‘Journeyman’ Rajat Patidar traverses the spectrum in grand style. He can now safely bid goodbye to anonymity – Firstcricket News, Firstpost
Leading up to Wednesday night’s Eliminator against newbies Lucknow Super Giants, much of the buzz among the Royal Challengers Bangalore supporters revolved around the talismanic Virat Kohli and his return to run-scoring ways. Around Wanindu Hasaranga, involved in a classic tussle for the Purple Cap with erstwhile RCB stalwart Yuzvendra Chahal. Around Glenn Maxwell, peaking nicely ahead of the playoffs. Around Faf du Plessis, the inspirational first-time skipper who has spearheaded a stellar campaign. Around Harshal Patel, the master of the slower ball. Around Dinesh Karthik, finisher consummate whose heroics have landed him an India comeback. Understandably so, one would say.
One man flew under the radar, unperturbed, unaffected, basking in the anonymity that the spotlight being trained on the others offers. After all, he is used to performing in the shadows. Or, at least, he used to be.
Only time will tell how Rajat Patidar’s life will be altered in the wake of his astonishing assault at the Eden Gardens in easily the biggest match of his life thus far. One thing is for sure – the 28-year-old from Indore in Madhya Pradesh will no longer be clubbed in the ‘journeyman’ category.
His mesmeric unbeaten 112, a stunning amalgam of exquisite timing and extraordinary power, comfortably eclipsed his more luminous and celebrated peers and opponents. This was the night of the underdog, of a quiet, unassuming young man whose willow spoke the loudest as the boundaries and the emotions flowed freely at India’s acknowledged theatre of dreams.
And to think that, at the start of the IPL, Patidar was reconciled to watching Season 15 of the Indian Premier League on television!
The right-hander had been a part of the RCB set-up in 2021, when he made 71 runs from four matches, but was deemed excess to the requirement not only by his former franchise but by the nine other teams too at the mega auction in Bengaluru in February. The disappointment had to be palpable, until an injury to the little-known Luvnith Sisodia, an even more anonymous wicketkeeper-batsman from Bengaluru, paved the way for Patidar’s return to the RCB camp as an injury replacement in the first week of April.
Unsurprisingly, Patidar spent the first few weeks on the bench before being summoned – more in hope, one suspects – to provide substance to a batting order struggling to find impetus, given Kohli going off the boil and Maxwell failing spectacularly to match his jaw-dropping exploits of the previous year. In just his second game back, against Gujarat Titans whom RCB will be hoping to lock horns with in Sunday’s final, he proved his worth with a blazing 52 in a losing cause. That was to spark a run of 21, 48 and 26 in his next three hits – not inconsiderable, but nothing to write home about. Patidar was still the foot soldier to the generals that Kohli, du Plessis, Maxwell and Karthik were.
Not any longer, one can safely assume. Not after his wonderful compilation full of the most extraordinary strokes in a game that yielded exactly 400 runs, a significant proportion of that in fours and sixes.
Patidar walked out in the very first over after du Plessis was caught behind, first ball, off Mohsin Khan. In hindsight, the script couldn’t have been written any better for Patidar, or his team.
The first indication that we could be in for a visual treat came in the second over, from the speedy Sri Lankan Dushmantha Chameera. An express delivery, just back of a length, might have elicited a tentative defensive prod from others; Patidar went quickly on to the back foot, punching the ball into the pitch and over the point fielder with an almost entirely vertical bat for the first of his screaming fours.
That was to be the start of a boundary fest that showed few signs of abating even as first Kohli, then Maxwell and Mahipal Lomror deserted him. All of them had found the Eden pitch not entirely to their liking, their rhythm and timing thrown off gear as the ball didn’t gush on to the bat. Patidar batted as if in another match, on another surface. He had that extra fraction of a second more, hardly hit the ball in anger, and yet the ball sped off his bat like a bullet, especially when he quickly slid on to the back foot and played square on either side with unmatched authority.
Marrying a shrewd cricket brain with sparkling stroke-play, Patidar chose his moments, and bowlers, carefully. His unannounced destruction of Krunal Pandya’s left-arm spin in the final over of the Powerplay was steeped in common sense and orthodoxy – traits that were his ally throughout his 52-ball essay which contained 12 fours and seven sweetly struck sixes. He was put down twice, when 72 and then 92, but no one begrudged him his good fortune because this was a man on a mission, a man whose eyes when they were trained on the scoreboard saw what his team’s tally was, not his own.
It wasn’t until Karthik arrived, initially full of bad memory and a horrible impromptu script before settling down into his now customary role of ball-biffing in the final stages, that Patidar found an ally willing to share the journey with him. Between them, the two little right-handers tore Lucknow’s best to shreds in the last fourth of the innings, which yielded 84 runs off 30 deliveries. In the end, that proved decisive; Lucknow had matched RCB run for run until the end of the 18th over – they were 175 for four as against their opponents’ 173 for four – but scoreboard pressure and the brilliance of Josh Hazlewood and Harshal proved too much for KL Rahul’s troops.
Rahul himself masterminded Lucknow’s spirited chase, but he was nowhere in Patidar’s league. To put things in perspective, when Rahul reached 50, he had consumed 43 deliveries. Patidar’s hundred came off 49, by a distance the quickest this season. Enough said.
Patidar is no stranger to big-ticket domestic cricket – he has made 39 Ranji Trophy appearances, in addition to playing nearly 80 white-ball games for Madhya Pradesh. Yet, like statemate Venkatesh Iyer last year, it’s as if he is just cricket-born, such is the reach of the IPL. For now, he is the toast of all things RCB, with potentially two more life-altering opportunities ahead of him this week.
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