Brijesh Patel © Getty Images
Brijesh Patel © Getty Images

The belligerent Brijesh Patel was born November 24, 1952. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at the career of the crowd-pulling Karnataka legend who seemed to pick out West Indies to score big.

People flocked to the ground to watch him. He was as good a strokeplayer one would come across with the ability to tear any bowling apart on his day; at the same time he could go on for hours, dishing out hundred after hundred — especially at domestic level; add to that his handsome looks, complete with the impeccable French beard, and the product is perhaps what today’s generation refers to as X-factor.

That was what Brijesh Pursuram Patel was like. He was one of those larger-than-life cricketers that set cricket grounds alight with his electric presence, whether with the bat or on the field. Along with Gundappa Viswanath he was responsible for making Karnataka a formidable batting line-up in the 1970s. He was also an outstanding fielder, manning mainly cover and point.

Patel had scored 972 runs at an average of 29.45 from 21 Tests and 243 runs at an average of 30.37 from 10 ODIs for India. In First-Class cricket, however, he scored 11,911 runs an average of at 45.63 with 37 hundreds and 55 fifties. A giant of Ranji Trophy, he finished with the most runs (7,126 at 57) and hundreds (26) in the tournament. Both records are currently held by Wasim Jaffer.

The salient feature of Patel’s Test career was his performance against West Indies. Patel has the highest average (207 runs at 207) on West Indian soil among all cricketers, West Indians or otherwise; even if one removes the venue restriction, Patel’s record against West Indies reads 349 runs at 58.16. Against other countries he averages a paltry 23.07.

Early days

Patel was born in Baroda in a family of cricketers. Three of Patel’s uncles — Krishnakant (a Hyderabad and Mysore batsman), Bhupendra (a Mysore and Andhra all-rounder), and Mukesh (a Gujarat off-spinner) — played First-Class cricket. Bhupendra’s son Yogendra was a left-arm medium-pacer who played for Mysore.

The Patels moved to Bangalore, where Brijesh studied at Bishop Cottons Boys School and represented India Schools on a trip to Australia. He made his First-Class debut in the Ranji Trophy match against Andhra in 1969-70, scoring 11 not out.

Patel’s first major innings came later that season in the semi-final against Bombay. After Bombay declared 211 runs ahead, Patel walked out at 171 for 4 and saw Mysore lose wickets consistently. Though Mysore were knocked out on the first-innings lead, Patel saved the match, scoring 105 not out scored out of 175 during his stay.

Patel kept on scoring runs consistently, and played in the iconic Ranji Trophy semi-final of 1973-74 that witnessed one of the biggest upsets in the history of the tournament. In the quarter-final against Delhi, Patel’s 168 (the only hundred in the match) had been crucial in Karnataka’s 223-run victory. This semi-final, however, was a different matter altogether.

The semi-final against Bombay saw an outstanding 166-run partnership between Viswanath (162) and Patel (106) for the third wicket. Nobody else crossed 30 as Karnataka collapsed from 281 for 2 to 385 in front of Padmakar Shivalkar and Rakesh Tandon.

Bombay lost their openers early, but Ajit Wadekar and Ashok Mankad had a century-partnership for the third wicket. Then, with the score on 198 for 2, Mankad played the ball to point; Wadekar called for a run, Mankad sent him back, and Wadekar slipped; Sudhakar Rao’s throw found Wadekar short of the crease.

Smelling blood, EAS Prasanna and Bhagwat Chandrasekhar took out the Bombay batsmen one by one and bowled them out for 307. Shivalkar and Milind Rege bowled their hearts out, but Patel (who top-scored with 63 in the second innings) took the score past Bombay’s reach with some help from Viswanath and Sudhakar Rao.

Bombay were knocked out of the tournament. It would be after 15 seasons that they would not lift the Ranji Trophy. Patel failed in the final against Rajasthan but Karnataka clinched the title. With 618 runs at 61.80, he finished only after Hemant Kanitkar’s 629. In the entire season, Patel scored 933 runs at 49.10 with 3 hundreds and was named an Indian Cricket Cricketer of the Year. As a result he was selected for the ill-fated “Summer of 42”.

