One of the all-time great Warwickshire careers came to an end last week when Jeetan Patel walked off the Edgbaston field for the final time. 'Jeets' leaves with the love and best wishes of all at Edgbaston and, before he left, he sat down with Brian Halford to fully reflect on his time with the Bears.
In this first of three parts this week, Jeets looks back on how it all began…with a surprise phone call in the early hours of one morning in January, 2009.
When it’s past midnight and you are in bed, knocking out some z’s and your phone goes off, it can be pretty annoying or a little bit alarming.
But when Jeetan Patel’s phone rang at his Wellington home in the early hours one morning in January 2009, the call turned out to be neither annoying or alarming. When it was over, he couldn’t get back to sleep due. He was too excited.
Patel was excited and intrigued at what the future might suddenly bring. But he could have no idea how just how totally that call would shape the next decade of not only his life, but also the destiny of a cricket club some 11,000 miles away.
As it stood, Jeetan Patel knew very little about Warwickshire and few people connected to the Bears knew much about him. But the seeds of a colossal mutual affection and a career which was to fully justify the term club ‘club legend’ had been planted.
“I normally switch my phone off at night,” Patel recalls, “but I’d left it on for some reason and it went off and it was my agent to say that Warwickshire had been in touch.
“Ian Westwood, captain at the time, thought I might be a good fit and my agent said there was an offer for me to come over to England and play all three formats. I was pretty excited. I couldn’t get back to sleep!”Jeetan Patel
Warwickshire had done their homework on the 28-year-old, whose skilful off-spin had forced him into the New Zealand Test and ODI teams. Patel freely admits, however, that he knew precious little about the Bears.
“I’d heard a lot about county cricket but, being on the other side of the world, didn’t know much about Warwickshire,” he said. “I knew Edgbaston was a Test ground and the esteem it held around the world and I knew Brian Lara had scored his runs there and Allan Donald was an amazing pro at the club, but not much more than that.
“It was just a fantastic opportunity for me because I really wanted to push on with my game. I hadn’t quite nailed it with the New Zealand team. I was in and out and watching a lot of cricket from those sidelines. I just wanted to play more cricket.
“Warwickshire offered me an opportunity to do that and prove exactly where I was at with my game. That’s why I got involved. That’s why I got stuck in.”
Patel certainly did get ‘stuck in.’ Few players, overseas or otherwise, ever got stuck in for the Bears over a sustained period with greater passion, commitment, skill and, not least, physical endurance. Many times, playing across all formats, he played through injuries and significant discomfort. Much about Patel is rooted in the best aspects of ‘old school.’ For him, a bit of pain was something to be dealt with and played through, rather than a reason to retreat to the treatment room.
He became pivotal to a team that went on to win every domestic trophy available. Patel’s magnificent career closed with a record which towers among the pantheon of Bears greats. In 124 first-class matches for Warwickshire, he took 473 wickets at 26.11 apiece with 25 hauls of five-or-more wickets in an innings. He scored 3,412 runs at 24.02 with three centuries and 15 half-centuries.
In one-day cricket, he took 128 wickets at 23.97. His Twenty20 stats – 141 wickets at 24.47, with an economy rate of 6.97 – are impressive but only hint at the skills with squeezed so many opponents to distraction and defeat. Patel tops the Bears T20 wicket-taker list by miles…60 clear of the also-retired Neil Carter. It’s safe to say he will remain top of that particular list for some time to come.
Yet this momentous career had a staccato first couple of years…and a very strange start. Patel’s debut, in the championship against Yorkshire at Edgbaston in May 2009, brought him the bracing match figures of 47-2-190-1…but a maiden century with the bat! His 120 (155 balls, 16 fours, two sixes) in a partnership of 233 with Jonathan Trott, remains the highest score by a Bears number ten.
“When I went in, we were 240 for eight and Trotty was on about 80 and all I could think of was getting him to his hundred,” recalls Patel. “I’d heard about what Trotty was like and didn’t want to annoy him first time up!
“He got there and then the partnership grew. It had been quite grey and damp but the sun came out and the wicket flattened out. I started to attack and got lucky. It was one of those debuts where I contributed, just not in the expected way.
“But overall I had a poor season. I didn’t really enjoy bowling with the Dukes ball and didn’t properly understand the grind of county cricket. Everything about the experience was a little bit overwhelming.
“We played England in a game arranged as an Ashes warm-up for them and they had their Ashes-winning side out and I was thinking ‘what am I doing on the same park as these guys?’
“Then I tore my knee ligaments, playing touch rugby in warm-ups (which really still annoys me!) and I had to go back to New Zealand. But before I went, I played a few T20s with my bust knee. I bowled well in them and really enjoyed it and that just left me with a taste of ‘I want more…’
“I wanted to be a part of Warwickshire. You don’t need to know everything but if you really want to be a part of something then you are halfway there and I really wanted to be a part of this amazing club. I wanted to come back and it didn’t happen in 2010, but I came back in 2011…and from that year onwards I just loved it.”Jeetan Patel
* In Part Two, on Wednesday, Jeets picks out his most special memories of his time with the Bears…”I loved winning games and trophies but my fondest memories are of the people that work in this amazing place.”