Some thirty years ago after he earned the sobriquet ‘The Adelaide Hero’ Sandeep Patil finds himself at the helm of the India’s senior selection committee. He ought to be a happy man, although knowing well that selection matters can be at times as annoying as a long thorn in the flesh.
Batting in the middle may have been easy, he may think so, as he takes charge from the NKP Salve Challenger series set to start from Saturday at Khanderi village on the Rajkot-Jamnagar highway.
During the heady days when he took international cricket by storm, he thrashed big, muscular and skilful fast bowlers like Dennis Lillee, Rodney Hogg, Len Pascoe for a memorable 174 at the Adelaide Oval and soon he was in his elements at Old Trafford when he smashed fast bowler Bob Willis for six fours in a single over that a no-ball in between. His buccaneer approach saw him make an unconquered 129 against Wills, Derek Pringle, Ian Botham, Phil Edmonds and Geoff Miller.
It was exhilarating stuff from the swashbuckling right-hander, who learned to play the game at Shivaji Park, Mumbai and one was thrilled to hear his big hitting endeavour from Alan McGilvray on Radio Australia and thereafter from John Arlott and Brian Johnston on BBC Test match special. Two years later in 1983, this correspondent was lucky to see Kapil Dev’s Indians in action in the World Cup and in the semifinal when Mohinder Amarnath and Kirti shared 24 overs and pinned down the England batsmen, Patil hastened India’s victory with a scintillating unbeaten half-century.
Patil provided many joyful days while turning out for Mumbai and India. He would readily admit though that he fell short of his own expectations, but he was the crowd puller of Indian cricket after Salim Durani, responding with sixes when demanded. After his stint with Mumbai he played for Madhya Pradesh, but it must be said that he had a rollercoaster ride in the post-retirement days.
He was deeply hurt when ejected as a coach of the Indian team in the mid 1990s. He sought solace in Nairobi coaching the Kenyan national team and guiding to them to the 2003 semifinals of the ICC World Cup in South Africa and while spending time at Mount Kilimanjaro in the course of his visits to Kenya.
With no one in the BCCI inclined to give him some work, he coached Mumbai Champs in the erstwhile Indian Cricket league (ICL). When things became uncertain about ICL and the BCCI offered them amnesty, he took it, returned to the mainstream of Indian cricket and was appointed director of the National Cricket Academy (NCA) at Bangalore. Not in the any realm - public or even within the BCCI - Patil’s appointment as chairman of the selection committee was a surprise sprung by the BCCI President N. Srinivasan at the AGM at the Cricket Centre, Mumbai on Thursday and it has been well received by the fraternity.
Many Mumbai cricketers -- raised by some extraordinary coaches like Vasant Amladi, Mohini Amladi, Ramnath Kenny, V.S. ‘Marshal’ Patil, Anna Vaidya, Hemant Hadkar, and Ramakant Achrekar - have been drawn into coaching and seek knowledge. Patil and Chandrakant Pandit (chairman of the BCCI junior national selection committee) bring to the table the knowledge they have gained over several decades as player and coach of junior and senior teams and having had the experience of running cricket academies.
With Indian cricket admittedly in the transition stage - following the exit of Sourav Ganguly, Anil Kumble, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman, Patil’s committee that has the knowledgeable Saba Karim, Roger Binny, Vikram Rathour and Rajinder Singh Hans can look forward to exciting times with Indian cricket in the immediate future. Spotting the gifted for big league cricket, which comes in the three formats of Test, one-day and Twenty20, placing faith in them and giving direction to the national team would be exercise they should look at as an enjoyable role and not a chore.