If you can wait and not be tired by waiting”—Rudyard Kipling’s words capture the essence of Parthiv Patel’s comeback into the Indian Test team after a gap of eight years.
Like Ashish Nehra’s return at the age of 36 earlier this year in the Twenty20 format, this story is also an example of self-belief and persistence. Patel played the third Test against England at Mohali last month and will play the next starting in Mumbai today.
“If a cricketer is dropped (from the team), he will try to prove them wrong, season after season, until he gets back in,” says former wicket keeper Saba Karim, who was picked for the 1989 tour of West Indies and didn’t get to play a match. He played a solitary Test in 2000 (and then got injured) after proving his worth in domestic cricket for over a decade.
Patel made his Test debut as a teenager in 2002 when Mahendra Singh Dhoni was still known only locally in Ranchi. Now, a couple of years after Dhoni’s retirement from Test cricket, Patel has another chance—he was recalled due to an injury to Wriddhiman Saha. Dhoni, in the meantime, played 90 Tests from 2005-2014.
“My game didn’t change after Dhoni’s retirement but it made all wicketkeepers in the country more realistic (about playing for India),” said Patel, after getting the news of his selection on 23 November.
“Saha is yet to cement his place and that is a big motivation for all wicketkeepers. Besides, India is playing so many Tests, there are always chances of injuries, which is what happened,” says Karim, who was part of the selection committee till this September.
In the last nine seasons of the Indian Premier League (IPL), Patel has represented a record six teams. From being a reserve wicketkeeper to Dhoni in Chennai Super Kings to an opener for Mumbai Indians, Patel has never been shy of a challenge. His batting in Mumbai Indians’ victorious campaign in 2015 (339 runs) brought him back in the reckoning.
He followed it up with a captain’s performance in the domestic limited over competition, the Vijay Hazare Trophy, winning the title for his state team Gujarat with a century in the final. Subsequently, there were four fifties from nine innings in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Twenty20 tournament, a century against India A in the Deodhar Trophy and then a sudden call-up to India’s One Day International (ODI) squad as a stand-by for the injured Dhoni (though he didn’t play a match) in Bangladesh in February.
His good run of scores continued in this Ranji Trophy season as well with three fifties and a hundred in his first five games.
“People who don’t follow domestic cricket may think he has got the chance from nowhere. But if you look at his consistency, he was always in the reckoning,” argues Rudra Pratap Singh, Patel’s former India teammate and current Gujarat player.
While he was still in international wilderness, Patel got a call from V. V. S. Laxman in 2014, who asked his former teammate if he was still hopeful of a comeback. “Once I hung up the phone, I got emotional. I thought there are still people who are interested in knowing what I am doing and want to help me improve further,” recalls Patel.
Few years ago, he ran into his former captain Sourav Ganguly at Kolkata airport. “Dada asked me how much I have scored in the season? I said around 800 runs. He said woh to tu har season bana raha hai (you are scoring that much every season).”
Patel realized that prominent voices of Indian cricket were still keeping an eye on his performance. He needed to step up further. Many also believe that captaincy helped him.
“As a captain, your match awareness improves. You tend to understand the game better. It has also helped him in channelizing his energy positively,” says RP, as he is popularly known, who was one of the heroes of the 2007 Twenty20 World Cup.
As luck would have it, the man who was called up for a single Test will get another chance in Mumbai as Saha is still unfit. “Perhaps at the age of 17, it came easily to me. But I have earned this chance with hard work. It doesn’t bother me that I am not the first choice or just a stop-gap arrangement. I know that I have the experience and have been rewarded for hard work,” said Patel, before the Mohali match.
Opening with Murali Vijay, Patel scored 42 runs in the first innings in Mohali and an unbeaten 62 in the second as India beat England by eight wickets.
The Ahmedabad lad didn’t feel any pressure, which is typical of a comeback. “It was because of the kind of welcome and vibes I got in the dressing room, which was really important. You are a bit nervous before the start of the Test match or while you are preparing for that moment to play for India. The guys welcomed me and it never felt like I was coming back to the (Indian Test) dressing room after eight years,” said the 31-year-old.
Vimal Kumar is the author of Sachin: Cricketer Of The Century and The Cricket Fanatic’s Essential Guide.