Jeetan Patel spins back into contention

MARK GEENTY
Last updated 05:00 07/09/2012
Jeetan Patel
Reuters
DRAMATIC TURNAROUND: Jeetan Patel's performance in India has resurrected his international career.

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On the surface it does not sound like a recipe for cricketing success. Go to Birmingham - not renowned for its summer or turning pitches - and find yourself as a spin bowler.

For Jeetan Patel, another stint with Warwickshire was an opportunity after a handy season for Wellington, but hardly one that screamed out he would add to his 13 test appearances any time soon.

Given a chance by the coach, former England left-arm spinner Ashley Giles, Patel donned his Warwickshire Bears jersey in chilly April and rolled the arm over, and over, working harder than ever. In 12 County Championship matches, he bowled 358 overs and took 46 wickets at an average of 22, including four five-wicket bags.

Now, suddenly, he is New Zealand's No 1 test spinner in Daniel Vettori's injury absence after a solid comeback series in India. And he is heading back to England for the spoils: one final county match next week in which Warwickshire will almost certainly wrap up the division-one title, then contest the 40-over final, too.

Life is good. "It's a great opportunity. I haven't won anything for a very long time, so fingers crossed. It's been wet and cold but there're also opportunities to get on fourth-day wickets and win games."

The secret to Patel's revival was, simply, a ton of bowling and faith from his team.

“I had the opportunity to bowl plenty of overs and that's something that I've pined for, for a long time," he said from Bangalore Airport, en route to England.

“I went through a bad patch a little while ago and had to go back to the drawing board a bit. I feel like I'm a young spinner again; I'm keen to bowl plenty of overs and spin the ball past the bat."

In January, his Wellington coach Jamie Siddons rated Patel the best spinner in New Zealand, bar Vettori. But the battle was a mental one.

"The big change is just from taking a step back and looking at the big picture as opposed to being caught up in the frustrations involved with spin bowling.

"There are always a few chances that go by but you can't get every single wicket. I've found a method now, it's about getting in a battle with the batsman rather than with myself."

The chance to work with Giles, who played 54 tests for England, was priceless. It highlighted a lack of spin-bowling expertise in New Zealand, and Patel welcomed the chance to talk tactics with a fellow tweaker.

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"We just bounce ideas off each other and I feel a lot more comfortable in talking about spin bowling, especially to other spinners around the world.

"I was a little bit more shy than I have been recently. I always thought my own method was the way to do things but now I'm trying to explore and find other ways and it's certainly helping."

The two India tests gave Patel a further boost. Uncertain how he would be used by captain Ross Taylor, and desperate to prove himself in his first test since November, nerves were high.

He was pleasantly surprised and took seven wickets at 35 from 75 overs, not world-beating figures but impressive enough. Patel took 4-100 in Hyderabad, then nipped out Virender Sehwag, Cheteshwar Pujara and Suresh Raina to reduce India to 166-5, chasing 261 on day four in Bangalore.

There are a few if-onlys: 100 more runs in the New Zealand second innings, and that crucial sixth-wicket partnership between Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni. He is satisfied with his work, but still will not believe he is in the team for two tests in Sri Lanka in November.

"I've just made the side again. I read something that Harbhajan [Singh] said, that making your comeback was harder than making your debut. I felt that pressure of coming back into the side and wanting to impress. I'm going to take things pretty slowly."

Patel has no New Zealand Cricket contract, while the spinner he has moved past in the pecking order, Tarun Nethula, does. Patel will get by on his test match payments, his Warwickshire pounds and his Wellington season retainer of around $30,000, and has no quibble with the system.

“In June no-one would've said I'd be playing again [for New Zealand] so I can't turn around and say I deserve a contract. I'm happy the way it is at the moment."

- Wellington

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