Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s retirement triggered a scramble for many vacancies in India’s cricket squad. While the role of captain was taken by default, there were other slots, from wicketkeeper to middle-order batsman that needed to be filled.
It was here that destiny’s child Parthiv Patel grabbed the opening with both hands to signal that he was the man for all reasons.
A full 15 years after he had made his Test debut, Parthiv was once again seriously in the mix. In the intervening period he had gone through a gamut of phases: expectation, aspiration, exhilaration, dejection, rejection and resurrection. The latest, of course was jubilation following his team Gujarat’s maiden Ranji Trophy title win, crushing Mumbai in the final at Indore.
Thus, Parthiv, who has had a roller coaster ride, should be ready for whatever fate has in store for him from Gujarat’s Irani Cup match starting Friday against Rest of India to a potentially exciting international cricketing career beyond that.
For Parthiv, the dice was probably cast 32 years ago when his mother had to navigate through the curfew-bound streets of Ahmedabad to reach the hospital in time for delivery. She returned with baby Parthiv to a similar tense situation as their residential area of Dhana Sutharni Pol, near Relief Road, which was one of the most communally sensitive areas of Gujarat of those days.
“I’ve witnessed stones, nails and crude bombs being thrown at our old building,” Parthiv had recalled in an interview. “I’ve witnessed bombing and firing on my home,” he had added.
Thus Parthiv was hardened and tough as nails from a very young age. Additionally, he was street sharp and this found expression in his cricket.
At the age of eight, he had watched Ian Healy keeping wickets on television and reckoned that this was going to be his passion. He took to the game and soon looked up to another Australian, wicketkeeper batsman Adam Gilchrist, as his role model.
On debut for the Gujarat Under-14 team against Mumbai, he took three catches and slammed a 92. This ensured that captaincy was thrust on him the following year.
A century and double century against Maharashtra for the Under-16 team took him places. He led the West Zone Under-19 team despite being below 16 years of age.
The talent scouts picked Parthiv for the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore where a couple of older wicketkeepers, Deep Das Gupta and Ajay Ratra were also around. He came into contact with head coach Rodney Marsh, legendary former Australian wicketkeeper, who brushed up Parthiv’s technique behind the stumps.
Former India captain Dilip Vengsarkar who was heading the TRDO wing of the NCA picked the 16 year-old Parthiv as captain-wicket-keeper of the India Under-19 team to tour New Zealand for the Under-19 World Cup.
The Indian team had other good cricketers in Irfan Pathan, Stuart Binny, Manvinder Bisla, Paul Valthaty and Siddharth Trivedi but it was Parthiv’s cricketing acumen, despite his tender age that stood out. Vengsarkar himself went along as cricket consultant and saw Parthiv’s wicketkeeping, batting and leadership qualities from close quarters.
On his return, Vengsarkar who was on the West Zone senior selection committee impressed upon chairman Chandu Borde to include the youngster in the West Zone team for Duleep Trophy. The same year he was chosen to tour England with the senior Indian team as under study to Ajay Ratra even though he was yet to turn out in Ranji Trophy cricket. That would come only two years later, in 2004.
But as fate would have it, Ratra was injured before the second Test in August 2002 and thus Parthiv, all of 17 years of age was thrown into the deep end against England at Trent Bridge.
He battled for close to 90 minutes for his unbeaten 19 in the second innings to ensure a draw much to the amazement of teammates and opposition.
After the match, Indian skipper Sourav Ganguly was full of praise: “When I got out I had a bit of a scare when I realised we could still lose. But Parthiv showed a lot of character. He may not have scored big runs, but he had batted for 25 overs under pressure and there are not many 17-year-olds who could do that.”
England captain Nasser Hussain, who thought that Parthiv looked only 12 of age, said: “He not only played well but behaved impeccably as a person and showed no nerves. He has been very impressive.”
The flip side was that from competing at the schoolboy level he had suddenly been thrown into a tough world, where he had to keep wickets to bowlers of the calibre of Zaheer Khan, Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh. Of course, he struggled to come to terms with this sudden leap in standards.
Unfortunately, Indian cricket could not provide him the quality of mentorship and attention he required and this hampered the development of his wicketkeeping skills.
The arrival to the international scene of an older, more mature and immensely gifted Dhoni in late 2004 cast Parthiv to the wilderness and although he made sporadic appearances his international career seemed to have tapered off.
The IPL and the pot of gold that it brought to cricketers probably galvanised Parthiv, still in his late 20s, to stay on his toes and make the effort to further sharpen his batting and wicketkeeping skills.
He dived into fresh training, devoting the day to two exclusive sessions of batting and wicketkeeping and with it allied physical training. This was to bear fruit and told on his improved performance through the years 2014, ’15 and ’16.
In the 2015 IPL, he was champions Mumbai Indians’ fourth-highest scorer. The same year his maiden limited overs hundred helped Gujarat to its first Vijay Hazare title. More recently, his crucial knocks of 90 and 143 in the Ranji Trophy final fetched Gujarat the title.
Parthiv, who was suddenly summoned to the Indian team while playing a Ranji Trophy league match against Mumbai in Hubbali, grabbed the opportunity with both hands. The injury to first-choice wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha had given him a toe-hold. Now, at the age of 31 he made it count. Scores of 42, 67*, 15 and 71 besides 13 victims behind the stumps in the three Tests against England proved that Parthiv Patel 2.0 was an improved version and possibly the first choice replacement for the incomparable Dhoni.
Whatever the future holds, it has been an incredible ride for Parthiv and the fact that he is still around and a force to reckon with after 15 years is a tribute to his hard work and dedication.