Pakistan v England, 2nd ODI, Abu Dhabi February 14, 2012

Patel still has issues to digest

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It would be an obvious pun to suggest that Samit Patel has a voracious appetite for success. And, during Tuesday's media conference, there are barely-concealed giggles when Patel states he has "too much hunger" before quickly adding "for cricket". Indeed, most of the conversation is littered with queries over his diet tips. It is a bit like asking a lion about vegetarian cooking.

But with Patel the issue of fitness - and his diet - is never far away. While there must have been some irony in the sight of a group of somewhat corpulent journalists sitting around a table grilling Patel - or chewing the fat, if you prefer - on his weight issues, it is actually the England team management who instigate the talk.

Kevin Pietersen, England captain at the time, memorably described Patel as "fat, unfit and lazy" in 2008, while Andy Flower, England head coach, admitted his frustration when omitting Patel from England's squad for the 2011 World Cup. "He was chosen on the condition that he would improve his physical state to be in consideration for this squad of 15," Flower said at the time. "All we were saying was 'get into reasonable shape'. It didn't have to be perfect. In fact, all we wanted to see was an improvement. He hasn't done that."

More recently, following the 5-0 ODI whitewash England suffered in India at the end of last year, Flower complained that Patel "hasn't properly addressed his fitness issues". Furthermore, Flower said Patel's "commitment in that regard has to be questioned, his fielding let him down and let us down." Earlier this tour, Flower, with a smile, said Patel was "inching towards" better fitness.

On the surface, Patel's fitness looks to have improved a great deal. He is noticeably slimmer than in the past and, having scored just one century in 2008 and 2009, he bounced back in 2011 with three centuries, over 1,000 first-class runs and 33 first-class wickets. Such figures meant he had to be in the selectors' minds when considering limited-overs options or indeed, options for the Test matches in Asia. He could, with a good series here, sneak into the squad travelling to Sri Lanka in March.

For now though, Patel's job is to come in at No. 7 in the ODI side - not an easy position at all - and fulfil the role of second spinner. It was a role he performed very well in the first ODI, providing England's innings with a late boost, as he contributed a selfless 17 in just 12 balls before claiming three wickets with his teasing left-arm spin.

Jos Buttler's hand is also improving and there will be no need to send him home. He will not be considered for selection for Wednesday's ODI to ensure he is not rushed back too early

"I'm loving the role at the moment," Patel said. "It actually gives you a bit of freedom. There's a no-fear attitude and you just have to score the runs. There are risks you're going to have to take and sometimes it won't work out."

One thing Patel does not lack is confidence in his ability or the ability of his team. While some might expect confidence in the England ODI camp to remain somewhat muted - they have, after all, won just one ODI against an Asian team, excluding Bangladesh, in Asia since 2007 - Patel talks with remarkable positivity.

"We're looking to absolutely nail this series," Patel said. "We want to beat them 4-0. It would be a bit of payback for the Test series. The boys are geared up for it; we know exactly what it's going to take.

"It would be a great achievement to beat them 4-0 in their own backyard. But that's the aim. That would be fantastic. We've got to aim high."

But he is aware of England's need to improve against Pakistan's spinners. Saeed Ajmal, with his maiden five-wicket haul in ODIs, and Shahid Afridi, with two lovely deliveries to dismiss Kevin Pietersen and Jonathan Trott, still shared seven wickets between them and the sense is that, without a very fine innings from Alastair Cook, England would have struggled to set a competitive total.

"It's important to highlight the skill levels we need against their spinners," Patel said. "We didn't go too well in India but we've got to look forward and this series is about putting a marker down about playing in the sub-continent and playing well against spin. We're aiming to try to win the World Cup. It starts playing in tough series like this against good opposition.

"We can be dangerous. We have a lot of talent in our squad: the likes of KP, Ravi Bopara and Eoin Morgan in the middle-order and Craig Kieswetter, there's a lot of firepower. Then Steve Finn blasts away and with Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad, we're looking a good squad. And we've not even mentioned Graeme Swann yet. We're going in the right direction."

England's mood was improved further by the news that Jos Buttler's hand is also improving and that there will be no need to send him home. The doctor has said Buttler, who received nine stitches in the webbing of his left-hand during the final game of the Lions tour to Sri Lanka just over a week ago, could play in an emergency. But he will not be considered for selection for Wednesday's ODI to ensure he is not rushed back into action too early. Tim Bresnan will be considered and could, with his extra batting ability, squeeze James Anderson out of the team.

The most pressing worry remains the form of Pietersen. While few doubt Pietersen's hard work or talent, he currently looks a shadow of the batsman he used to be. He has made just three half-centuries in his last 35 ODI innings and, since the start of 2009, averages just 24.85 in ODI cricket. In adopting an overly cautious approach to his innings on Monday night - he scored 14 in 36 balls - he undermined the point of promoting him to the top of the order. Unthinkable though it would have seemed not so long ago, Pietersen's position, in the ODI team at least, is under threat.

