In 2002, India was still to get over the fact that there can be another cricketer, apart from Sachin Tendulkar, who was baby-faced and could play for the country.
Since 1989 it was all about Tendulkar since he caught the imagination of an entire generation as a 16-year-old. But in 2002 Tendulkar received tough competition from another baby-faced cricketer, Parthiv Patel, as he took the field for India on the England tour that year.
Parthiv had leapfrogged into the Indian Test team that year after a few domestic matches for his state, Gujarat and the 2002 Under-19 World Cup. It was also a function of India’s problems with wicket-keeper since the untimely exit of Nayan Mongia from the scene. The Indian think-tank was constantly looking for options.
So, after their tryst with Vijay Dahiya, Sameer Dighe, Deep Dasgupta, India zeroed in on Parthiv. He was, in fact, promoted much earlier than the others because they wanted to bet on a long-term hope.
But Parthiv did not start the England tour as a first-choice keeper. Haryana’s Ajay Ratra was still the first choice having scored a Test hundred on the previous West Indies tour. However, before the Trent Bridge Test in 2002, Ratra got injured and Parthiv was drafted in as a replacement.
For someone still 17, Parthiv caught the imagination of the English much like Tendulkar did on the 1990 tour. Parthiv’s stubborn effort with the bat helped save the Test for India. Parthiv soon became a regular fixture in the XI and India forgot Ratra for good.
Parthiv started off his career in the midst of the gladiators of Indian cricket, perhaps the golden generation. He managed to hold his own amongst the likes of Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Virender Sehwag, Harbhajan Singh, Anil Kumble and Tendulkar.
Between 2002-2004 India had a good run in both Test and ODI cricket. Parthiv was always around as he was part of the famous Test wins in Leeds (2002), Adelaide (2003) and the famous Test series win in Pakistan in 2004.
The most interesting aspect of this phase was that even though Dravid was earmarked as the ODI wicket-keeper, Parthiv still managed to hold his place in the limited-overs squad, most famously during the 2003 World Cup.
In just about a year, Parthiv felt confident enough to take on Australia as was evidenced in the way he took on the ultimate mind game champion Steve Waugh in his final Test at Sydney in 2004. An exasperated Waugh famously said to Parthiv: “Show a bit of respect, you were in your nappies when I played my first Test match.”
India narrowly missed out on winning a Test series in Australia in 2003-04 as Waugh held on for one last time to deny the visiting side at Sydney. But Parthiv got another opportunity to be part of a series winning squad in Australia in 2018-19 when he went there as a reserve wicket-keeper under Virat Kohli. A new generation had come around, but Parthiv was still around. That summed up the longevity of the guy.
But always the cheeky guy, Parthiv made sure he did not lose an opportunity, ever.
While Patel didn’t play a single Test, he saw Austin Waugh, one of the four substitute fielders for Australia during the match. He went up to Austin, son of Steve and repeated his great father’s words.
“I didn’t bump into Steve Waugh, but I did bump into his son, during the Test match in Sydney in 2018-19. He was one of the substitute fielders for Australia. I went upto him and said: “You were in your nappies, when I made my Test debut” (laughs),” recalled Patel about his encounter with the younger Waugh in a chat with this writer earlier this year. “I told him to pass my regards to his dad (Steve Waugh) and just say those words back to him,” added Patel.
That trip to Australia was historic for India’s first-ever Test series win Down Under. For Patel it was a way of finally breaching the fortress having come close as first-choice keeper on the 2003-04 tour.
“We missed out narrowly in 2003-04 in Australia. To be there again, as part of history was brilliant. To win a Test series in Australia is huge. To be able to do it for the first time, even though I didn't play a single Test. To be around the team and be part of the moment, makes me proud,” said Parthiv.
On the historic Pakistan tour in 2003-04, when India won both the Test and ODI series, Parthiv played a crucial part in the deciding Rawalpindi Test. With a fit-again captain Ganguly ready to take on the field, opener Aakash Chopra was left out. There was a lot of speculation on who would open for India with Virender Sehwag. It was a massive surprise when a diminutive Parthiv walked out with Sehwag. He was assured and calm as he took on the pace like fire of Shoaib Akhtar. India won the Test and the series, Parthiv was once again at the centre of it all.
But later in 2004 everything changed forever, Parthiv and his replacement Dinesh Karthik were both consigned to the sidelines for the next decade thanks to the arrival of one man, Mahendra Singh Dhoni. He did not, however, want to wallow in self-pity.
“Honestly speaking, whatever Dhoni has achieved is fantastic for Indian cricket. I can't speak for DK (Dinesh Karthik). What I could tell you is I was there before them. Because I did not do well, that's the reason why someone else came in. So for me to say that if I was in another era I would have been number one would be taking sympathy from someone. I clearly do not believe in that thought process. Obviously when Dhoni came in everyone was competing for number two. No one was competing for number one,” said Parthiv.
Since his exit from India sides in 2004, Parthiv made intermittent returns to the line-up either as reserve Test wicket-keeper or in the ODI sides.
In the meantime, Parthiv went about the task of leading his beloved Gujarat and they did well winning domestic titles. Parthiv was rated as one of the best cricket minds. His stints in the IPL confirmed just how much the franchises valued his role behind the stumps because of his sharp cricketing acumen.
He received one final run between 2016-2018 when an injury to Wriddhiman Saha opened up a spot for Parthiv to make a comeback. He was part of India’s 4-0 series win over England at home. Then on the South Africa tour in 2017-18 he played a part in India’s famous Johannesburg Test win. That proved to be his last India engagement.
“Johannesburg Test was a very difficult wicket to bat to play. To show the kind of character which Indian team showed there and to be part of that Test match also, feels great. Having been part of history making Test matches like Headingley (2002), or Adelaide (2003-04) or Johannesburg (2017-18) or Australia (2018-19). Looking back at my career I feel proud that I was part of all these big moments of Indian cricket,” added Parthiv.
Parthiv was part of the cricketing scene for close to two decades and he did so with a lot of credit. But in doing so everyone forgot that he had a slight disadvantage because he had lost a part of his little finger on the left hand when he was six. The finger got stuck in the door and got cut.
“It is slightly difficult in a way because the last finger doesn’t fit in the wicket-keeping gloves. So I tape it down the gloves so that it stays joint. I don’t know how it would’ve been if I had all the fingers, but when I look back, it feels good to have represented India as a wicketkeeper with nine fingers,” signed off Parthiv.
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