Never Understood Hype Around ‘English Conditions’: Sandeep Patil
In the 1960s and 70s, every budding cricketer was obsessed with going to England and playing cricket there. I was no exception. From my school days, my parents always tried to convince me that if one had to play cricket, it had to be in England. It was my dream to play test cricket in the Mecca of Cricket, Lord’s.
Luck started to go my way in 1979 when my employers, Tata Oil Mills, sponsored my ticket to England, with the condition that I play cricket there. Late Raj Singh Dungarpur was the one who promised to help me not only play club cricket in England but also got me a chance to bowl to the visiting Indian Cricket team before the 1979 World Cup.
As my English language skills were not up to the mark, it took me more than 4 hours to get clearance from English immigration authorities. Somehow, somehow I managed to convince them and took my first steps on English soil.
A Dream Come True At The Oval
I was at the famous Oval ground where the England team was scheduled to practice before the start of the World Cup of 1979. I was just around, smelling the air and looking at The Oval ground.
To my luck, Sunil Gavaskar noticed my presence at the ground and the next minute, I found myself bowling to Indian cricketers during their nets session. I bowled for 3 hours to the likes of Gavaskar, Vishwanath and Ashok Mankad. I thought I had made it. But that was just the beginning of my cricket journey.
Never Found English Conditions Tough
Raj Singh Dungarpur too kept his promise and helped me sign for Edmonton club. Things were happening too fast for me. It was also difficult to digest that a young cricketer like me, who never played outside Shivaji Park, was now going to play at the hallowed grounds of English cricket.
In the next 30 days, I got to play six club games in the Middlesex League and I managed to score four centuries in my first-ever English club experience. So much was talked about in India about English Conditions and the cold weather, but other than seaming wickets, I really felt no difference.
The great English fast bowler John Snow also played for the same club as me and I had the pleasure of opening the bowling attack with him. What more could a young aspiring cricketer have asked for?
Only, years later, I returned to the same grounds again, as part of the Indian Cricket Team.
Between my beginnings in 1979 to my last English experience in 2004, as the coach of the India A team, I made 4 tours of England – in 1982, 1983 and 1986 as a player and then again in 1996, as the coach of Indian cricket team.
Team Politics Meant I Played Only 2 Tests in England
I still remember when I was picked for India’s England tour in 1982, many cricket journalists and columnists remarked that my game was not suitable for English conditions. What they did not account for was my will, because I knew I would find a way to prove my talent in the so-called ‘difficult English conditions’.
My dream came true when I played my first Test in England at the Old Trafford in June, 1982. In my unbeaten innings of 129, I even created a world record by smashing six fours in an over, against Bob Willis.
In the next match at The Oval, I scored 62.
But the irony of all my tours to England was that despite my early years in the country and despite the three touring teams I was part of, I got to play only 2 Tests in England.
Even years later, I find myself still looking the answer for why things panned out that way. Maybe team politics during the 1980s was one of the reasons.
I was only 30 years of age when I decided to retire from cricket and it happened to be right after India’s tour of England in 1986. After that series I had no ambition left to play a certain number of Tests, or for a certain number of years. People still ask me why I hung up my bat so early. I have no regrets or complaints as even at the age of 30, I had realised my dream of playing test cricket for India in England.
Players and Media Create Hype Around England Conditions
I really wonder why players and media create hype around English conditions and the weather.
In fact, I feel England offers one of the best playing conditions in the World! I wondered, if I could score runs in the country, then why not others?
I also must add, English hotels are no match to Indian hotels, who offer the best facilities compared to English hotels, which are much too small.
I Must Admit my Assignment With Indian Team in 1996 Was a Disaster
After I retired as a player, I took coaching assignments and I was the coach of the Indian cricket team that toured England for a 3-Test series in 1996. I must admit that tour was a disaster for me as a coach.
However, it was under my coaching that two geniuses of Indian Cricket, Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid, got their opportunity to play for India. Some bitter lessons were learnt during that tour, maybe some of the senior players of that team were not comfortable with my style of coaching.
That experience was the saddest part of my career.
I again toured England in 2004, with the India A team that had the likes of Gautam Gambhir and Dinesh Karthik who later on became India players, and I still feel proud of that assignment.
What more you can ask from an A-team coach when your lads make you proud by going on to play for the Indian senior team.
My Advice to This Indian Team
No matter what cricket pundits write or former players say, this Indian team should carry self-belief with them, that they can prevail in England. All the players in this team have adequate international exposure and they should fulfill their potential.
I do believe we can create history again in England.
Wishing the Indian team all the best for the upcoming tour!