Posing with an oversized cheque and flashing that familiar grin, Ajaz Patel’s odd international cricket career swung full circle from his famous Abu Dhabi debut three years ago.
New Zealand’s premier test spin bowler – who played just one test in the past 18 months – grasped the white ball and the title of leader of the Black Caps Twenty20 attack with vigour, to inspire a rare triumph on Bangladeshi soil on Sunday.
In game three, his statistics of 4-16 off four overs were equal-seventh best for the Black Caps in T20Is, as he and Cole McConchie and Rachin Ravindra skittled his hosts for 76 for a 52-run victory.
After out-batting and out-spinning Bangladesh despite some poor shots, a second-string New Zealand team will try to even the series at 2-2 on Wednesday night in a country where they had lost nine of their previous ten white-ball internationals to the Tigers.
“We really feel like if we fight and scrap well, we've got a good chance,” Patel stated.
Patel, who will turn 33 next month, has finally turned the corner after a harrowing first five months of the year. Patel lost his Black Caps contract after an injury-plagued season in which he bowled just 60 first-class overs, and flew to England in May with an enlarged 20-man test team, unsure when his next opportunity would occur.
However, there was always that ray of optimism in the second half of 2021, with tours to spin-friendly Bangladesh, Pakistan, and India sandwiched between the Twenty20 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates.
Bangladesh, maybe the most spin-friendly of them, offered the ideal launch pad when Mitchell Santner, Ish Sodhi, Todd Astle, and the rest of the Twenty20 World Cup 15 were excused due to player welfare concerns.
Patel, who was now the No. 1 T20 spinner, responded by taking six wickets at an average of 7.16 in the first three matches in Dhaka and winning the man of the match award in New Zealand's triumph on Sunday.
“As a spinner, you thrive on conditions like this and you have to take a bit of responsibility to try and make sure you can do something for your team,” he stated.
Bangladesh's best player Shakib Al Hasan was his huge wicket as he charged wildly and skied a catch second ball, which Patel held back a fraction. Following that, Afif Hossain was taken aback with a precise yorker, a faster one after several slower attempts.
“Today, it was all about getting over the top of the ball, making sure I bowled the ball into the wicket, and spinning the ball hard... From then, it was all about pace, line, and variation, as well as utilising the crease.”
Bowler with a lot of skill and a good leader. McConchie and Ravindra, two T20I debutants, followed, taking 16 Bangladesh wickets between them in the first three games.
Patel will travel to Pakistan and then return home for managed isolation before returning to India for a major two-test series in November, providing he isn't called up due to injury.
On turning pitches, he'll be the Black Caps' major striking weapon, much as he was in the UAE in that first series against Pakistan in 2018. He's taken 26 wickets at 26 in six tests abroad (four victories and two losses), including the series-clincher against England at Edgbaston in June, and 0-106 off 49 overs in three at home.
Patel had little activity at home due to green, seam-friendly surfaces and the near obsession that the spinner must bat in the top-seven. His five T20Is have all been played on the beach.
Ravindra, too, makes a strong case for selection in the India test squad as a top-seven batsman who can also bowl good spin. In that test series, a prospective spin three of Patel, Will Somerville, and Ravindra appeals, with Patel clearly flourishing in custom-made conditions far from home.
“Having other spinners with you is always beneficial, and both of them [Ravindra and McConchie] bowled wonderfully tonight. With three or five wickets, it might have easily been them. Oh, Cole took three wickets, but Rachin could have easily taken three or four.”
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