I was nervous before the start of the Test : Parthiv Patel who made a ‘comeback’ to the Test arena after a hiatus of eight years, clearly showed what his slog in the domestic circuit has taught him.
The diminutive wicket-keeper batsman brought all his domestic experience to the fore and put up an excellent performance, both, in front of the stumps and behind it in the third Test against England at Mohali.
Speaking to Sanjay Manjrekar after hitting the winning stroke, Patel said, “I was very nervous before the start of the Test. The kind of welcome I got from the dressing room, it never felt I was joining them after eight years. That’s the beauty of this team. Playing aggressively suits my game. The intent was very important, and I backed myself. Ashwin was brilliant. The way he varied his pace was brilliant. He deceived even me. There wasn’t much help in the wicket.”
Drafted into the squad and into the Playing XI, thanks to the injury to the original wicket-keeper, Wriddhiman Saha, which he picked up in the second Test, the Gujarat skipper rose to the occasion and made all heads turn.
In fact Patel played the dual role of opener in place of KL Rahul and also donned the gloves on behalf of the wicket-keeper, Wriddhiman Saha. The left-hander notched up 109 runs (42 in the first innings and 67* in the second), held 4 catches and effected a wonderful stumping, removing Ben Stokes off the bowling of Ravindra Jadeja.
His knocks in both the innings were very crucial since one of the openers needed to play a significant role to give a good start and to put up a sizable total.
Patel’s knock in the second innings was more significant, as India had to chase 103 runs for a win and Murali Vijay got out in the very second over without even opening his account.
Batting alongside his skipper, Patel accumulated the runs with his customary ‘upper cuts and drives’ and hit the winning boundary in the 21st over.
With Patel in excellent form, the team management would be in spot of a bother if Saha recovers and reports fit for the fourth and pen-ultimate Test match at Mumbai.
It would be gross injustice to Patel, if he were to be benched (or even released from the squad) with the return of Saha.
At 31 years and 266 days, Parthiv is no youngster. Would it be right to retain him as a second wicket-keeper for the overseas tours?
At a time when a few youngsters like Rishabh Pant, Sanju Samson, CM Gautam, all doing reasonably well in the domestic circuit and vying for a place in the national squad, the selectors would be required to think ‘out of the box.’
Very obviously, Patel cannot be considered as a ‘long term prospect’ since age is not on his side. If the selectors want to groom a youngster to take over from Saha at an appropriate time, then Patel would not feature in the long term scheme of things.
However, the team management can also look at retaining Patel as a batsman in the Playing XI, leaving the glove work to Wriddhiman Saha in the remaining two Tests of the ongoing series.
Replying to the question whether Patel could be retained as a batsman, Kohli said, “You never know, there are all kinds of possibilities. The way he approached both innings, it was amazing to see. That’s where experience from the first-class level comes into play. He’s someone who’s played (for India) at a very early age and he’s come back and the intent he showed in both innings, I think, just deflated the opposition. Credit to him to go out there and counterattack and take on their seamers. You never know. We’ll see what happens in the next few days. We’ll take a call accordingly.”
In such a situation, either of the two batsmen who could face the axe are Murali Vijay, who failed miserably in Mohali Test or Ajinkya Rahane, who has scores of 13, 1, 23, 26 and 0 in the five innings that he has played in the ongoing Test series against England.
However, in the Test series against New Zealand, immediately prior to the England series, Rahane had scored a century (188) in the third and final Test at Indore.
Speaking about Patel’s performance at Mohali, Indian skipper, Virat Kohli, said, “I think he really stood out in this game for me as a batsman.”
Now it is upto the Team management to see how best Patel can be used by the team since leaving out a player after such an exemplary performance would not send a proper message to the team.
Post this series, the selectors also would be required to take a call on Patel and also keep the long term view in focus.