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A mature Parthiv finds his groove

Much has changed in Parthiv Patel's life since making his Test debut as 17-year-old, writes Sidharth Monga

Though his determination as a batsman was hardly in question earlier ... © Getty Images
About 200 kilometers from Rajkot, at the Motera Stadium in Ahmedabad, there is a famous picture of Michael Vaughan, Nasser Hussain and Andrew Flintoff cheering a 17-year-old boy off the ground. That was five years ago, after Parthiv Patel had scored a plucky unbeaten 19 to help India save the Trent Bridge Test.
Much has changed in the life of that 17-year-old since. A fairy-tale international career, in which he played more such courageous innings, turned into a nightmare behind the stumps in two years, when he was dropped from the Indian side. Three years from that time he is back, still looking a boy but for the stubble, still just as gutsy, forcing the selectors to take notice - at a time when a wicketkeeper is the captain of the ODI and Twenty20 side and there is another playing as a specialist batsman. And Parthiv has done this on the back of solid performances with the bat, with numbers that are hard to ignore.
The unbeaten 161 against Mumbai, to bail Rest of India out of a middle-order collapse, was his fifth in succession and he has scored 752 runs in his last six first-class innings. Given his experience of having opened for India - against Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Sami - his batting has now started posing the question: if Dinesh Karthik can, why not Parthiv?
During the time he has spent out of the Indian team, he has worked hard on his batting. The difference has shown: from a batsman very good at hitting anywhere through the point and cover regions and not much else, he has now become an all-round batsman, the wristy flicks and pulls through midwicket catching immediate attention. "I worked really hard before the Zimbabwe and Kenya tours," Parthiv said. "I have batted for almost five hours a day in the nets. The only thing I needed to work on was concentration."
Two years ago, quietly going about his business in Ahmedabad, Parthiv had said that the most important thing the tough times had taught him was to struggle, and that he would be a better man for it
At the time of his axing perhaps his fitness wasn't up to international wicketkeeping standards. For two days in the trying October heat in Rajkot, Parthiv has been on the field and very much at the center of the action, giving some sense of improved fitness. "I have been working hard on my fitness," he said. "I have been following Greg King's [the senior team's trainer] program rigorously." And he is setting himself for more. With ROI still trailing Mumbai by 163 runs, a "double-hundred might not be enough. I will like to go on and on, because we [himself and Manoj Tiwary] are the last recognised batting pair."
VB Chandrasekhar, who kept wicket for India in seven ODIs and was a national selector when Parthiv was dropped, watched him play today and has also seen him in various domestic matches over the last few seasons. He says there is an obvious improvement in his batting and believes Parthiv can be a contender just as a batsman. "By putting him in the wicketkeepers' bracket, we might run the risk of overlooking his batting," Chandrasekar said. "As a keeper he has improved; he may not be as acrobatic as many others, but he still has a safe pair of hands."
Over the last three years, Parthiv has kept on different kinds of surfaces all over the country. That is certain to have improved his technique. It can be argued that the ROI bowlers did not test him behind the stumps much, as they rarely beat the bat. Sterner tests await if he keeps batting the way he is now.
As Chandrasekhar pointed out, when they dropped Parthiv from the Indian team, they were looking to get him to improve as a batsman. "At that point, when we looked at a second wicketkeeper who could bat, Karthik was scoring more than him," said Chandrasekhar. "But we asked him to work on his batting, to bat higher in the state matches."

... Parthiv Patel has matured into a better over-all batsman © AFP
In the current scenario it is highly improbable that anyone could replace Mahendra Singh Dhoni behind the stumps. Parthiv is still some way behind Karthik in the wicketkeeping stakes. So adaptation might be the criterion to choose among these batsmen, where neither gives an inch. Given the form he's in, Parthiv could even make his way into the national squad as purely a batsman.
Two years ago, quietly going about his business in Ahmedabad, Parthiv had said that the most important thing the tough times had taught him was to struggle, and that he would be a better man for it. He had said then that he didn't need to worry about what the other 'keepers were doing, and he said the same today. "Right now I am enjoying my cricket. Five hundreds in five innings is a dream for me. I don't need to think what Dhoni and Dinesh are doing. If I keep batting like this, things will take care of themselves."
From being touted as the next Indian prodigy after Sachin Tendulkar, to being hopeless behind the stumps to coming back into national contention, Parthiv has seen it all - at the ripe old age of 22. Indeed, if he can continue batting in this same vein another chapter might be added to a rollercoaster career. One in which he travelled to Barbados before he probably played in Baroda; in which he sledged Steve Waugh before probably mouthing off in a domestic game; in which he has kept to Anil Kumble before he had kept to Ashraf Makda; in which he had frustrated the likes of Steve Harmison, Dominic Cork, and Mathew Hoggard before he did the same to Ajit Agarkar and Ramesh Powar.
For Parthiv, it's been some ride, but he's clearly buckled up for more.

Sidharth Monga is a staff writer with Cricinfo Magazine