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Match winners show up in all shapes and sizes in cricket

(Photo: Getty Images)

Derek Pringle compares Notts’ T20 Blast hero Samit Patel and other match winners of the past…

The T20 Blast finals day was a triumph, not for the underdog, but the undervalued, after Nottinghamshire Outlaws beat Birmingham Bears in a match dominated by the bulky figure of Samit Patel.

Samit, who scored an unbeaten 64, bowled his four overs and ran out the Bears’ most dangerous batsman, Ed Pollock, with a direct hit, is a very modern player save in one regard – he has a waistline more Colin Milburn than Collingwood. And that means his face, also chubby but with a cherubic mischief about it, does not fit with today’s selectors or coaches for whom enlightenment often comes from books written by those who’ve never been involved in the actual process of winning a match.

Winning, as in getting your team over the line, is Samit’s piece de resistance, at least with Notts. There are plenty of cricketers who shine when the pressure is moderate but they tend to fall away when it creeps into the red. Then, you see the same old faces doing the business, relishing the challenges and stresses that make others wilt. These are the big occasion players of which Samit, mostly with bat, is one of the most fearless and resourceful, especially in white ball cricket.

Not that you’d know it from the England ODI or T20 squads just announced to play the West Indies. Liam Dawson is a feisty cricketer whose aggression obscures some of his shortcomings. But a better all-round T20 cricketer than Samit he is not.

It is possible England’s coaches over the years have not appreciated Samit’s qualities. Their focus, at least before 2013, the last time he played for England in both ODIs and T20, has been to cajole him into training harder to trim his girth, not to boost his confidence as a finisher.

That battle, to which he briefly acquiesced when he trained with a kick-boxer in Australia one winter, seemed to distract him. From being England’s best batsman against India’s spinners on the ODI tour there in 2011, he fell away, despondent that in order to play for his country he would have to forego many of the things that gave him pleasure – his Mum’s cooking for one. In the end it was a “take me as you find me or leave me” ultimatum – and England left him.

The timing also went against him back then. Under Andy Flower, England’s fitness was revved up following the axing of Steve Harmison from the Test team after the fast bowler ran out of puff in the 2009 Antigua Test, something Harmison blamed on an upset stomach.

Yet Patel, now 30, has always been a soft target. Unlike pace bowlers, he does not need to be super-fit to bowl spin and bat in the middle order. Indeed, he recently told a journalist he’d not missed a single day with Notts in the last 10 years, and not many players can claim that kind of fitness record. He also relishes the fray, something you cannot say about everyone in his line of work.

If the rigour applied to him was utilised in the past, players like Ian Botham (in the second half of his career), Milburn and Mike Gatting would never get a game, let alone the likes of Inzamam-ul-Haq and Darren Lehmann. And when did Brian Lara or Sachin Tendulkar ever reach level 14 on the Bleep Test? In an age where players are encouraged to be more broad-minded and to think out of the box, perhaps their coaches should follow suit.

With all sport now obsessed with PR, body shape is probably more the issue here than the fitness and while you could never describe players like Gatting or Eddie Hemmings as svelte, the least fit England player during my time was a skinny Phil Tufnell, though he was a      20-a-day smoker. But impressions swing opinion, which is why Rob Key lost several stone in a bid to win back the England place he lost in 2004.

Whatever the injustices, and cricketers with more than 20 per cent body fat will feel there are many, Patel knew what he had to do to win over those who count and he failed to comply, which has allowed others into England’s white ball teams to do their bidding as bat and spin all-rounders, Dawson the latest.

If it seems like an opportunity missed by both Samit and England, one thing seems clear -– if you are going to give a sucker an even break in sport, make sure they aren’t thinner than you.

Cauldron: Australia players survey a packed Melbourne Cricket Ground back in 1987 (photo: Getty Images)

Cricket, or at least cricketers, seem to be under fire at the moment after a crossbow bolt was fired into the Oval and stones were lobbed at the Australian team bus in Bangladesh.

For some reason cricketers in white, and both the above incidents occurred during red ball matches, have long been targets for projectiles. Once in Peshawar, Pakistan, Devon Malcolm had a long, sharpened piece of wood thrown at him, a weapon one or two of the tabloids were quick to call “the spear of hate”.

In the same country, a brick was thrown at Sylvester Clarke, a fast bowler, when West Indies played in Multan back in the late 1970s. A man who took little pity on batsmen let alone brick- throwers, he promptly lobbed it back over the wire fence and struck someone on the head. Lawsuits were issued against him, which he ignored, right up until his death in 1999.

The urge to see cricketers take evasive action is global. Phil Tufnell once had peaches thrown at him in Auckland where, in the same Test, a spectator hurled a harrow-sized bat at me for not signing an autograph for his son (I’d asked the lad to wait until the end of the over).

Worst for throwing things at players was the old Bay 13 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Often populated by bikers and other unsavoury types, opposition players have been known to fend off golf balls, snooker balls and even tins of beer while fielding nearby.

Messiest, though, was was the meat pie dumped unceremoniously on Ian “Gunner” Gould’s head, as he stooped to pick up the ball there during the 1982/3 Ashes Test, after it had been struck for four.

Keen not to inflame Australia’s hardest, Gould wiped away the biggest chunks and said quick as a flash – “Steady on mate, I’ve just had me hair done (which was true).” At which point several more pies came his way with the rejoinder – “We’ll book you another appointment then.”

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