“Kai baar pankh aur hausle dono hote hai magar udne ke liye aasman nahi hota (Sometimes you have the wings and courage but you don’t have the sky to fly),” former India cricketer Amay Khurasia gives a philosophical touch, while talking about 30-year old Rajat Patidar’s journey. “Two years ago, when he scored that outstanding hundred in the IPL semi-final against Jofra Archer and co., he should have been drafted into the Indian team. The point is he was consistent. He should have got a chance then only,” says Khurasia, who is the mentor of Patidar.

It’s not just close mentors who rave about the cricketer from Madhya Pradesh. There is a tale of former India captain and chief selector Dilip Vengsarkar who landed up at ground, enquiring with the coach of MP Chandrakant Pandit about Patidar. “Where is that boy?” When informed that he was missing that domestic game due to a niggle, Vengsarkar got a bit despondent.

“He saw the potential. He thought that he should be playing very soon for India. Later he was injured and in the next match when Dilip came again and asked me about him, he got a bit sad to know that he missed because of a niggle, he said ‘this guy should be playing for India. If I were the selector now, I would pick him.’ That’s Mr Vengsarkar for you, he has that knack to unearth the talent,” says Pandit.

That’s also Rajat Patidar’s life: so near, yet so far. Luckily, at times, he has been counselled well during career-turning moments.

Madhya Pradesh captain Shubham Sharma, who has been friends with Patidar for the past 15 years, recalls a hilarious incident about how Rajat was hesitant to accept the offer and he had to postpone his marriage due to IPL.

Festive offer

“We were playing division cricket in Indore. He got a call from RCB, as a replacement and he didn’t want to go. He told me’ Arey Shubham mai jau ki nahi yaar? (Shall I go or not) My marriage date is fixed as well. I told him ‘You should go, they will definitely give you a chance and will let you bat at No 3 as well.’ But he was not convinced and said ‘Khilayenge nahi mereko, isse acha shaadi kar leta hun na (They will not play me, instead I should get married). I begged him ‘bhai tu ja 100 pratishat khilayenge (Please go, hundred percent you will play),” laughs Sharma.

He finished that IPL season with 333 runs in eight innings at a strike rate of 152.50. One of his finest knocks came against Lucknow Super Giants in the eliminator, where he hammered a 54-ball 112. Although RCB lost the next match, he carried his Midas touch with a free-flowing 58 in the Qualifier 2 against Rajasthan Royals. A couple of weeks later, he scored a match-winning century in the Ranji Trophy final for Madhya Pradesh against Mumbai.

IND vs ENG Rajat Patidar after scoring a ton in IPL. (FILE)

His mentor Khurasia takes the story forward with a lament. “”If he would have been playing for Delhi, Mumbai or Karnataka, he would have played at least 8-10 Tests by now and would have been a regular in the white ball.

“He has been with me at a very young age. We worked a lot on his batting technique. Batting works with pure technique. He is a guy with outstanding patience. I feel sorry that he is getting the break so late. He could have got his break a few years earlier. He will be an asset because he is an outstanding fielder in the close-in positions at silly point and short leg. If he gets a chance in two or three matches he will get a big score. He ticks all the boxes: honesty, commitment, discipline, hard work, bravery, you just name it.”

Traits that Pandit the coach also stresses. “He is an outstanding talent; one of the classiest cricketers in the Indian domestic circuit. He has done well for the India A and in the IPL. He has got this unique ability to pick the line and length of the bowler early – that is his biggest strength,” says Pandit.

Also, his skill with the sweep shot, adds Khurasia. “He sweeps the ball very well and he knows how to handle left-arm spinners on turners where there is a rough patch on the leg side, which created problems for most of the players in the last Test match. He can easily counter England’s spinners. He knows which ball to leave on the raging turner, which is a unique skill set. He is a compact player,” says Khurasia.

Devendra Bundela under whose captaincy, Patidar made his Ranji Trophy debut back in 2015, recalls the century in the second innings.

“Talent was always there. His timing is exceptional that you don’t see in every batsman. Not everyone can hit a good ball for a boundary. I still remember his debut, he scored a fine 60 in the first innings. In the second he scored a counter-attacking 101, it was an exceptional knock. There are a few batmen, who just don’t like to face spinners on helpful pitches but he will go after them. The kind of talent he has will only matter when he gets the chance. He is of a different quality,” says Bundela.

Ram Atre, a coach at Vijay Cricket Club in Indore, vividly remembers the first time Patidar came to the academy and how nothing much has changed since in two decades.

“He is patience personified. A guy who has that is set to be successful in Test cricket. I remember he had an excellent U-19 in the division but at the trials for MP, he got out twice for zero. And he was not picked. There were no signs of sadness, he just said ‘sir abhi aur mehnat karni hai (I have to work hard). Before the Achilles injury, when he was not being picked for India, his attitude was the same “Sir apna kaam bas run banana hai (My job is to score runs),” says Atre.

Atre credits his upbringing which has made him the person he is.

“They are from Sarjapur, a village in Indore. His father Manohar Patidar has a business of agriculture pumps and he is also a no-nonsense guy. He too speaks less and believes in hard work and I feel Rajat has inherited that from his father,” says Atre.

Atre was correct; it is very difficult to get Manohar Patidar to talk about his son. “You can’t match this feeling, but we don’t talk cricket to him. Just let him play.”

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