To be brutally frank about it, if English cricketers were lined up for an identity parade with bags over their heads, picking out Samit Patel would still be a cinch. He is the stocky one with the slight curve around the tummy area.
This is to say that Patel is changing but is not yet fully changed. The boy who once ate all the pies now leaves a couple on the plate. Patel, once dropped by England for being too fat and not fit enough, was restored to the ranks last summer and has learned the error of his ways. Though it has not quite entirely filtered through to the parts that show.
"I've lost a bit of weight and attitude-wise training is the big one for the ECB and England, the willingness to do the work," Patel said yesterday after England's first training session on their one-day tour of India. "They always kept me in the loop and told me what to do. You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink."
Had Patel been different in his approach, had he shown just a smidgeon of application in the early days, he might have made a bigger impression by now. It was clear that England had one-day plans for him as long ago as 2008 and equally clear pretty soon after that that he was failing to meet their requirements.
When Andy Flower took over as the team coach, he made it clear and to demonstrate that he meant business he was adamant that Patel had to go. The failure to respond meant that he was overlooked for the World Cup earlier this year. Something must eventually have clicked.
"The fact that I should have been there at the World Cup was so disappointing, but I can't blame anyone else but myself," said Patel. "To be willing to do the work and show the attitude to do it was a big thing for me and hopefully I've overcome that now. Not fully yet – it doesn't change overnight, there is a long way to go."
Flower always insisted that he did not expect Patel to be the leanest and the fittest, simply not doing as he pleased, whether eating as he fancied or treating the gym as though it had vampiric qualities. Last winter Patel twice went to Australia, once paying for himself. He played no cricket on the second visit, merely kick-boxed.
From many perspectives, especially side on at times, it looks as though Patel has done just enough to satisfy the tape measure and the bleep tests so beloved of the modern cricketer.
In all respects he is definitely a work in progress. His bowling has sometimes looked short of international quality and he will have to show more nous in the next four weeks than in India in late 2008 when India's batsmen had him for breakfast of the kind Patel used to like to eat.
But at 26 he clearly has a feel for the game and though he was apprehensive and perhaps too anxious to please when first recalled he has atoned. The manner in which he calmly hit three successive fours to secure victory in an extremely tight Twenty20 international at Old Trafford against the Indians in August showed the right stuff.
It is recognised, though as yet unspoken, that this limited-overs trip is also an audition for the second spinner's spot alongside Graeme Swann for the tour of the UAE against Pakistan in the new year.
"It would be an absolute dream to play Test cricket," Patel said. "Hopefully, I'm making the right strides to do that." Finally, he is.Reuse content