August 17, 2006

Sandeep Patil completes an exhilarating half-century

By H Natarajan

Adelaide, January 1981. It was a Test that Dennis Lillee, Rodney Hogg and Len Pascoe won’t forget in a hurry. Few wet-behind-the-ears rookies would have had the temerity to take them on the way Sandeep Patil did in that Test.

The 24-year-old's knock of 174 was vindication of his unmistakable talent. He had an encouraging run-to to the first Test. He had scored 116 against Rodney Hogg-powered South Australia and 60 and 97 against Queesland that had the likes of Jeff Thomson, Jeff Dymock and Carl Rackemman. But Test cricket was a different ball game. That was dinned into him – literally and figuratively – when he was pole-axed by Pascoe in the first Test at Sydney. The blow had, by his own admission, shattered his confidence, though he had scored 65 by the time he was injured. But Patil came back in style - with a helmet, this time around - at Adelaide with a knock that exemplified his courage and character.

He topped the tour averages, ahead of batsmen like Sunil Gavaskar, Gundappa Vishwanath and Dilip Vengsarkar, leaving hard-boiled Australia cricketers in ecstasies about his batting talent. India had every reason to believe that it had found a genuine talent that promised to be around for a long time. Yet, just four fleeting years later, it was all over!

Patil, in my humble opinion, was a huge wasted talent. Here was a lad who came from that once famous nursery of India cricket, Shivaji Park, inspired by the likes of Subhash Gupte, Vijay Manjrekar, Ramakant Desai and Ajit Wadekar. His big-hitting is legendary in Mumbai’s cricketing corridors since the days he played with distinction for his school Balmohan in the Inter-schools and in the Inter-collegiate for Ruia.

On his day, Patil could be as devastating as the great Viv Richards, which may seem an exaggerated praise for today’s youth. While scoring 129 in the 1982 Old Trafford Test against England, he scored 31 from nine balls to rocket from 73 to 104. It was in this phase that he plundered six fours (4440444, the fourth was a no ball) in an over from Bob Willis.

On the 1982-83 tour of Pakistan, Patil scored hundred before lunch against NWFP Governor’s XI - his 133 embellished with three sixes and 24 fours.

But it was in the 1978-79 season that Patil was at his ravenous best. He hammered 102 sixes in various tournaments. Sixty three of those sixes came between April 10 and May 10, during which he amassed a total of 1249 runs. He hit 21 sixes in a match in which he sent a ball out of the Parsee Gymkhana, across the Marine Drive and into the Arabian Sea. Now, if you are wondering that this could be because of the small ground, wait a minute. A week before making his Test debut, he hit a ball over and out the Wankhede Stadium into the adjacent hockey ground! It was in this match that he chalked up his first-class best score of 210, scoring a century between lunch and tea. He was one of the hardest hitters in the game, which had also a lot to do with his very heavy bat.

He came from a sporting family. His parents were top badminton players, who reached the mixed doubles semis of the 1950 Nationals. Sandeep’s father, Madhu, was a Ranji player himself and, according to people who have seen him, a bigger hitter than his son.

Patil's flair and flamboyance was evident in every facet of his colourful life. There was a sense of adventure in everything he did - be it his passion for the wildlife of Africa or his
unrestrained aggression at the batting crease. One wonders what the hedonistic Patil could have achieved for himself and the country had he possessed even half the discipline of Sunil Gavaskar. On the request of Madhavrao Scindia, Patil took charge of shaping Madhya Pradesh’s fortunes. Having led Bombay to success in the National Championship with his cerebral leadership, turning a number of imminent defeats into victories, he now turned MP from non-entities to a force to reckon with. He was himself a transformed man as a captain and mentor of MP which he nurtured from 1988 to 1993. He did even better as a coach. After stints with the India uner-19, India ‘A’ and the Indian national team, he took over as the coach of Kenya and guided the country to the semis of the 2003 World Cup. Presently he coaches of the Oman National Cricket Team but it should come as no surprise if he gets to coach the Indian team in the near future – in fact, he was one of the candidates to succeed John Wright.

I have known Patil for long, long time and have even played on a few occasions against his team Cricket Club of India. In the past, whenever we met we exchanged notes on the latest cassettes we had on cricket and wild life – not necessarily in that order. But the thing I liked most about him was that he was and remains a genuinely friendly person – a happy-go-lucky man who spread happiness wherever he went. He loved to joke and was a practical joker. A cricketer once told me of his mischief in reeling off joke after joke after joke on the voice mail of a legendary Indian cricketer till there was no more space in the voice mail!

There is more, a lot more, to Sandeep Patil than a talented batsman and a successful coach. He was an editor of Ekach Shatkar, a popular Marathi tabloid, and also a businessman. He penned an autobiography, Sandy Storm, modeled and even acted in a film Kabhi Ajnabi The, opposite Poonam Dhillon and now cricket expert on television. A truly multi-faceted personality.

On Friday, August 18, Patil completes half a century of his eventful life – a life that has given so much joy and happiness to people known and unknown to him.

Happy Birthday, Sandy.