It is interesting to note that on Thursday, Pietersen will take part in a media event to launch the Delhi Daredevils' new IPL shirt. But he will not take questions and all members of the UK media are excluded.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • JG2704 on February 16, 2012, 11:02 GMT

    @bigwonder on (February 14 2012, 21:18 PM GMT) - I don't agree with fellow pros commenting on other pros fitness etc , but form and fitness are 2 different things. KP , by all accounts is one of the hardest workers/trainers in there. IMO KP should possibly train a little less. I feel he is too tense and there's nothing flowing. KP is a much better player when his shots are flowing. I also feel it's a bit of a contradiction from Flower criticising Patel and then continue to pick him. I'm not sure how fit or unfit he is personally and whether shedding some weight would improve his game.

  • JG2704 on February 16, 2012, 11:02 GMT

    @Ahmed Saeed on (February 15 2012, 00:13 AM GMT) What are you on about? England played a series in Australia 2010/11 Ashes series. Prior to that the last time England played in Australia was 2006/7. If we were to say that Eng had to permanently play in Holland or wherever then there would be a point where England would be so familiar with conditions that it would become like home. 15 tests and however many ODI's/T20S would be sufficient for it to become home. Also where are my excuses and examples of being a poor loser etc? I gave Pakistan plenty of credit for winning the test series. I did lambast our batsmen/selectors but I don't equate that as making excuses the same as I wouldn't accuse Pak fans of making excuses when lambasting their selectors. Also (regardless of what I think) I haven't once said that Pakistan could not win away from UAE.

  • serious-am-i on February 15, 2012, 13:41 GMT

    mudassar with the dew in place, its the team bowling second which has more problems than the team batting second especially when you have spinners in the squad.

  • ihaq1 on February 15, 2012, 10:29 GMT

    well only two of teh english team could bat in teh first onedayer although Finnn did bring the bowl in quicker and thus got the wickets...englands other fast bowlers could be replaced by anyone and playing three spinners could be a choice that england might try...pakistan also did not play their other spinner since they already have three who can spin ...however a left arm spinner has an advantage in one dayers..pieterson might be moving towards retirement since he does not seem tobe motivated and probably has some batting kinks to straighten out...england could also tryout bairstow and try kieswetter in his initial role as opener

  • jonnybtestmatch on February 15, 2012, 10:16 GMT

    @simonw, could not agree more. As an English fan nothing will remove the feeling of dissapointment about losing the test series 3-0. Pyjama cricket is not the real thing, and I don't care if we win or lose any of the games on tour.

  • keptalittlelow on February 15, 2012, 9:41 GMT

    Pakistan are looking a very weak one day side at the moment, they cant play Finn with new ball in his hands, I fear the same in the other ODIs.

  • tvumpire.com on February 15, 2012, 8:07 GMT

    Pakistan can go for spin, more spin and spin again...start with spin and end with spin...English batsmen will sweat and collapse...their bowlers are useless in subcontinent conditions.

  • dummy4fb on February 15, 2012, 8:02 GMT

    Keeping KP in the team despite his prolonged dip in form could prove to be as productive as putting a boxer who won his first 15 fights but since then has repeatedly lost on k.o. back in the ring time and time again. In the best interests of England and Kevin Pietersen, he should be given a 12-month break from international cricket in order to rediscover his form with Surrey.

    PS. RandyOZ - "The highly over-rated Swann" currently has 166 wickets from 39 tests at 28.53 with a strike rate of 57.7. Granted, Warne (187 at 23.08, SR 62.5) and Murali (177 at 28.78, SR 67) had better stats after the same number of games, but not in every respect. To achieve these results, Warne sent down 11,104 balls, Muralitharan 11,273 and Swann 9,592. You are of course entitled to your opinion, but it would be nice if it was based on facts.

  • SamRoy on February 15, 2012, 7:55 GMT

    Patel though an average spinner is miles better than Michael Yardy. Any county (forget country) who bowls Yardy regularly are a disgrace to cricket. A true club quality bowler. And please don't compare anyone to Graeme Swann who is a world class spinner and England's first world class spinner since Derek Underwood. Even Panesar is a good spinner but loses out to Patel as he can't bat. More importantly, England's top order ODI batting is very unreliable and they need good lower order batting from time to time. If England had a strong top order in ODIs like SA they could have played Panesar and Swann together.

  • sheziasn on February 15, 2012, 7:15 GMT

    A single win can do wonders. An unfit Patel, struggling for a permanent spot in his own team aiming a 4-0 victory. It was just the first ODI, we will all see how Cook will score 3 more centuries???

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