Being an anarcho-syndicalist commune, the 51allout writers often find themselves unsure of what exactly they should be doing. The gin rota has long since fallen into disrepair while the cleaning schedule hasn’t so much disappeared as never existed in the first place. In the absence of any actual direction, the natural reaction is to do absolutely nothing, bar sitting around on the sofa watching daytime TV. While bad for productivity, this is definitely a good thing for morale. Who wouldn’t want to spend everyday lounging around with a drink in hand, gently mocking Editor Steve?
During one particularly dull episode of Doctors, in which someone was obese or something, conversation turned, as it often does, to Samit Patel. Did he deserve a place in England’s starting XI for the first Test against India? Where should he bat? And most importantly, could we write a whole article about him without making a single food joke?
With more than an hour to kill until Prank Patrol Down Under started this challenge was duly accepted. After we’d opened another packet of Jaffa Cakes, obviously.
We have a long history of being nasty about Samit Patel. And with good reason, because his physique would be embarrassing for one of us sofa monkeys, let alone a professional sportsman. But, ever so slowly, he’s managed to creep up in our estimation to the extent that we now acknowledge that he may as well get a game, if only to prove once and for all whether he’s actually good enough to play Test Cricket. His innings in England’s ill-fated final game of the World T20, where he made 67 to get his side within a reasonable distance of an utterly undeserved win, was genuinely decent, particularly given that nobody else seemed to know which end of the bat to hold.
When Patel made his Test debut against Sri Lanka back in March, he found himself at number seven in the order, with Matt Prior moved up a place to accommodate him. At the time it seemed like England were almost ashamed to have such a rotund figure in the side and were trying to hide him down the order, even if it meant shifting the world’s best number seven batsman out of position. Being treated like a bits and pieces allrounder, Patel promptly played like one, making scores of 2, 9 and 29 as part of a distinctly underwhelming debut series.
And yet in England’s first tour match in India Samit found himself promoted back up to number six, with Prior at seven. Patel promptly made 104, batting for nearly five hours, roughly the time it takes to cook a Christmas turkey. A meaningless warmup game it may have been, but it was an important statement for Patel the batsman. Although he’s generally batted at number four and averages 40 in First Class Cricket, he had a poor season in the County Championship, making just two fifties and averaging 27.42, numbers symptomatic of a very fragile Nottinghamshire top order. And yet his performance in that final T20 game stood out a mile, showing that he could genuinely play the turning ball, late cutting off middle stump with all the finesse of a ballet dancer, rather than a massive fat lump.
Also in Patel’s favour is the fact that the other competitors for the number six spot aren’t exactly kicking down the door. Jonny Bairstow impressed many in the summer, overcoming both a supposed deficiency against the short ball and epic amounts of being ginger, but looked utterly bewildered by the turning ball in Sri Lanka. And Eoin Morgan seems to have been picked by accident, with his name presumably erroneously left on the list from England’s last away tour. With such unimpressive options to choose from, England may as well go for an allrounder.
However, it’s Patel’s bowling that truly divides the 51allout think tank. While there are those who feel that a left arm spinner compliments Graeme Swann nicely, there are others who feel that Patel is little more than a club bowler. A First Class average of 39.05 is far from impressive; it even compares unfavourably to Ian Salisbury‘s (surprisingly adequate) 32.65. Just take a minute to consider that: Samit’s First Class bowling average is 20% worse than Ian Salisbury’s.
While Patel’s ability to get through four (or more) overs in a generally neat and tidy way is useful in limited overs cricket, it’s surely not enough to earn himself a place in the Test team. In the good old days he might have been suited to the Ashley Giles role, holding up one end while the quicks took the wickets from the other, although that probably pays Gilo something of a disservice. Anyway, England don’t play like that anymore, with Graeme Swann doing both the holding and wicket-taking roles. Should two genuine spinners be the preferred option then Monty Panesar would offer much more with the ball, if also much less with the bat. Ultimately, whatever attack is selected, it’s likely that Patel will be left as little more than a fill-in bowler, a job that Kevin Pietersen could easily do anyway – at least in the mind of Kevin Pietersen.
As a result, it really comes down to how England want their batting to look. Do they want a ginger or a massive fat guy in at number six? Either way, it’s a far from appealing conundrum. Unlike those on Countdown, obviously.