The Heavy Ball
Don't label Samit
Bits-and-pieces player? Sorry, you're wrong
It was put to me this week that Samit Patel is a bits-and-pieces cricketer. I bridled at this assertion without quite knowing why.
Now, I'll be honest, early exposure to the sight of Ian Austin barrelling in to bowl has left me with a deep-seated appreciation of well-fed cricketers, but I don't consider Samit to be one of my absolute favourites. I'm pretty sure my reaction to this pejorative labelling was based on logical but unconscious reasoning rather than being a purely emotional response. After all, the newly svelte Samit is a fading star in the fat-cricketer firmament these days.
So what was it then? Why was I so instantly convinced that Samit Patel is not a bits-and-pieces cricketer? Well, I guess the obvious thing to do is to first try and define what constitutes a bits-and-pieces cricketer.
For many people, an allrounder has to be worth his place in the side as a batsman or bowler alone in order to justify inclusion. If this is the case, is a bits-and-pieces cricketer someone who doesn't pass muster in either discipline?
Samit Patel "does a job" as a bowler, and while he's a decent batsman, he's probably not one of the six best in England. However, I still can't bring myself to pin the "bits and pieces" badge to one of his moobs. He's just too good a batsman. His county, Nottinghamshire, consider him good enough to bat in the top four.
Samit Patel is a worthy batsman whose physique and lifestyle constrain him to fingerspin. He's basically the next Darren Lehmann. Even if he finds his way into England's Test team in a bits-and-pieces role - batting at seven, bowling a few fill-in overs - he's fundamentally more than that.
It's to do with potential and expectations. Samit Patel might well find himself batting down the order, but you still feel he might just have a Test hundred in him. This would never be the case with a bits-and-pieces cricketer worthy of the name. Bits-and-pieces cricketers are selected in the sure knowledge that they will deliver mediocrity and nothing more. A player who so much as threatens to make a meaningful contribution in a match is something else entirely.
Think of men like Dermot Reeve. These are players you pick envisaging a best-case scenario where they score 20-odd down the order and take 1 for 60 with bowling that you assume must be spin but isn't.
Or what about the greatest bits-and-pieces cricketer of them all, New Zealand's Chris Harris? A cricketer, yes. But was he a batsman? Was he a bowler? The truth is, he was neither - and he was less besides. Harris earned himself 250 one-day internationals, in which he averaged 29 with the bat - despite being not out in a quarter of his innings - and 37.50 with the ball. Admirable stuff. That's what cricket's all about.
So there we have it. To call Samit Patel a bits-and-pieces cricketer may be disrespectful to the man himself, but it's also disrespectful to a noble lineage of dobbers and hackers who are truly worthy of that illustrious label.