetu, smile once, man!"- they cheered when he came on to bowl - "Come on, Jeetu! Wicket, Jeetu!" - and you had to be there to listen to the din when he ripped through South Africa's lower order with his flat offbreaks on a crumbling pitch. Patel's a star out here, alright.
Born to Indian parents - he's no relation to Dipak Patel, the former New Zealand spinner - and raised in the eastern suburbs of Wellington, he played religiously with his father, Shashi, day in day out. Incidentally, Patel didn't start as a spinner. It was only after fooling around in school matches and expanding his variations in the nets that he realised he had something going, and soon abandoned his aspirations of bowling flat-out fast. Chances at the age-group level in Wellington followed quickly, and before he knew it Patel was representing the New Zealand Cricket Academy and making his first-class debut, at the age of 19, with 5 for 145.
The season proved a success, but by Patel's own admission, it was "almost too easy". Despite his confident and quick rise through the ranks, Patel remained without a real mentor in Wellington, a city with a shortage of spinners. He attempted to contact his senior namesake to seek advice on technique, but Patel's main influence remained his Wellington and Academy coaches, Vaughan Johnson and Mike Shrimpton. "Vaughn has influenced me a lot and taught me a lot. He tells me where I'm going wrong and Mike Shrimpton has been great," Patel remarked back in 2000. "Before I went to the Academy I would talk to Vaughn a lot but up till then I was pretty much teaching myself."
The following season, when wickets didn't come as easily, was a reality check that Patel admitted toughened him up. He kept talking to Johnson, and senior Wellington players Stephen Fleming - who now sees Patel as a key figure in the national side - and Chris Nevin, and his self-belief received a kick-start.
As a result of a good 2004-05 domestic season - he took 26 first-class wickets at 32.84 - and a New Zealand A tour to South Africa, Patel earned a national call-up for the tour of Zimbabwe in August 2005. John Bracewell, New Zealand's coach, was quick to defend Patel as a "long-term investment" despite criticism of a modest first-class record of 106 wickets at 39.79.
In his first ODI at home , back in January, Patel raised eyebrows with a fine 2 for 23 against Sri Lanka, coming on as the SuperSub. Bowling in tandem with Vettori, Patel dried up the runs, bowling imaginatively yet restrictively. That performance earned him the Man-of-the-Match award. Patel was later selected for the one-day leg of New Zealand's 2005-06 tour of South Africa. He only played a Twenty 20 and an ODI, but impressed Bracewell, also a selector, and made his Test debut against the same side in the second Test at Cape Town.
Not one to regularly toss the ball up, Patel believes the role of a spinner in today's game is tough - "Everyone's going to have a crack at the slow bowler. They may not feel the same way about a straight-up fast-bowler, but the spinner is seen as fair game for No 1 to No 11" - but is willing to learn from every match. With New Zealand eyeing the possibility of fielding two spinners in next year's World Cup in the Caribbean, Patel's form and temperament keep him in good stead. His fans in Mumbai would be glued to their television sets, that's for sure.
Represents New Zealand Academy against England A, taking 1 for 40.
Makes debut for Wellington, taking 5 for 145.
Makes his ODI debut against Zimbabwe in the Videocon Tri-Series at Harare. Bowls Stuart Carlisle for 30.
Makes his international Twenty20 debut against South Africa in Johannesburg. Takes 3 for 20 off four overs and is named Man of the Match.
Plays his only Test to date, against South Africa at Cape Town, taking 3 for 117 in the only South African innings.
Patel's done well in the 11 one-day opportunities he's got, taking 18 wickets at 24.17. He has outshone the man he remains a back-up bowler to, Vettori, by picking up five wickets at 8.60 in the two Champions Trophy matches New Zealand have played.
He says - on the transition to being a cricketer playing in India
"You've got to respect certain things more as a sportsman here; like drinking bottled water and being extra careful what you eat. I love the food so that can be a bit tough. And during a match we're generally out in the heat for at least three-and-a-half hours... you just lose so much fluid."
They say - Fleming on the respect Patel has commanded
"He's been with us for a period of time now so it's not new to him and he's got the team's respect, which is often the most important thing for a young player."
What you may not know
Despite his Indian roots, Patel has only traveled to the country for holidays, and is still jibed by team-mates on a lack of knowledge of Indian conditions. Fleming, his Wellington and New Zealand captain, recently joked: "The boys tease him a bit about it when they're trying to get to grips with Indian culture."
You may not know this either
Patel has always been quick to dismiss the notion that bowlers are under-rated as batsmen; he believes his batting in an unrecognised strength of his game. "I rate myself. I don't want to be a No.11. I really think I could bat six, seven or eight in the Trophy side. All I need is a bit of experience and a lot of time in the nets. I know a batsman's got to bat and a bowlers' got to bowl but I reckon I can make a contribution with the bat if I'm given the chance."
Jamie Alter is editorial assistant of Cricinfo