Parthiv Patel: Diminutive dasher and his tall deeds

For the connoisseurs and the Indian cricket community in general, Parthiv Patel has been a revolutionary in various aspects.

Parthiv Patel announced his retirement from the game recently. It will be surprising if he doesn’t end up contributing to the cause of Indian cricket in a bigger capacity.   -  Vijay Soneji

Cricket is a team game where individual performance tends to overshadow that of a team much more than other team sports. Naturally, being selfish is a trait that most successful cricketers are bound to have. And it was one such selfish urge of sorts that eventually ended up as the defining moment in the latter half of Parthiv Patel’s career.

It was Parthiv’s urge to take Gujarat, his home team in domestic cricket, to greater heights in order to achieve the personal goal of making a comeback to Indian cricket that has been the highlight of his career. That he managed to achieve both after losing his permanent spot just after being granted his permanent driving license has eventually separated him from many others who ended their careers with “what-could-have-been” tag.

The diminutive dasher from Ahmedabad has called curtains on a prolonged career as a professional cricketer. No doubt to cynics — or even to a majority of cricket fans for whom international caps is the primary yardstick for success — Parthiv would be a case of unfulfilled promise. To a large extent, it reflected in his numbers in international cricket — 65 international caps across formats over 16 years.

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But for the connoisseurs and the Indian cricket community in general, Parthiv has been a revolutionary in various aspects. Whether it was his tenacity to accept the fact that he had to plough his way back into national reckoning instead of giving up after losing his place at an early age, or his emergence as one of the shrewdest cricket brains in domestic cricket, or his ability to connect with the youngest of cricketers and the most seasoned administrators alike, Parthiv is right up there with any other role model for aspiring cricketers.

Most importantly, the manner in which he has — to a large extent single-handedly — converted Gujarat into a domestic force from an also-ran side unifies all these aspects of his career.

Parthiv Patel holding the Ranji Trophy in Indore on January 14, 2017. Gujarat defeated Mumbai by five wickets for its maiden Ranji title.   -  K. Murali Kumar

 

Soon after formally announcing his retirement — although one could sense he was done with first-class cricket after scoring a classy 93 in Gujarat’s Ranji Trophy semifinal loss to neighbouring Saurashtra in March — Parthiv was candid enough to admit that he started focusing on building Gujarat as a team only after realising that cricketers from teams that do well in domestic cricket find it easier to be noticed by national selectors.

“Individual performances get recognised only when your team wins trophies. Call it selfish, but the idea was to help players along the way so that Gujarat won trophies. The thinking was, if my performances have to be recognised, Gujarat should win,” he said.

When Parthiv burst on to the international scenes in 2002 even before representing Gujarat in senior cricket, he was the first cricketer in 45 years from his state team to earn the India cap. Gujarat was constantly stealing headlines in national media, but for reasons that had nothing to do with the cricket field. And let alone aiming to be in the national reckoning, Gujarat’s presence in Indian cricket diaspora was limited to Ahmedabad being one of the eight Test venues back then, with no one paying heed to its team’s performance on the field.

By the time he hung up his boots, Gujarat had a rare distinction of winning each of the three domestic titles. Moreover, besides winning the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy twice and Vijay Hazare Trophy once, Gujarat won its maiden Ranji Trophy title in 2016-17, that too by chasing down a 300-plus target in the final against mighty Mumbai. Moreover, Gujarat has been a constant in Ranji knockouts every year for half a dozen seasons now, something that even Mumbai or Karnataka haven’t managed.

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Everyone in Indian cricket, not just in the western state, has no doubt that the transformation would not have happened had it not been for Parthiv’s vision. No doubt the administrators, including some of the most prominent politicians in the country, gave him a free hand in shaping the team up but it was his foresight that has resulted in the team reaching greater heights.

To achieve his dream, he ensured that he set the bar high. He ensured that he was the first man on the ground and the last man off it at every training session of his team year after year. He chose the venues of home games, weighing in the opponent as much as his own team’s strengths and limitations. And he not only took on the biggest players in the opposition ranks but even umpires whenever necessary to set an example for his teammates.

It was a common sight in domestic cricket at the end of a match of him being chased not just by a sparse selfie-seekers but his counterparts in the opposition team to dissect their game, be it a pacer who has lost his place in the side or a promising opener or a reserve wicketkeeper. And he — just like the legends of the game that he witnessed from close quarters as a teenager — would ensure he had time for each one of them.

While walking the extra mile, he was conscious of the fact that he had to be successful as a batsman — not just as a wicketkeeper-captain to constantly chase his dual objective. And he delivered season after season, with some of the most crucial knocks. And just like a quintessential Gujarati, his calculated risks paid rich dividends as the state started surging in domestic charts while Parthiv continued to be on the selectors’ radar as late as 2018.

Parthiv Patel made his international debut at the age of 17, against England, in 2002.   -  The Hindu Photo Library

 

More importantly, his policy emerged as the catalyst for the world of cricket unearthing a gem in Jasprit Bumrah. Had it not been for Parthiv’s early push, Bumrah may neither have been noticed by Mumbai Indians head coach John Wright for the IPL nor would he have got an India call-up. Parthiv ensured Bumrah’s talent was displayed to those who mattered and when it mattered the most.

It was his resolve and work ethic — which by his own admission came in the latter half of his career — that ensured he along with Dinesh Karthik managed to create a niche for themselves in the form of “before and after Dhoni”.

Sensing that Gujarat was getting complacent having ticked all the boxes in domestic circuit and he was not too far from walking off the field, he brought in Sairaj Bahutule — the Mumbai stalwart — as the head coach for the last two seasons. And the duo managed to reignite the hunger in the Gujarat camp, although a trophy remained out of their reach.

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One was fortunate to witness all these facets of Parthiv’s personality during what turned out to be the last two games of his career. In the Ranji Trophy quarterfinal versus Goa in Valsad, he notched up his last hundred of an illustrious career. The following week, it was his fighting 93 in the fourth innings that kept Gujarat in the hunt against Saurashtra.

Moments after shaking hands with the Saurashtra team, he went into a team meeting in which he hinted at his farewell at the SCA Stadium in Rajkot. While one waited patiently to hear from Parthiv Patel, an active first-class cricketer one last time, he ensured that he had a word of advice for a couple of Saurashtra players for the final.

That was Parthiv Patel personified. Criticised as selfish by many in the first half of his career but hailed by the very same individuals for channelling his selfish needs for greater deeds by the end of his career.

That Mumbai Indians — with whom he won two of his three IPL titles — have pounced on him as a Talent Scout comes as no surprise. What will be surprising though is if Parthiv doesn’t end up contributing to the cause of Indian cricket in a bigger capacity, be it as a Gujarat Cricket Association or BCCI administrator or perhaps even as a BCCI general manager.