February 11, 2014

'Hopefully now I am beginning to peak'

Older and more mature than when he first played for England, Samit Patel hopes he can let his bat do all the talking from now on

"At times in the past I thought I had it all - but I didn't" © Getty Images

Cricket is about belief: to get down on one knee and play the Dilscoop, to flight one up after being clattered for six, to charge up the wicket and go over the top. The game is a mental examination as much as a physical one. It is a test of the brain as much as the body. For Samit Patel - the allrounder who England once deemed just too round - belief is no issue.

There are 59 caps in Patel's locker. He is now 29 - and he barely waits for me to finish before interrupting my question of how many he can end up with. "I can play 200 games for England," he says. "That's my belief. The older you get, the better you get. I haven't had my best days. Hopefully now I am beginning to peak."

The remarks are delivered with all the conviction of one of his bludgeoning drives. Patel has never been shy of a word or two, but you sense this is not just talk. He has fallen out with Graeme Swann, who alleged Patel had been spreading some none too kind words around Trent Bridge, before. That rift is now long gone. "We were both naive," Patel says.

Last year Patel remarked that Glamorgan "wouldn't come anywhere close" to his Nottinghamshire team in their big Lord's final. He was right but the comments came across as just not cricket, though Patel claims it was blown way out of proportion.

He is adamant he is not gobby. Or a wild child. "At times in the past I thought I had it all, but I didn't," he admits. Now he wants the words to stop and to let his actions - in a Three Lions shirt - do the talking.

Cricket has always been in his blood. A child prodigy, Patel represented England at Under-15, U-17 and U-19 levels. He made his Nottinghamshire 2nd XI debut at the age of 14 and was awarded the Test Match Special Young Cricketer of the Year award in 2000, all while he was still at school.

"It was tough, playing at 14, but it put me in good stead. I had to balance school with England tours and Notts matches." With an air or pride, he adds: "But I didn't do badly. I still got eight GCSEs and two A Levels."

Using those was never part of the plan.

"My attitude towards training was terrible. I thought cricket would always get me out of trouble. It didn't"

Patel was 17 when he made his Nottinghamshire debut. It was no easy bow. As he walked out to bat, off trudged Kevin Pietersen. He'd been clean-bowled by West Indies A paceman Jermaine Lawson. At the other end, Tino Best was steaming in. Patel stuck around for two and a half hours for 35.

He had to wait another year to play his first County Championship match. Patel struck a half-century against Lancashire to further show his talent - but it was in 2005 that he made the big breakthrough. The then 20-year-old became an integral part of the Notts one-day side, playing 16 games, averaging close to 40 and impressing with his economical left-arm spin. That one-day form translated into the first-class game in 2006. Big runs came and, in 2008, England came calling.

"I was shocked and surprised when Geoff Miller rang. I thought he was calling about the England Lions game against South Africa, not that I was in the full squad," Patel said. His first cap came against Scotland but taking on the might of South Africa - with Herschelle Gibbs, Jacques Kallis and Dale Steyn in their ranks - was the first big test.

Patel's second one-dayer was a winning one. He justified his selection ahead of Swann and accounted for danger man Gibbs in ten tight overs. "It was a pretty good start," Patel says. "Playing with [Stuart] Broad, [James] Anderson, Freddie Flintoff, [Steve] Harmison as seamers and being picked ahead of Swanny as the spinner was massive. Swanny was a good bowler then - he's an even better bowler now."

England's faith in Patel was rewarded. His 5 for 41 in the third ODI earned him the Man-of-the-Match award and England the series. An ECB contract followed but the dream soon turned into a nightmare. The wait for an international chance may have been over - but so was his weight.

Patel, included in England's ODI and T20 squads for the tour of the West Indies in 2009, was axed. The reason: he was not fit for purpose. His fitness levels had gone downhill and he was left in the wilderness.

"Embarrassing," Patel says about it. It would be an easy subject to shy away from, but he isn't about to do that. "Being told I couldn't play was absolutely hurtful. I was good enough to play for my country but not fit enough to do the work. That's pretty bad. If you get dropped for not playing that well, fair enough. But for something else, that's pretty poor."

There was no quick fix, or at least no quick fix that worked. Despite being picked in the preliminary squad, Patel missed out on the 2009 World Twenty20 because the fitness problems hadn't been put to bed.

Patel knows he was wrong. Wrong that he was out of shape in the first place - and wrong that he didn't get back into line quick enough: "My attitude towards training was terrible. I thought fitness wasn't all that. I know what you need to do at the highest level and fitness is a key aspect of that. But I thought cricket would always get me out of trouble. It didn't."

The yo-yo, body fat and weight tests were letting him down but he had an ally. The coach, Andy Flower, publicly spoke out about Patel and said: "All we were saying was 'get into reasonable shape'."

Patel respected the approach: the honesty and the personal contact. "Andy Flower was great with me. He wanted me fitter. He was pretty blunt with me and I knew where I stood," he said. "The good thing with him was that he was always keeping in contact and getting me to do something about it." Off Patel trekked to the gym.

It wasn't until 2011, three years after his international bow, that he got another chance. The work had paid off and his international career was back on the right track. Although it was hardly a total thumbs-up from national selector Geoff Miller. "Samit Patel has taken significant steps in the right direction and he has more hard work ahead in order to make further progress," he said.

