Tracking Jeetan Patel's comeback into the New Zealand Test side
How did the 36-year-old off-spinner manage to make a Test comeback after three years in the wilderness.
By his own admission, Jeetan Patel is no savior. A 36-year-old coming back to play Tests after three years makes for plenty of headlines but there is a lot more to the story of Jeetan than just a veteran called in to provide some stability to the spin attack.
Having all but given up on Tests, a format that he hasn't played since January 2013, Jeetan has shown the value of having a keen eye for the batsman's flaws and a sharp brain to understand what works. After all, one doesn't have the kind of success that he has enjoyed in England without having complete mastery of his craft.
Since his last Test for New Zealand against South Africa (before the Kolkata Test), he has played four full seasons for Warwickshire. In that time, he has picked up 238 first-class wickets in England, not a country that is particularly known for his spinner-friendly pitches. The value of experience and knowing what needs to be done is evident just from the numbers.
Test career - A tale of unfulfilled promise
Yet, for all of his recent accomplishments in the County Championship, his international career remains a unfulfilled promise. And he admits that himself as he described his New Zealand career as "not good enough." Before adding, "I had quite a few opportunities to perform and I didn't take them."
And how true that is, despite all the hoopla surrounding his ability to consistently take wickets in England, he only has 52 wickets in 19 Tests and an average of nearly 50 might seem impressive with the bat but nowhere near good enough for a bowler, especially one that has the skills that Jeetan possesses.
While New Zealand is not a country where world-class spinners are brought through every day or where pitches promote the slower bowlers, when you make your Test bout in 2006, you expect to play a lot more than just 19 Tests in seven years of international cricket. Although that was around the same time when Daniel Vettori was at his peak and playing two spinners anywhere outside the sub-continent doesn't make much sense, there is no doubt that the off-spinner could have done much better.
Sterling stalwart earns him second chance
Being on sidelines of the national side could have easily forced a lesser man to just give up and meander along. But the 36-year-old's love for the game ran a lot deeper than just playing for his country, he still wanted to pay it even if his country might never come calling again.
And that is where Warwickshire came in. Traditionally, one of few counties who have managed spinners well, Jeetan found a special spot. Not equipped with the doosra or the many other mysteries that modern off-spinners seem to have, he found a way to rack up the wickets by foregoing his traditional template of flight for flatter and quicker deliveries.
Though he still flights the ball and can extract turn from helpful surfaces, he has made a name for himself in England by elevating the art of subtlety to another level. His balls may not turn as much owing to the surfaces but his consistency and ability to mix arm balls with off-spinners, change his pace with great precision has meant he has picked up over 300 first-class wickets for Warwickshire in five full seasons with the county.
Jeetan Patel’s incredible numbers in County Championship
While he might have thought that the national selectors weren't taking note of his progress in England, they were.
Can he make his second coming count?
"I'd love to do it all again if given the chance," were his words in an interview earlier this year. And Mark Craig's unfortunate injury meant he has been given the chance he was craving for. And with a mountain of wickets in his kitty since the last time he played Tests he should in much better shape.
"I'm definitely not a saviour," Patel said at practice yesterday. "I'm just excited to play test cricket again, and to come over to join a bunch of lads going somewhere is pretty special."
While he admitted before the game that he was not a saviour, he is someone that the Black Caps will turn to at every opportunity at Kolkata and in the final Test in Indore. While he may not be the spring chicken he was at 26, when he made his Test debut against South Africa a decade ago, age hasn't diminished his qualities..
If anything, his time in England, where he was perfecting his craft in largely unfriendly conditions has only made him a better bowler. While his unerring accuracy made him a nuisance, his ability to vary his pace and flight will come in handy in India and the Kiwis will be hoping that the best spinner in England over the past few years can translate his county success in conditions that are conducive to spin bowling.
He might not be the saviour of New Zealand cricket at 36 but he is certainly an invaluable asset that the Blackcaps could have turned to earlier.