Monday, November 16, 2009

Samit Patel embarks on fitness regime in quest for recall to England team

For those cricketers left behind this autumn by England, a long winter is stretching out in front of them and, in the case of Samit Patel, the road ahead appears steeper than most. Some will be tinkering with their techniques, but, for Patel, unceremoniously dumped by England because of his poor fitness record, the winter’s challenge is slightly different.

“I’ve got to come back with a totally different body shape,” he said. “I want to look like a different cricketer next season. People are going to judge me on how I look. It’s not a nice way to be judged, but it’s about time I put in some hard graft in the gym. It’s got to be done.” This time last year, Patel was playing for England in their one-day series in India, having made himself an integral part of the side during the preceding 4-0 series win at home to South Africa.

A clean-striking middle-order batsman and tidy left-arm spinner, he seemed to be on the path towards fulfilling his considerable potential.

Then, in March, after playing 11 consecutive one-day internationals, he was deselected from the one-day squad to tour West Indies because of his fitness, or lack of it. Kevin Pietersen described him as “unfit, fat and lazy”. Two months later, he was rebuked again when an exasperated Geoff Miller, the national selector, said that there had been no improvement in his fitness levels.

It was a very public humiliation and one that, inevitably, took its toll for the rest of the 2009 season. Having averaged more than fifty in first-class cricket in each of the previous three seasons, his average dropped to 31.57 last summer, with no centuries.

“It did affect his game, there was quite a bit of turmoil in his head,” Mick Newell, the Nottinghamshire director of cricket, said. “He was feeling angry towards a lot of people, instead of directing that towards himself. Now he’s just got to knuckle down and do some things he’d rather not be doing on cold, dark days in the middle of winter.”

The anger has not completely subsided. Patel, 25 later this month, remains frustrated at the way the ECB communicated with him and at the public nature of his dressing-down. There has been no contact with the England management for some time, but later this week he is to meet Hugh Morris, the managing director, to discuss his future. Patel will tell Morris that he wants to be part of the proposed England Lions tour to play Pakistan in Dubai early next year.

“The communication from the ECB wasn’t good, but I don’t want to get into the nitty-gritty of that,” he said. “It hurt, but I can’t blame anyone but myself. I’m going to come back strongly and prove a few people wrong.” This process began three weeks ago with the start of his fitness programme, involving two sessions per day, one with his team-mates and another on his own. He was the first of Nottinghamshire’s players to return to training and Patel himself believes that the penny has finally dropped.

“I probably have to do more fitness work than most with my body shape, but I haven’t done that in the past,” he said. “I’d try to sack it off, do short sessions and cheat here and there. I could hide behind my cricket skills, but I can’t do that any more. Now I’m getting to a different level on the treadmill and thinking, ‘I wouldn’t have done this before.’ It’s a big part of my life now. I watch [Nottingham] Forest, see the missus and go to the gym, that’s about it.”

Discipline with his diet has also been a problem as he puts on weight easily. Still living with his parents, he has stopped eating rice in the evening and is strictly rationing his snacks. “Crisps have been my downfall,” he says. Which types? “Walkers.” Which flavour? “Any, to be honest. I’ve said that I’m allowed two packets a week now and I’m going to stick to that.” Has he felt more self-conscious about his appearance in the past year? “Yes, definitely,” he said. “When we’re on TV, people make comments and it’s not nice. I want people to look at me in a different way and talk about my cricket.”

The barbs do not, however, appear to have affected his self-belief. “It hurts not to be involved in South Africa at the moment and the Lions has to be my way back in,” he said. “If I’m not one of the 15 best cricketers in England after the senior team, then I think there’s something wrong. I don’t think they want to pick me, but I’m desperate to be part of it again.”

Punishing schedule

Kevin Paxton, the Nottinghamshire strength and conditioning coach, says: “Up to Christmas, we’ll be concentrating on getting Samit’s weight down. After Christmas, he’ll have shorter, sharper sessions.” A typical day might involve:

Morning (9am): Cardio session (treadmill, exercise bike or cross-trainer), plus core strengthening exercises (sit-ups, Swiss ball, plank and bridge exercises).

Afternoon (3pm): circuit training with team-mates, working on speed, agility and footwork.

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