Murali Vijay from first slip walked to Parthiv Patel to do low-fives on the first morning of his comeback Test last Saturday after the Gujarat wicket-keeper dived to his right to collect a Mohammed Shami swinging delivery. That was his first real feel of a cricket ball in Test cricket after August 2008.
The gesture by Vijay gave the gloveman confidence and a sense of acceptance by the young Indian team after Wriddhiman Saha was ruled out for the third Test due to thigh strain.
And the hug by captain Virat Kohli after Patel scored the winning runs underlined that Patel has done everything right in his comeback Test.
Shaking off his initial nervous moments, even if it was not visible on his face, the 31-year-old settled down into the fitter Team India under Kohli without much ado.
It may have taken him eight years to play another Test. He made his Test debut 14 years ago as a 17-year-old, making his first-class debut against overseas bowlers even before playing his first game for Gujarat.
Cricket careers last that many years, or even less. MS Dhoni came and went during that period to emerge as the country’s greatest wicketkeeper and most successful captain.
Patel could have achieved what Dhoni did had he not lost out to the pressures and adulation that a baby-faced chubby wicketkeeper played for India very young.
To make a comeback to Test cricket the way Patel did is not easy.
“To wait for eight years and make a comeback in international cricket is difficult. To make any sort of a comeback is always difficult,” said Kiran More, former India stumper and chairman of selectors, to DNA on Wednesday. “It was a great comeback by Parthiv. The way he has played this Test match was outstanding.”
Patel’s hunger to play domestic cricket after he was dropped from Test side in 2008 did not diminish. “He was trying hard in domestic cricket, playing with a lot of passion and that has helped him. He had the hunger to play for India again. He remained focussed on his game. It is a challenge to go back to domestic cricket once you have had taste of international cricket,” said More.
Former India stumper and until recently a national selector from East Zone, Saba Karim attributed Patel’s successful return to India’s first-class structure.
“Parthiv’s comeback goes to show that the first-class structure in India is quite robust. Whether you are making your debut or making a comeback, you still have the ability to do well at the international level. I think it is a great for first-class cricketers.
“Hats off to Parthiv that he stayed true to his work ethics. For eight years, he has been a consistent performer for his state and representative teams that he has played for. It was as if he was always ready to make a comeback into the Indian team,” Karim said.
Everything went right for Patel in his comeback Test. He effected a stumping, took catches that came his way including a low catch off Jonny Bairstow’s edge in the second innings. He did miss an odd chance but that did not prove costly.
And most importantly, he scored runs in both the innings. The manner in which he toyed with the England bowlers, particularly in the second innings while scoring his first ever six in his 21st Test en route to scoring the winning shot – an inside-out lofted cover drive for four – in the company of Kohli, made his comeback to international cricket sweeter.
It will be sheer bad luck if Patel does not figure in the Mumbai Test from December 8 as Saha would return behind the stumps. But Patel has given Kohli and his once captain, now chief coach Anil Kumble the option of another opener, what with Vijay struggling for runs after his magnificent 126 in the series’ first outing in Rajkot, and KL Rahul expected to return fit.
More said that Patel can even upstage Saha as the No. 1 wicketkeeper in Tests.
Patel may not have done enough justice to his immense batting skills. Whenever he was given the opportunity, he has never shirked responsibility.
More observed: “He has always done well with bat the bat. He opened the in Pakistan (2004) against the best of fast bowlers and scored a fifty. He is ready to open the innings, can bat at 6 or 7. He has put extra pressure on the team management with the way he batted in Mohali. Now, they have a choice.”
Hard work pays
All the years of hard yards in domestic cricket, improving his wicketkeeping skills, came to the fore in Mohali while keeping to pace and spin alike.
Karim pointed out: “Wicketkeeping is all about confidence. If you are confident, that means your body is relaxed. Automatically, you can always deliver with the ball and the gloves.
“Making his debut at 17, that’s a tough age for wicketkeepers to debut. He hardly had any first-class experience. For the last so many years, he has worked hard on his wicketkeeping skills.
“Now he knows that mentally he has to be relaxed so that he can perform well behind the stumps. That’s what came out in this Test match.”
Patel’s contribution as a senior member was immense. Karim, who was a Hindi television commentator for the third Test, observed: “His contribution as a senior member of the side was very good. He was seen offering inputs to captain and some of the other players including the bowlers also. It becomes very useful for a senior player, making a comeback, by contributing on and off the field. That helped him to feel comfortable in that entire space.”
Patel was accepted immediately in the Indian dressing room. Karim felt that him playing with and against the India players regularly and the fact that “Anil and Virat being excellent man-managers, they know how to accommodate a senior or even a youngster in the side” made it even more easier for the diminutive left-hander.