Test debut

Patel started the tour of England with 107 not out against a very strong DH Robins’ XI: the attack consisted of John Lever, Fred Titmus, Derek Underwood, Mushtaq Mohammad and Bob Woolmer. Against Lancashire he walked out at 117 for 4 and slammed 104 not out. His form earned him a spot in the first Test at Old Trafford.

India were mauled in all 3 Tests of the series. Patel played in the first two, struggling against swing and scoring 10 runs from 4 innings. He was dropped for the third Test at Edgbaston. He failed in the rest of the tour and finished with 511 runs from 14 matches at 26.89.

He made his ODI debut at Headingley the same season, a 78-ball 82 with 8 fours and 2 sixes in India’s first ever ODI. It remained the highest score by an Indian debutant in ODIs till Robin Uthappa scored 86 in 2006-07. It also remained Patel’s only ODI fifty.

The ascent

Back home Patel was selected to play for South Zone against Clive Lloyd’s West Indians at Hyderabad. Coming out at 103 for 4, he added 210 for the fifth wicket with his old partner-in-crime Viswanath. He eventually finished with 106 not out as the innings was declared closed at 313 for 5.

Patel was picked for the first two Tests at Bangalore and Delhi. He failed in both Tests and India lost both, and Patel was dropped for the next two Tests at Calcutta and Madras, both of which India won. Then, just before the fifth Test, he carved out 106 not out in the fourth innings for Karnataka against the West Indians at Ahmedabad.

He was picked for the final Test — the first ever at Wankhede Stadium. Gavaskar’s return from injury strengthened the batting considerably, and India managed to save the follow-on (Patel scored 5) after West Indies piled up 604 for 6. Set 404 to win, India were in trouble early.

‘Tiger’ Pataudi held back Patel till the score was 89 for 6. Walking out to bat, Patel tore into an attack consisting of Andy Roberts, Bernard Julien, Vanburn Holder and Lance Gibbs. He remained unbeaten on 73 with 9 fours and 2 sixes as India managed to reach 202. They lost the Test on the final afternoon, but Patel had marked his arrival.

Patel was selected for the 1975 World Cup. He played all three matches without any success. He scored 81 against New Zealand in the Test at Basin Reserve next season against a rampant Richard Hadlee [who picked up 11 wickets]. He was the only Indian to score a fifty as the tourists collapsed to 220 and 81 and lost by an innings. He was retained for the subsequent tour of West Indies.

Patel’s finest tour

Patel was brought into the side for the second Test at Queen’s Park Oval after India lost the first Test at Kensington Oval by an innings. After Bishan Singh Bedi bowled out the hosts for 241, West Indies hit back, reducing India to 126 for 4. Patel walked out to join Gavaskar.

Gavaskar and Patel added 204 — a record fifth-wicket partnership for India — against an attack consisting of Roberts, Michael Holding, and Julien. Even after Gavaskar’s departure, Bedi decided to bat on as Madan Lal joined Patel. Patel seemed very tense as he neared his century but eventually reached the mark. Bedi declared the innings closed at 402 for 5, 161 ahead, Patel unbeaten on 115. His 390-minute innings was studded with 10 boundaries. It remained Patel’s only Test hundred.

Despite the fact that the first day was washed out, India would have won the match had they not dropped a lot of catches. The crucial drop came when Lloyd hit a skier to the substitute fielder Eknath Solkar at mid-off. Just as Solkar was about take the catch, Patel ran in from cover, the two collided, and the catch was spilled. Lloyd went on to score 70 and saved the Test.

The third Test, also at Queen’s Park Oval, saw India pull off a record chase of 403. Patel walked out at 336 for 3 when Viswanath fell; India needed 65 in the mandatory overs, and Patel provided them with the kind of aggressive batting they required.

Mohinder Amarnath also joined in, and the pair ran very fast between the wickets, setting panic among the fielders. There were byes, leg-byes, and over-throws as India inched closer towards victory. Though a fatigued Mohinder was run out by Lloyd, Patel helped India cross the 400-mark.

Then, with the score on 402, Raphick Jumadeen bowled a long-hop, and Patel pulled him ferociously to bring up a historic victory. Gavaskar later went on to call the Test as “India’s greatest Test victory”.

