Patrick Patterson: One of West Indies’ fastest bowlers who disappeared, literally!

Patrick Patterson © Getty Images

Patrick Patterson, born September 15, 1961, was one of West Indies’ fastest bowlers who, in his prime, surprised the best of batsmen with his pace. Karthik Parimal looks back at the surprisingly short career of this Jamaican stalwart.

When Michael Holding was contemplating retiring from the sport in the summer of 1987, he didn’t fret the transfer of mantle. The head honchos of West Indies cricket weren’t losing sleep on replacing him either, since the islands were churning out fast bowlers at will. At the time, Malcolm Marshall was at the peak of his game, Tony Gray and Joel Garner looked set for a long haul, whereas Courtney Walsh’s name was just beginning to reverberate in the cricketing world. But could one really replace Holding — nicknamed Whispering Death for his incredible pace? Holding believed he wasn’t leaving a team whose cupboard would have been bare without him. The Englishmen and the Australians soon concurred.

When Holding’s career commenced its final lap, a young, lanky fast bowler by the name of Patrick Patterson made his debut for Jamaica. With a father and grandfather who played district cricket themselves, Patterson acquired the right traits at an early age. Tales of the pace he generated at the time of release and off the turf (apparently inherited from his grandfather) travelled like a wildfire, even beyond the shores of the Caribbean islands. Before he donned the national colours in 1986, Patterson was already roped in by Lancashire in the English County Championship and Tasmania in the Sheffield Shield. Here was a bowler, they believed, who was on par with Holding and Marshall.

Patrick Patterson: One of West Indies’ fastest bowlers who disappeared, literally!

Patrick Patterson (above) was much quicker than the likes of Malcolm Marshall © Getty Images

Brilliance on debut

In the February of 1986, England toured the West Indies for The Wisden Trophy and the first Test was at Jamaica’s Sabina Park. As if the atmosphere wasn’t hostile enough, the Englishmen had to contend with opening bowlers Marshall and Garner. Holding still featured, although as a first or second-change bowler, but the venom was still intact. The fourth speedster was Patterson, the bowler many in their line-up heard from the local pundits was faster than Marshall. None had faced him yet. By the end of his first over, it was evident to the English players, Graham Gooch in particular, that the locals had got it wrong; Patterson was much quicker than Marshall.

To make matters worse, the sightscreen in front of the George Headley Stand was just too low for the batsmen to sight the ball against it. The tall frame of the bowlers only added to the complexity. Nonetheless, Ian Botham, in his autobiography Head On, confesses they [the English batsmen] would not have played Patterson with any confidence even if the sightscreen was higher and made it easier to spot the ball. The Jamaican sent down 11 fast overs, taking four wickets, and most of the 30 runs he conceded came involuntarily off the blade. In the second innings, he grabbed three more scalps to steer West Indies home by 10 wickets.

The following year, during the tour of India, he wreaked havoc with a spell of 5 for 24 in his first innings of the first Test at New Delhi, his best figures in Tests, shooting the much-touted hosts out for a total of 75. He accounted for 17 wickets during the series, registering another five-wicket haul at Mumbai.

“I will kill you”

On the fourth day of the Melbourne Test in 1988, West Indies’ tail-enders stay put to advance their lead. Sticking to his plan for the series, Steve Waugh was bouncing all their batsmen mercilessly and received verbal support from his fielders throughout. “Great stuff, Tugga. He doesn’t like it,” remarked Merv Hughes when Waugh aimed for Patterson’s throat on a couple of occasions. “It went down as well as cough medicine to a sick child,” writes Waugh, on the bouncers to Patterson, in his autobiography Out of My Comfort Zone. Waugh put an end to West Indies’ innings with a five-wicket haul and decided to celebrate by waving his hands at a fuming Patterson. It served the same purpose as waving a red rag at an enraged bull. At the end of the day’s play, Patterson burst into Australia’s dressing room and announced their fate with the following words: “You guys are going to pay for that tomorrow. I will kill you.”

True to his word, Patterson sent down 15 quick overs on the last day, each delivery finishing with a follow-through that made it seem like he was bowling from much closer than 22 yards. His front leg went higher and slammed down harder than when he normally bowled, and it came as no surprise that he took 5 for 39 and shot Australia out for 114. “Whoever described Patterson at his peak as being like ‘an apartment block tumbling down on you’ when you faced him was right on money. To score runs or survive required complete devotion to the task at hand, which was difficult when the very real prospect of injury was consuming a great deal of your thoughts,” Waugh further wrote in his book.

Fallout with the board, axing and disappearance

During the 1992-93 tour of Australia, Patterson’s issues with the administrators were on the rise. At Brisbane, he walked off the field without saying anything to his captain, Richie Richardson. He featured in a One-Day International (ODI) triangular tournament at South Africa in 1993, but owing to increasing problems, was dropped from the squad. By then, Patterson featured in 28 Tests, taking 93 wickets at a strike-rate of 51.90, and 59 ODIs. Thereafter, he disappeared from the cricketing arena. It’s been over two decades now, but he’s refused to surface.

The Indian Express went looking for Patterson in the July of 2013, but even his parents — Emelda and Morris — have no idea of his location. Although he occasionally contacts the couple, what Patterson exactly does for a living remains unknown. “Over the years, there have been many versions regarding his whereabouts as well as what he’s believed to be up to. The most common among those is that Patterson was lost to the bush, as they say in Jamaica, drifting away into the wilderness due to drug abuse and destitution. Some say he’s been in a mental asylum, while there are even those who believe that the 51-year-old has now shifted base to the USA,” the newspaper stated.

(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/karthik_parimal)