Patel's worth harks back to simpler times

Warwickshire 21 for 1 trail Middlesex 207 (Dexter 53, Patel 5-59) by 186 runs

Few counties know the value of overseas players like Warwickshire. It was at Edgbaston 21 years ago that Brian Lara hit his world record 501 not out. The panache of Rohan Kanhai and Alvin Kallicharran delighted Warwickshire members for many years, while Allan Donald took over 500 first-class wickets for the club.

So it would be understandable if Warwickshire were heard to bemoan how the modern schedule renders it impossible for leading international players to commit for several unbroken seasons as they once did.

It is testament to the virtues of Jeetan Patel that there is no danger of Warwickshire - or, indeed, their supporters - uttering any such complaints while he remains at Edgbaston. Last season Patel claimed over 100 wickets across all formats, was named county cricket's Most Valuable Player and was selected as one of Wisden's Five Cricketers of the Year to boot.

Patel was once an offspinner who flighted the ball prodigiously, but that is a template with which few have succeeded in England. To thrive in county cricket, he has bowled quicker and flatter. He might lack a doosra or any great mystery, but his bowling is brimming with subtlety. He varies his pace, trajectory, delivery point on the crease and mixes armballs with conventional offspin. The only constant is his consistency.

Into his fourth full season at Warwickshire, after two short-term stints before, Patel has now claimed 230 first-class wickets at 27.26 apiece. Add in 1818 runs at 27.54 and 152 wickets across List A and Twenty20 cricket and there is surely no better overseas player in the county game today.

He showed his dexterity again when play began, a day late, against Middlesex at Edgbaston. This was the same wicket used for T20 Finals' Day: slow, damp and offering considerable turn, especially into the footmarks provided by Keith Barker's follow-through.

Patel supported them with all the acumen he has acquired over 15 years in the professional game. In 25.1 overs, with only two overs off after he started bowling, Patel bowled with unremitting control. He generated sizable turn, as when he induced Neil Dexter to be caught at leg slip and James Harris at short leg. But Patel also knows that a non-turning delivery can be a spinner's most lethal: it was an arm ball that removed James Franklin's offstump.

While Patel bowled with craft and cunning, Warwickshire's pace attack did not suffer for the absence of Chris Woakes. Barker showed the value of a left-armer able to move the ball back into the right-handers; Rikki Clarke and Boyd Rankin both harassed with their pace and bounce.

Not that Middlesex will reflect with pride on some of their shots. Dawid Malan's ending, flashing Rankin behind with his feet marooned to the ground, was unbecoming of such a talented player. After beginning the day brimming with intent as he lashed the ball through the offside, Paul Stirling edged Barker rather recklessly to Clarke at slip. If his 41 contained the most swashbuckling strokes of the day, it also extended Stirling's wait for a County Championship half-century in 2015; nine innings have brought only 160 runs, which is a poor reflection of his quality.

Perhaps Middlesex's demise had a touch of misfortune, too: Nick Compton could feel aggrieved at being dismissed lbw to Patel's second delivery when the ball appeared, admittedly from a distance, to be missing legstump. Without Dexter's 53, fusing assiduous defence with pleasing offside driving and late cuts, Middlesex would not even have reached 200 and a first batting point.

It did not have much relevance for their fading Championship aspirations, as Yorkshire waltzed towards retaining their crown. But the combination of the pitch, fine bowling and indifferent batting at least amounted to good news for those hoping that the contest will not be ruined by the abandonment of the entire first day.

Neither side while win the Championship pennant nor be relegated, but the prize money for finishing in the top three is significant. Middlesex's prospects of strengthening their claims on second place hinge largely upon whether Ollie Rayner's offspin can match the effectiveness of Patel's.

The early signs were encouraging, as Ian Westwood succumbed to his first ball, meeting a short ball outside offstump with hard hands and a top edge that looped gently to the wicketkeeper running round to short leg.

Middlesex 3rd innings Partnerships

1st17SD RobsonPR Stirling
2nd23NRD ComptonSD Robson
3rd23NRD ComptonDJ Malan
4th9JEC FranklinNRD Compton
5th33JEC FranklinNJ Dexter
6th44JA SimpsonNJ Dexter
7th24JA SimpsonOP Rayner