Cricket: Ajaz Patel's local knowledge can lift Black Caps to historic triumph over India

Cricket: Ajaz Patel's local knowledge can lift Black Caps to historic triumph over India

Ajaz Patel has returned to Mumbai for many different reasons over the years – to visit family, to watch IPL games, for his wedding.

His task for this trip, as Patel acknowledged, will be “a little bit different”.

As New Zealand seek their first test win in India since 1988 – and first series triumph in 12 attempts – this trip will see Patel required to carry quite a workload.

The 33-year-old was the only Black Caps spinner to take a wicket in the first-test draw in Kanpur. For the second test in Mumbai, starting tomorrow afternoon (NZT), he may be the Black Caps’ only full-time spinner.

Recalling Neil Wagner in place of Will Somerville would be a daring selection, given India will almost certainly stick with three spinners. It would leave Patel and test rookie Rachin Ravindra – the batting heroes from the escape in Kanpur – with quite a burden.

But Patel is at least perfectly placed to assume that burden, given his local knowledge and hometown support.

“It is emotional,” Patel said about returning to the city where he lived until aged eight. “I was thinking about it when we landed in Mumbai and I was coming out of the airport, the amount of times I’ve left that airport just to go visit family or friends or come back for a holiday.

“It is pretty cool and it’s nostalgic being here.”

The Black Caps will hope that buried within that nostalgia is an insight into being effective on the red-clay wicket at Wankhede Stadium.

Patel has spent plenty of time in the stands at the venue, having been supplied tickets by former Black Caps and Mumbai Indians bowler Mitchell McClenaghan, and he has bowled net sessions to the IPL side.

But this will be his first time in the middle – and the first time many of his extended family will watch him in action.

“It’ll be really special,” he said. “They’ve never really seen me play any cricket in person.
“So it’ll be the first time instead of sitting in the stands with them watching, they’ll be watching me.”

Patel will be aiming to impress, and not just for familial reasons. The New Zealand spin attack was blunted in the first test, with Patel’s three wickets standing in stark contrast to the Indian tweakers’ 17 tourist scalps.

“As a spin-bowling unit, I think we were somewhat guilty of possibly not keeping the stumps in play for long periods of time,” Patel said. “At the same time, these guys are very good players of spin.

“The wicket really didn’t give us too much as a spin-bowling unit so we’ve just got to make sure we’re a lot tighter in our lines and lengths.”

Somerville, wicketless from 40 overs in Kanpur, might not get that chance, especially if as Patel expected the red clay was likely to offer more pace and bounce.

Given the success Tim Southee and Kyle Jamieson enjoyed last week, Wagner could offer the Black Caps their best shot at an unlikely series victory, an achievement of which the team were well aware.

“We know the history around playing cricket in India and we know how difficult it has been in the past,” Patel said. “But we have the sense of self-belief that we can cause upsets anywhere.”

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