Patel became a key part of the one-day side and donned the whites for his first Test, against Sri Lanka in 2012. "I got myself fit and went from playing no formats to all formats. The Test call-up was the most surprising. I thought I was going to Sri Lanka for the experience and then I was in the side. It was satisfying but I knew I wanted more," Patel says.

This time it was poor form - on the pitch, not off it - that led to his dropping. The final straw came in a T20 in Hamilton last year where he bowled two fruitless overs for 20, and scored 6. Now, though, there is a chance for more. There is no coach, no established spinner, and question marks over all but three or four spots in the Test side. Patel doesn't need telling twice.

"I haven't been in contact with anyone. I don't know how far away from the side I am but it's a fresh start for everyone," he says. "Come the start of the season there will be a load of players believing if they get out the traps fast, they could be playing for England."

Before then, Patel could be set for an IPL payday. He pulled out of the auction back in 2011 to concentrate on his England chances. But now he has thrown his name into the hat. Not that he is too keen. There is a downbeat tone to his voice just at the mention of it. Notts will let him go if he sells for $320,000. Hopes are at a minimum.

"I probably won't follow the auction," Patel says. "I don't know what franchises are thinking but I would know now if they were interested, I'm sure. If I don't go, it's a win-win situation. There's more chance of me playing for England, which is where I want to be."

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Peter on February 12, 2014, 3:45 GMT

    Probably the worst player ever to wear an England shirt as far as I can remember. England seem to be obsessed with people who do a bit of everything 'bits and pieces players' Nasser calls them. It's great when you can bat and bowl but you need to do both well not to a club cricket standard.

    When you're below average with the bat and below average with the ball, it basically means you're a below average player.

  • Dummy4 on February 11, 2014, 21:20 GMT

    Samir can come back in England team

  • Android on February 11, 2014, 18:04 GMT

    patel can get back..he just needs to be a bit more consistent! good luck to him

  • Simon on February 11, 2014, 13:20 GMT

    Kieswetter is another case in point, the guy is an excellent first class batsman, has a great solid defence, can go on the counter attack, and what does he get picked for - a thwack at the top of the ODI innings. Even since his heroics to win the T20 World cup, his inability to go above a strike rate of 100 is evident, the guy should be deputising for Prior in tests, and Bairstow, if he's good enough to bat in tests, and is a quicker scorer than Root or Ballance should have at least a couple of series as ODI wickie, with Buttler in for his batting alone at No.2 or 3. The main problem is accomodating Tredwell or any other spinner in ODI's and T20s because our tail is too long. Patel should really be concentrating on his bowling variations for one day cricket to avoid the need for Root, or even a proper spinner.

  • Simon on February 11, 2014, 13:12 GMT

    This article states the key current problem in my opinion - "He was picked for all formats" much like Root and Stokes, heralded as a saviour in all formats. It is simply a nonsense and is a rediculous approach to our picking of teams and players. Samit definitely has a role to play for England, he is a good player of spin - something most English players are dreadful at, he bowls spin that, on the right surfaces can do a job at international level, he can clear the ropes with his batting - and he can rotate the strike and pick up boundaries against spin and seam. Personally I would like to see him playing in the mid overs of ODIs with Morgan up the other end, and release Buttler to come in higher - who's speciality is undoubtedly against seam bowling, and using the fielding restrictions. Stokes is not a test bowler, he doesnt have the control, and Root should be batting at No. 6 in tests only. Then Stokes coming in at 7 or 8 lengthens our tail considerably in ODIs.

  • Dummy4 on February 11, 2014, 12:43 GMT

    Very good and honest interview by Samit. Samit deserves his chance in England, he will prove his worth in England and hopefully in IPL. His record for England is not bad compare to some others in the current team

  • Adrian on February 11, 2014, 11:55 GMT

    Samit has no place in the England team. No doubt he's had a decent innings here and there. Also as a Nott's fan he has undoubtedly been a good servant in the domestic arena.

    However, is considering someone like Patel truly the best way to launching the 'new era of English cricket?'

    In a recent article I made a comment regarding Ravi Bopara's unsuitability for re-selection to Test cricket. And (if I recall correctly) that he shouldn't be part of the one-day squads either.

    Inevitably this comment was made shortly before he smashed 65 of 40 only for England to fall 13 runs short of the target.

    And there lies the rub. We know both Ravi and Samit are capable of this type of destructive innings on their day, but those days are too infrequent and often punctuated by below par performances.

    If England are truly to move into a new era of sustained success then they must truly commit to that ideal and to do so means not looking back to players who never quite did enough with their chances

  • ian on February 11, 2014, 11:24 GMT

    In a new regime, less hung up on fitness stats and with an eye to genuine cricketing talent, the Samits of this world have reason to hope that their time may well have come. I wonder whether the late and lamented Colin (Ollie) Milburn would have got into the last England set-up. I suspect he wouldn't have at 18 stone. That doesn't mean that improved fitness would go amiss, Samit!

  • Ben on February 11, 2014, 10:02 GMT

    Nice interview. Good luck to Samit. He has the talent and he seems to have a really positive attitude - something that is so desperately needed in the England team right now. Let's hope he can back both up with the form that will get him in the team............not that form seems to have much to do with anything with the ECB!

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