Ajaz Patel knows Mumbai well.
He grew up there before moving to New Zealand aged six, and he’s been back many times since to visit family – and take in some Mumbai Indians matches in the Indian Premier League.
It’s clear he reveres the city, home to some 12.5 million people, where the Black Caps will face India from Friday [first ball 5pm NZ time] with a test series on the line.
“Mumbai is an amazing place,” Patel said two days out. “I can’t really explain it – it’s something that you have to experience, and it’s a sensory experience as well, for all your senses – your eyes, your ears, your nose, your taste buds”.
* History favours spin, but Neil Wagner may get Black Caps nod for second test
* Black Caps vs India: The glorious magic, muddle and mystery of test cricket
* Black Caps seek improvement for second test versus India after meritorious draw
* The delight of New Zealand’s first test draw against India shone through the smog
Much of that experience is beyond Patel and the Black Caps on this particular visit, as they are wrapped up tight in a biosecure bubble to keep them safe from Covid-19.
But that will help them focus on the task at hand – getting a first win in India since 1988 to go with the draw in the first test in Kanpur in which Patel played a starring role.
As the No 11 batsman, he arrived at the crease with a minimum of 8.4 overs to be bowled and light fading fast on the final day to join debutant Rachin Ravindra, who by then was at the heart of the Black Caps’ effort to avoid defeat.
Together they blocked out 50 balls until the light got too bad for play to continue, and both teams shook hands, setting up a winner-takes-all series decider in Mumbai.
“We were quite fortunate, the coach gave us bowlers an extra hour at the hotel to get a bit more rest and that probably did wonders for us down the back end,” Patel said of the great escape, in what was just the second test the Black Caps have drawn with a single wicket in hand.
“Knowing that you’re in India and things can happen very, very quickly, you have to be prepared to bat. I had a coach years ago, a guy named Barrington Rowland who played a lot of cricket in India, he played a lot of first-class cricket with a lot of these senior guys like [Indian coach Rahul] Dravid and VVS [Laxman] and stuff like that, and I remembered the advice that he’d always given me was get your head out in front and get your bat out in front and make sure it doesn’t hit the pads.
“That’s all I was looking to follow against spin bowling. It’s definitely a different story for me when I try and score … but defensively, I’m not too uncomfortable around that piece of the game.
“You’re always watching these wickets go down, and you’re always a little bit nervous and your palms start sweating and stuff like that.
“It was quite cool, man. It was a great moment.”
Patel also took three wickets in the match – his first red-ball outing since June, where he took four in New Zealand’s win over England at Edgbaston.
That win gave the Black Caps their first series win in England in 22 years, and they’re now chasing another to secure their first-ever series win in India – a task that will take some doing.
Patel has plenty of family set to come and watch over the five days of the test, and he was looking forward to having their support.
“Obviously they haven’t had the chance to watch me play in person. They’ve never really seen me play any cricket in person to be honest with you. Instead of sitting in the stands with them watching matches, they’ll be watching me.
“I know that that’s really special for me and even back home, my parents still haven’t watched me play a test match for New Zealand, so hopefully sometime soon they’ll be able to come and watch me as well.”
© 2021 Stuff Limited