Get in there, my generously proportioned son! Ball Control admits it has a soft spot for Samit Patel. Which is rather fitting, as young Samit has rather a lot of softness about him too – around the midriff (sorry, I had to). Having notched his first ton for England, and getting among the wickets, against India A yesterday, he looks a shoo-in for the number 6 slot in the first Test, which for some time has been the Achilles heel in England’s batting order. Rumours that the Barmy Army’s trumpeter is taking up tuba lessons in anticipation of Samit’s inclusion await confirmation.
As accomplished a player of spin as you’re likely to find on the British Isles, Samit has been earmarked to play in the subcontinent-phobic England side for many years. He was fast-tracked into the ODI side in 2008 due to his very nu-cricket attributes: hard-hitting and tricky to read SLO. Offsetting these desirable qualities was his unfashionable representation of the über modern cricket characteristic: muscular athleticism. He has since been in and out of the limited overs sides as he battles ongoing “fitness issues” in what, for a long time, seemed to be a vain attempt to impress his dedication upon Andy Flower.
The England Team Manager is clearly a big fan though and made known his wish to take Samit to the 2011 World Cup, naming him in the provisional squad, with the expectation that he would respond accordingly. “All we were saying was ‘get into reasonable shape’. It didn’t have to be perfect”, he said afterwards. In private, one can imagine him laying down the law to Samit in terms of: “Look, if Tim Bresnan can fit himself into an airline seat then so can you, buster.” Alas, it was not to be. James Tredwell went instead.
That he has gotten to this point–the cusp of consistent Test selection–without looking noticeably lighter seems, on the face of it, a victory for traditional skill sets over waist measurements.
The undertone to Samit’s travails was always that his corpulence betrayed a lack of desire to get fit; therein his copious puppy fat was a symptom of indiscipline. Thus, without shedding a few pounds, how could he be relied upon to contribute to the cause in an era of obsessively interdependent dressing rooms? This always struck me as a bit unfair. Patel never came across as an Inzamam-ul-Haq type, eschewing working up a sweat and falling back on sublime natural talent. By all accounts, he worked hard in the nets and diligently shuttle-ran with the rest of the team.
That is not to say that the link between a roly-poly appearance and unruliness is entirely without foundation. Also in the world of cricket, the big-boned Jesse Ryder has certainly got himself into a few scrapes. Meanwhile, Freddie Flintoff shed the weight but tales of unprofessionalism continued to follow him till the end of his career.
Similarly, football is littered with barrel-chested heroes who were adored for, not in spite of, their heavy frames; which allowed fans to imagine themselves squeezed into figure-hugging strips and wheezing heavily on the field of play. Frequently, these players were uncoincidentally fond of ‘off-the-field activities’, principally chugging down pints in the boozer.
Those with rotund physiques also often carry the stereotype of being ‘jolly’ and ‘larger-than-life’. Gazza personified this perfectly. In fact, he played up to it and it undoubtedly did him little long term good to continue to ‘perform’ on and off the pitch when behind the façade his life was falling apart. Sorry, this just got dark.
Samit, though. Well, he is a jolly little fellow! The potbellied little scamp is crashing through the glass dessert trolley and on to cricketing stardom! And, with Owais Shah no longer anywhere near the England team, I welcome the prospect of comically slapstick run outs returning to the international stage.