The youngest wicket-keeper ever

K. KEERTHIVASAN

HE is only 17 and has already been on tours to South Africa, Sri Lanka, Australia, New Zealand and England. The list will increase with time, for sure. The new sensation to hit the Indian cricket scene, Parthiv Ajay Patel has gone places in double quick time. He will be the first cricketer to receive The Sportstar Young Achievers' Award, Patel having been named for the honour for the year 2002. He is also the youngest wicket-keeper ever in the history of Test cricket (17 years and 152 days). In his short stint with the Indian senior team so far, Parthiv has done enough to show that he is a prodigy of sorts.

As captain of the Indian Junior team, which won the Asia Cup in Dhaka in 2002, Parthiv showed he is a leader of men. Then, as the skipper of the Indian junior World Cup team in New Zealand in 2002, where India reached the semifinals, he was appreciated for deft marshalling of his resources. At various junior levels for India, Parthiv has played with distinction. He might be baby-faced, but he is no baby when it comes to the game. A lot of past cricketers including Erapalli Prasanna, Dilip Vengsarkar and Rodney Marsh have heaped praise on this youngster.

But as important as talent is the ability to handle pressure situations at the highest level. Even by this yardstick to judge potential, Parthiv gets full marks. In the second Test match against England at Trent Bridge — his debut Test — Parthiv stayed put at the crease when Matthew Hoggard, Dominic Cork and Andrew Flintoff were out to get him. He scored a defiant 19 not out in 80 minutes, which virtually helped India draw the Test.

In the recent Test series against West Indies at home, Parthiv, who idolises Adam Gilchrist, proved his skill when he kept admirably to the likes of Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble on spinning tracks. His beautiful diving catch to send back West Indian skipper Carl Hooper in the third Test at Kolkata was savoured by many.

Youth requires encouragement and guidance to flourish and Parthiv knows he has the right kind of people from whom he can receive advice whenever he wants to. Sachin Tendulkar (who made his debut at 16 years), Rahul Dravid and captain Sourav Ganguly have a crucial role to play in giving the lad the right kind of environment for growth.

There are many who feel that Parthiv has been pushed into the deep end quite early. Prior to his entry into Test cricket, Parthiv had not figured in senior domestic cricket. This, some believed, would send the wrong signals to the up and coming players. Their apprehensions may be genuine, but it is a time-tested fact that talent, pure talent, will force its way through early. Parthiv is one such pure talent. He now joins the illustrious list of former Sportstar Young Achievers such as Aparna Popat, Koneru Humpy, Pendyala Harikrishna and Aarthie Ramaswamy among others.