Patel looks to push on for Essex
PUBLISHED: 07:00 09 August 2018
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While the senior Essex team have endured a summer of recurring travails, most notably in a parlous Vitality Blast campaign, the fortunes of the second eleven have been in stark contrast: they stand on the threshold of the County Championship-T20 double.
The Essex twos will enjoy the aristocratic setting of Arundel Castle this afternoon for T20 finals day, and at the beginning of September contest the Championship final, the culmination of a season in which they have lost just two games in the short format and remain unbeaten with the red ball.
Record-making run machine Rishi Patel has been a mainstay in the understudy side, and gained reward for a phenomenal season, in which he averages a tad under 100, when elevated for his first-team debut against the Indians two weeks ago.
Patel looked impressive, too, batting against the Test-match attack for more than an hour while scoring 19, before edging behind.
“It was a really great experience,” says the former Brentwood School all-rounder. “It has definitely shown me that I want to play at that level, and I want to I want to get into the first team more regularly, and hopefully kick on. It’s made my desire grow and grow.”
Though he averages just 17.62 in T20, having hit 141 runs with a highest score of 53 not out, it is in the longer game that Patel has shone.
The 20-year-old has a sequence of 104, 133, 54, 75, 15*, 11, 36*, 117, 151, 118 and 70 in his 11 visits to the crease for a total of 885 runs, an average of 98.33, and the chance to break Darren Robinson’s 25-year record of most centuries (five) in a 2nd XI season.
He has a maximum of four innings in which to do so, while also aiming to pass 1,000 runs.
“It’s been an amazing season,” he admits. “It’s gone better than I expected. Once you get one hundred away, you just grow in confidence, and I’ve gone from strength to strength. We’re coming towards the end of the season and I just want to push on and get as many as I can.”
A gap year between school and heading to Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge next month, was partly spent in the Melbourne suburb of North Balwyn playing club cricket for St Barnabas. He finished top run-scorer and top wicket-taker and that provided the platform for this summer of success.
“I came back a better player, I think,” Patel says. “I’ve been able to concentrate on cricket and not worry about schoolwork or any of the other distractions. I’ve been able to just focus on performing to the best of my ability. It’s been really important.”
He will play under the MCCU scheme while at Cambridge, and Essex have been making encouraging noises about a contract offer for next season.
With the likes of Paul Walter and Michael Pepper making the step up to first-team action in recent weeks, Patel is aware of that progression through the ranks is eminently possible.
When he made his second-team debut, scoring 46 not out just before his 17th birthday, team-mates that day included Dan Lawrence and Reece Topley.
“You can see there’s a path, and you just have to keep performing and bide your time until that call comes. Then you have to make the most of it,” he adds.
“We’re all fighting and pushing to try and play in the ones. I’ve just got to knuckle down, work hard and hopefully I’ll get there.”
Essex face Durham in their semi-final today (1.45pm, start), the winners meeting Gloucestershire or Lancashire in the final (5pm).
Then the already-crowned southern champions play Surrey at New Maldon next Monday in their remaining Championship fixture before the final against the champions of the north, starting on September 4.
Meanwhile, the first team take on Gloucestershire tomorrow night in the Blast at Chelmsford, bottom of the south group and still seeking a second win of the season in 10 attempts.