The defeat did not go too well with Lloyd. He summoned his spinners — Jumadeen, Imtiaz Ali, and Albert Padmore — and put up a simple question: “Gentlemen, I gave you 400 runs to bowl at and you failed to bowl out the opposition. How many runs must I give you in future to make sure you get the wickets?”

Lloyd did a revamp of strategy for the fourth Test at Sabina Park. Holder and Julien played, but more importantly there were the fast men — Holding and a debutant called Wayne Daniel. He went for a bouncer barrage to bring down the formidable batting line-up. He was backed by voracious support from the crowd and indifference from the umpires Ralph Gosein and Douglas Sang Hue.

They came round the wicket and bounced at the Indians. It did not matter whether they dismissed them or hit them as long as they could send them out of their way. Lloyd later commented on the approach: “This is cricket — if you get hit you have to take it!” In his autobiography Sunny Days Gavaskar dedicated an entire chapter to the Test and named it Barbarism in Kingston.

Viswanath had to get his entire arm plastered; Anshuman Gaekwad was so wrapped in bandage that he was barely recognisable; and Patel had three stitches on his upper lip when he edged one from Holder to his mouth for 14. Bedi declared the first innings at 306 for 6; five Indians did not bat in the second innings as the tourists scored 97; and West Indies won by 10 wickets. Patel finished the tour with 207 runs having been dismissed only once.

Subsequent years

Patel scored a stroke-filled 124-ball 82 with 11 fours and 3 sixes in the next Test against New Zealand at Bombay but did little else of note in the series. India took the series 2-0. He was still retained for the series against Tony Greig’s England at home.

England took the series 3-1. Patel scored a dogged 163-ball 56 at Calcutta — India’s only fifty in the Test. The special knock, however, came in the final Test at Bombay where he carted the English attack for a 111-ball 83 with 16 boundaries. Patel finished the series with 286 runs at 28.60. Despite his poor performance he finished only next to Gavaskar’s 394.

In the tour to Australia, Patel failed, playing only 2 Tests at The Gabba and WACA and scoring 46 runs from 4 innings. He never played another Test. Ironically, the next domestic season was his best. He scored 1,029 runs at an average of 73.50 with 6 hundreds. Five of these hundreds came in the Ranji Trophy, a count that equalled Rusi Modi’s in 1944-45. The count has been emulated several times, but has been exceeded only by VVS Laxman, who scored 8 hundreds in 1999-2000.

Patel went to the 1979 tour of England, but failed in the tour matches. He was not selected for any of the Tests. He played all 3 matches in India’s disastrous World Cup campaign, scoring 53 runs as India were knocked out without a single victory.

Back to domestic cricket

Patel played domestic cricket till 1987-88. His form did not wane: in his final two seasons, he scored 611 runs at 87.28 with 2 hundreds and 596 at 74.50 with 3 more. He scored 91 in his final First-Class match in the pre-quarter-final against Bombay as Karnataka were knocked out after a 12-run first-innings deficit.

Post-retirement

Patel became the secretary of KSCA since defeating C Nagaraj in 1999. He retained the post in 2007 by defeating G Kasturi Rangan by a margin of 568 to 475. In 2009, Patel pitched the proposal for KPL for benefit of the district-level cricketers by involving private franchises.

The move was heavily criticised by the likes of Anil Kumble and Javagal Srinath on the grounds that the tournament could have been organised by KSCA with BCCI’s annual grants; they also mentioned that KPL would allow a “backdoor entry” into the KSCA for unwanted people.

Patel was also appointed the director of NCA; he held that post till 2005 when he was replaced by Shivlal Yadav. He also served as the Chairman of the National Selection Committee from October 2002 to September 2003, till he had to resign because of a heart disease and was replaced by Syed Kirmani.

Patel replaced Charu Sharma as the CEO of Royal Challengers Bangalore in May 2008. He currently runs the Brijesh Patel Cricket Academy in Lavelle Road, Bangalore. His son Udit has represented India in Under-19 Tests and ODIs as well as Karnataka and Tripura in Ranji Trophy.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)