Patel hopes to prove his worth in Essex middle order
PUBLISHED: 12:30 08 July 2020
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For Rishi Patel the wait is nearly over to prove he is the man to fill the vacancy in Essex’s middle order this season.
The departure of Ravi Bopara to Sussex has left one gap in the Double winners’ top five and now Dan Lawernce’s potential annexation by England for most of the summer could open up another.
Patel is in the vanguard of the contenders for a place, in competition with Varun Chopra, Feroze Khushi and Michael Pepper. It is the reason Patel dropped out of university a year ago.
“There is an opportunity there and hopefully in however many games we have to play I’ll put my name in the hat and see where it takes me,” he said.
“I’ll try and stay focused and get in that happy place where I want to be from game one. And if I play, great; if not then I’ll continue to work hard until I do.”
There is a sharp intake of breath when the 21-year-old contemplates the hiatus caused by Covid-19.
“Ahh, it’s hard to describe if I’m honest,” he added. “We went to pre-season and that was cut short and we didn’t know how long it was going to last. A lot of people thought it might be a month, six or seven weeks max, but it’s gone on for ages. The last month I’ve really struggled; I’ve just tried to keep myself busy.
“It got to a point where you get frustrated, especially when you see other sports opening up and cricket’s not being allowed. Football’s come back and they’re, like, all over each other, 22 players on the pitch. It’s not like that on a cricket pitch; we can socially distance quite well. Hopefully we’ll start soon.”
The Essex players came off furlough at the beginning of last week and have slowly been getting back in the groove in the nets.
“The first 10 minutes you’re always going to be a bit nervous,” said Patel. “You try and get your feet moving, there is a bit of rustiness there from not doing anything, but you fall back into the swing pretty quickly. You start getting bat on ball, a couple of good shots and you’re happy, your feet move better and you’re confident.
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“I love red-ball cricket, I absolutely love it. I enjoy every moment. In red-ball cricket any technical flaws, any weaknesses, get found out by bowlers. You need to become better and overcome challenges. White-ball is hit-and-miss, and it’s something I need to work on.”
After a promising Championship debut at the Oval last season, Patel was brought down to earth in his next outing at home against Nottinghamshire.
“A wicket fell about half an hour before lunch and what followed was the most torrid half-hour I’ve ever faced,” he added. “Luke Fletcher was bowling at me and I literally felt he was all over me. I’ll be honest, I felt I was inadequate to play cricket at that level. That was a big wake-up call. But I think you need to experience those moments in order to get back up.”
The swings and roundabouts continued in the next game when he settled into a match-changing partnership with Tom Westley against Yorkshire, scoring a career-best 35 from 124 balls.
“It was a big contrast to the previous game. It was tough, really tough, just focusing on each ball, really important not to look too far ahead in the game,” he said.
“But I could take that situation. And I felt I could play. Suddenly you think ‘I can hack this if I keep doing the right things’.”
Patel gained confidence and experience during the winter playing grade cricket for Balmain South Sydney, where he finished top of the club averages on 55.21 from 15 innings with two centuries and 773 runs.
He also ran into coach David Dawson, a former New South Wales opener, who simplified his approach.
“I’ve now got rid of my trigger and I’m more still and focused on watching the ball from the hand,” he said.
“It’s helped me stay calm and relaxed. He talked a lot about mindset and staying in the zone. I think it’s helped me – though it’s hard to tell without playing any cricket!”
Patel gave up his sports science degree course at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, after a year to concentrate on his career in the game. However, he has not turned his back on academia.
“I’m looking at possibly business and investing,” he said. “At the moment I’m doing an online course which I can fit in around my schedule. I’m open to most things.”
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