Test debut still remains a pleasant surprise for him

Parthiv Patel's moment of `growing-up' happened during his long walk to the middle at Trent Bridge, Nottingham on August 12, 2002.

K. C. VIJAYA KUMAR

THE journey from boy to man is often defined by courage. Parthiv Patel's moment of `growing-up' happened during his long walk to the middle at Trent Bridge, Nottingham on August 12, 2002. On that day it was nearly a case of darkness at noon for Indian cricket as Sourav Ganguly's men at 378 for six were battling hard to save the second Test against England. Michael Vaughan's classic 197 with a cover drive for a signature, had earlier helped England wrest a 260-run first innings lead. And the Indian second innings remained a frantic fire fighting exercise despite runs from the trio of Dravid (115), Tendulkar (92) and Ganguly (99).

Parthiv Patel... confidence is his vital trait. — Pic. K. BHAGYA PRAKASH-

Debutant Parthiv, a 17-year old wicket-keeper, heard the words "keep fighting" as he walked out. The words were skipper Sourav Ganguly's diktat to a boy finding his way in the cricketing arena of grown up men. "Dada (Sourav) had just got out and when we crossed he told me `just keep fighting'" Parthiv recollects when The Sportstar caught up with him in Bangalore during the TVS Salve Challenger Series.

India was a mere 118 runs ahead and with still two hours left for close of play on the fifth and final day, India's suspect overseas record seemed set for an extra page.

However Parthiv remained unbeaten for the next one and a half hours and a draw became a reassuring finishing line. Parthiv's 19 not out off 60 deliveries and his undefeated ninth-wicket 28-run partnership with Zaheer Khan helped India close at 424 for eight and a teenager who in normal circumstances would have mulled over acne and aftershaves, had left a man's shadow on the Trent Bridge arena. "I was just thinking one ball at a time, it was one ball, one over at a time. It remains the most memorable moment for me so far. Batting, second innings, Nottingham..," Parthiv echoes his feelings.

The inspiration to counter Hoggard, Harmison and Flintoff was not far to seek. "Actually I knew there was a lot of talk that I was 17, that I had not played in the Ranji Trophy. So I wanted to prove that I can play at this level," Parthiv says. The southpaw after a pause adds, "you must have confidence that I can do best at this level."

Confidence. It is a trait that made Parthiv idolise Adam Gilchrist. "I like the way he confidently walks onto the wicket, whether he is batting or keeping wickets, he is confident. I like the way he approaches the game, looks like there isn't any kind of pressure on him," Parthiv says.

And ever since that debut, Parthiv has become a core member of the Indian team in Tests. But his debut still remains a pleasant surprise for him. "It is a dream come true. I never expected it to come so early. I knew that I was the second wicket-keeper and was told that I was going under Ajay Ratra and may not play a Test and suddenly I was playing. Before playing that second Test I had played a few side games and I was confident and all the players were very warm and they never made me feel like that I never played in the Ranji Trophy," he says.

Surprise fades and introspection weighs in as Parthiv says, "in the debut series I was not happy with my wicket-keeping. I dropped a few catches though I knew that I could do better there. But later against the West Indies I did well and got better," he says. Any adjustments while keeping to Srinath, Zaheer, Harbhajan and Kumble? "I didn't have to make any adjustments while keeping to Zaheer or Sri bhai. The difference was that extra five miles. But I had to adjust a lot to Anil bhai and Bhajji (Harbhajan). Before the Headingley Test against England, Anil bhai and I had a chat for one hour. He took me aside and showed me how he bowls a googly or a top-spinner, the way he releases the ball. It helped," he says.

The fast-track entry into international cricket doesn't unnerve Parthiv. "It is a big step up. Pressure is a lot more, lot of expectations, lot of guys watching on TV. But the experience I had leading India under-19, in training at the NCA and on the `A' tours helped me a lot. That experience helped me during my Test debut. The biggest help to my career was the NCA. Before that I was just a keeper in Gujarat, West Zone who knew nothing. And then I came here and then they sent me to the Australian Academy (Border-Gavaskar Scholarship) and I learnt quite a lot," he says.

Parthiv, however, refuses to be drawn into peering hard at the crystal ball. "I take it match by match. Right now I am focussing on the series against New Zealand. As for touring Australia, well that is far, I just want to look at the present. I am happy with my keeping but need to improve my work before the stumps. I want to cement my place in the one-dayers," he says.

When asked what will you do when the Australians sledge, they play hard and they will not indulge you during the tour, Parthiv said: "actually when I played against the West Indies and against South Africa at Bangladesh, they did talk. I think there is no need to talk back, my bat and gloves will do the talking. I don't have to say anything." Ever heard of an 18-year-old man? That is Parthiv Patel for you.