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Feature

Patidar: 'Mentally I should know that I am the best. Nothing else should matter'

The RCB batter speaks about his methods against spin, his outlook towards failure, and why he does not fear getting out

S Sudarshanan
S Sudarshanan
17-May-2024
Rajat Patidar has been superb against spin in IPL 2024. Nobody has hit more sixes against spinners (20, level with Abhishek Sharma) than him this season. Only Abhishek has a better strike rate (239.18) than Patidar (224.69) among batters with at least 100 runs against spin this season. He has only been dismissed twide by spin in 11 outings.
Patidar breaks into a smile when you bring up his prowess against spin. "I am a top-order batter," he says. "More than spin, if you ask me, I honestly love playing fast bowlers."
How good do you have to be at what you do if you dominate a less preferred match-up?
Patidar became adept against spin early in his career. Playing on underprepared surfaces in club games when he was in his early 20s helped him become better at picking up and adjusting to unpredictable deviation off the pitch. He got into the habit of picking spin from the hand rather than off the surface. An early glimpse of his quality against spin came in a Ranji Trophy match against Railways in November 2015, when he scored a century on a raging turner on which his Madhya Pradesh team-mate Jalaj Saxena picked up 16 wickets.
"I try to read spinners early from their hand and judge lengths early," Patidar says. "I try and understand what the bowler wants to do or what shot he wants me to play to dismiss me, and I look to avoid that.
"You have more time in the top order, where you can rotate strike at the start before targeting someone. But in the middle order, there is a little less cushion, so you have to prepare from the outside, when you are padded up. You have to gauge what the surface is doing, what the bowler is doing, where you can play your shots etc. You don't have the time to take your time and then hit at the end."
One of Patidar's best knocks this season came against Sunrisers Hyderabad, in a game that kickstarted Royal Challengers Bengaluru's run of five successive wins. He walked out at the start of the eighth over on what he terms a "two-paced surface, where the slower balls were gripping a bit." He raced to a 19-ball half-century - his third in four matches - going 6, 6, 6, 6 against Mayank Markande in a spin-hitting masterclass.
"After playing a couple of balls, you get to know how much spin there is on the surface - how much revs a bowler generates, how much turn there will be. It then gives me a clarity of the areas to hit," he says. "I know Mayank Markande because we [MP] have played Punjab [in the domestic circuit], and he is a very good bowler. He is an attacking bowler, and not one to give away easy singles. He tries to take wickets and that is his strength. I read him from his hand and managed to take him down."
Watching Patidar take spin down, you can't help but wonder how uncluttered his mind must be. No half-measures, no what-ifs, just unfussy footwork and a pure, unhindered swing of the bat. Does he not have the fear getting out?
"I don't think I have that," Patidar says, "because if I did, I would not have batted so freely or couldn't have attacked from the get go. There should be no fear of getting out in T20s because there is less time. If you want to dominate, you have to go in with a free mind. If you want to execute something but are not confident and worried about getting out, then things won't go right.
"As for my free mind, I try to keep ambiguity away when I am batting. If you are confident, and feel, 'I should go on this ball or take this bowler down', you should go for it. You cannot think, 'whether I should go for it or take a single.' So clarity is important. I also know my areas and what my strengths are, so I stick to that and execute that instead of trying something else."
This clarity is particularly remarkable given that Patidar wasn't going through his best phase when he came into this IPL. Called up to the Test team for the first time for the home series against England, he only scored 63 runs in six innings at an average of 10.50, and missed the last Test in Dharamsala with an ankle injury. It could have been a disheartening start, particularly for someone coming off a tremendous run in domestic cricket - he had averaged 59.04 in the Ranji Trophy since the post-Covid resumption of domestic first-class cricket at the start of 2022 - but Patidar is not one to fret.
"[I had] no doubts at all [in my game coming into the IPL]. Both are different formats - the red ball and white ball behave differently, and the way I play them is different," he says. "I never doubted my abilities even when things were not going my way. I know my game and I also know that things will not always go the way you want them to. A lot of times you may not score runs, you will have to face failures. Not just me, even the legends of this game have faced failures. What you do at that time, what thoughts you have then are important.
"I never judge myself based on results. If I focus more on outcomes, I will move away from what has brought me to this stage. But I also know that following a particular set process does not insulate me from failures. If I am changing my processes just because of a few failures, the down phase will only extend. This is what I have learnt from my [MP] coach Chandrakant Pandit - you must know about yourself. Keeping the right frame of mind in failures is important. You should focus on things you are doing right, the rest will take care of itself."
Patidar was the first Indian to hit a century in the IPL playoffs when he smacked an unbeaten 54-ball 112 in the Eliminator of IPL 2022. He is clearly not one to get overawed by the big stage.
"I have never, since my first IPL game, been overawed by who's bowling, who's not bowling, what the bowler does. I have full faith in my abilities. Even if I am facing a top bowler, he is human after all, and will only bowl the ball. So the more I keep myself normal, the more things go right. I have never seen a bowler and been caught off-guard.
"If you want to dominate a bowler, you can never look at the bowler's face and play. Mentally pata hona chaiye ki I am the best. Baaki kuch matter nahin karna chaiye (Mentally I should know that I am the best. Nothing else should matter)."
RCB's match against Chennai Super Kings at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium is a must-win, a virtual quarter-final. Rain is forecast in Bengaluru, and a loss or a washout will knock RCB out. Some of the players in their camp might be dwelling on these uncertainties, but you can be assured Patidar won't be.
Stats inputs by Shiva Jayaraman

S Sudarshanan is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Sudarshanan7