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In-form Patel feels he has only just begun

Samit Patel's rich vein of form has left him wondering, at 32, if he is a better player than he ever imagined - not a bad mindset before a Lord's one-day final

Jon Culley
Jon Culley
In the days when it was often a necessity rather than a gratuitous boost to the bank account, a player's benefit year tended to indicate that his career was moving towards the winding-down phase, that he had done his bit for club - and country - and that the public should feel free to show their appreciation via the collection buckets.
What generally didn't happen was that the beneficiary would suddenly discover, halfway through this valedictory tour of duty, that he was actually a better player than he thought he was and that, far from contemplating a life away from the game, he was looking forward to many more years in its pay.
Samit Patel, 32 years old, 16 seasons a first-class player, 20,000 runs, 650 wickets and 60 England appearances in the account across all formats, is feeling a little like that as he prepares for a Lord's final on Saturday in which Nottinghamshire's presence is down to him as much as anyone.
In the space of five innings in two competitions over 17 days last month, Patel scored 774 runs, his unbeaten 122 in an epic record run chase in the Royal London One-Day Cup semi-final against Essex at Chelmsford coming between consecutive double-hundreds in the Championship.
Surrey, beaten in two successive Lord's visits in this competition, now await at Lord's.
Yet while it may be the purple patch of his life, Patel does not believe it has come out of the blue. Working at Trent Bridge with Peter Moores, the former England coach who was the first to see Patel as an international player a decade ago, the middle-order stylist with the sideline in orthodox left-arm spin has had his eyes opened to improvements he didn't know he could make. Rather than contemplating the end, he is thinking about a new beginning.
"Mooresy is up there with the best coaches I've worked with," Patel said, which is high praise indeed from a player whose comments on the value given by those who ply the cricket coaching trade have not always been complimentary.
"He always makes you feel good about yourself and as a cricketer you need that, you need your tyres pumping up a bit. Yes, you also need the occasional kick up the backside but Mooresy is generally very supportive and, regardless of the way you've got out, he will always find a positive spin on it.
"Where we have been working is on the tempo of my batting and on making decisions on when to attack and when to sit in. Mooresy has had me concentrate on playing the ball late. We talk about cushioning the ball, hitting it into the ground, because that eliminates me being caught point, or caught cover or mid-on, all the soft dismissals I have been labelled with.
"I'd never really made big scores. I'd get to 110, 120 and think my next 50 would have to come off 20 balls. I'd get kind of giddy and just want to smash every ball.
"Now I'm learning how to bat longer. On both occasions that I got to 200, not once did I think as I did before. I thought 'just carry on doing what you are doing' and I've never thought like that before so something must have happened to me to make me change.
"In your mind, you really do go back to when you aren't getting runs and you are scratching for form, which reminds you that when it is your day you've got to try to cash in and make it your day as long as possible, and keep your form as long as you can. I'm 32 now, I've been around a few years - but you never do stop learning."
His popularity with the Trent Bridge crowd is never more evident than on sunny Twenty20 nights, when a Patel innings, lit up with classy cover drives, stylish clips and soaring sixes, inevitably dressed up further with a flourishing full follow-through, has often been the highlight of the night. His part in the semi-final at Chelmsford, when he was there to execute the winning strike, prompted an outpouring of warmth both on the ground and in front of countless TV screens back in Nottingham and around the county.
There is affection for him in the dressing room, too, although in part thanks to the comedy value of his unpredictable timekeeping and his susceptibility to embarrassing run-outs.
In the semi-final at Chelmsford, where Nottinghamshire were in uncharted territory in chasing 371 to win, Moores remarked on the calm assertiveness with which Patel and Steven Mullaney went about compiling their record 185-run fifth wicket partnership, Patel keeping his head even after the run-out of his fourth-wicket partner, Brendan Taylor, which could have derailed the chase.
"The way Steven played - I've never seen anything like it," Patel said. "He was hitting it at will in areas that had no fielders and he made it look risk free. The way the partnership developed it just got to the stage where I kept handing it back to him because he was hitting it and I didn't need to.
"In the end we got down to needing 80-something off 10 and you should do that. When he started to struggle a little bit you have to take it on yourself."
Victory was only achieved with two edges in the final over off Paul Walter, but Patel has such self-confidence he can make it all sound a natural route to victory.
"I rode my luck at the end and we got there but I'm confident now that if I stay there I will probably get the team over the line. In the past, I probably would have thrown it away. I would have got to 50 and then got caught long off or some other soft dismissal. But I showed myself I can do it."
Patel's achievements as a player are already impressive. Apart from his international career, dotted with frustrations but with some special moments to look back on - his match-winning 5 for 41 in an Oval ODI against South Africa in 2008 being one - he has been a member of two Championship winning teams at Trent Bridge, in 2005 and, more influentially, in 2010, and was man of the match for his bowling in the final of the Yorkshire Bank 40 final in 2013, having taken 3 for 21 in the 87-run victory over Glamorgan. The exhilaration he felt at Chelmsford was on a par with that.
What has not changed about Samit Patel is his attitude to that hoary topic of his physical shape. He really does wish the questions about it would stop, even though the issue it became with the England management undoubtedly limited his international appearances.
"I think that's been put to bed now," he said. "Things have moved on and I've been on a Test tour since then. I'd like to think there is still a chance for me to fulfil my ambitions. Mike Hussey and Paul Collingwood played on until late in their careers. I'm 32 and I'm still learning.
"With my game I could go on for eight years and still be playing when I'm 40. So don't write me off just yet."