Patel near the end of pilgrimage to Lord's

England's latest left-arm spinner had to wait a long time to get his first taste of Test cricket. Now he is desperate for more. Adam Szreter talked to him
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At 10.30 on Monday morning, Min Patel is scoffing biscuits at Canterbury like there's not only no tomorrow but not much left of today. Everything is happening for him at the moment, and he is one hungry cricketer.

A fortnight ago, he made his Test debut at Edgbaston for England against India, the country of his birth. Tomorrow, it's Lord's. On Monday, it was Middlesex at the St Lawrence ground and Patel's left arm was ready for a long bowl. In the event, however, Middlesex forced a draw and he drove off in his brand new Renault Laguna, doubtless dreaming about bowling Sachin Tendulkar, first ball, neck and crop.

He is only 25 years old , but it has been a long wait for Minal Patel. After making his first-class debut for Kent when he was 18 and still at Dartford Grammar School, his career has already been interrupted enough times for a less determined mind to wander. First of all, he went to Manchester for three years to gain an economics degree. Then, when he returned, he injured his right knee so badly he was restricted to just a handful of matches in 1993.

The following year was his real breakthrough. He finished as leading wicket-taker in the country, with 90 first-class wickets, and was on the verge of a call-up to the England squad on more than one occasion.

Interestingly, in the light of Raymond Illingworth's comments at the weekend about England needing to select players at 22 or 23, Patel was overlooked. Despite his record, there was a belief that his bowling was slightly too negative and Yorkshire's Richard Stemp was preferred.

Patel was chosen instead for that winter's A tour to India and Bangladesh. His international career finally seemed to have started, but after an indifferent season last year, he was omitted from the winter's A tour to Pakistan. Now, though, he has finally tasted the real thing.

"It was fantastic," he said. "The atmosphere was incredible. You always dream about it, then when you're actually out there ... It wasn't an anti- climax at all. It lived up to everything I expected. Playing in front of a big crowd every day, with TV cameras and everything. The first one went very quickly for me - it seemed to start and finish so fast - but I enjoyed every moment of it."

He did have one reservation: being asked to field at short leg. "I can't say I was too keen on it, but someone had to do it. The two other new guys [Alan Mullally and Ronnie Irani] were both tall fast bowlers, so they felt that the little short-arse spinner might be the best man to put in there. So there I was."

Patel was born in Bombay and lived there until he was five, when his father decided to move to England. "We came, the whole family, lock, stock and barrel. Me and my brothers. My father just felt that we would benefit from a Western education, particularly an English education. We initially went to Essex and lived in Ilford for a year, then we settled around the Dartford area, where we've been for about 20 years now.

"I've been back to India on holiday a couple of times, mainly to Bombay, but the A tour there was a real eye-opener. We got to see a lot of the country, all sides of it. I loved the tour. It was great from the cricket point of view, and from the learning about India point of view.

"The guys got on fantastically well, the management was superb. We had Embers [John Emburey] out there, Phil Neale was the manager, John Barclay was the tour manager. That's been my only England tour so far, but if that was anything to go by they should all be brilliant because the atmosphere and the team spirit were fantastic - pretty much like the first Test at Edgbaston, really. Just a really good vibe in the dressing-room, a really good buzz.

"It was disappointing not to get on last winter's A tour, but the selectors obviously had their reasons. I personally felt I didn't do myself justice last season, so if I haven't done myself justice, I can't expect to go on tour. Simple as that. This season, hopefully, I can put things right."

Like all good craftsmen, Patel strives for perfection, works hard at his technique and welcomes constructive criticism. Perhaps mindful of bowling too negatively, he found last season that he had gone a little too far the other way.

"I spoke to Embers midway through last year, and he said I was bowling a bit slower than I had the year before, probably because you could get away with that in India, where the wickets are more helpful. So I came back and bowled a better pace in the last half of the season. It wasn't a radical change of action or anything, just changing my pace a little." Patel, as you might expect, has thought deeply about his craft, and - as opposed to the black-and-white images so beloved of the critics - can see the full spectrum. Negative and positive; over the wicket and round the wicket; fast and slow; leg stump and into the rough.

"It depends on what wickets you're playing on, where you're playing and who you're playing against. Everything comes into consideration," he said. "On turning wickets against players who don't play spin very well, obviously you can get away with bowling a lot slower and teasing them out. Good players use their feet, and on flat wickets you still have to use a little bit of flight and you've also got to have a good change of pace, I think. You just want to keep them guessing as much as anything else.

"The worrying thing from a finger-spinner's point of view is that all the leading spinners in the world at the moment seem to be wrist spinners: Shane Warne, Anil Kumble, Mushtaq Ahmed. A wrist-spinner will generally tend to turn the ball more than a finger-spinner, whereas a finger-spinner arguably has more control. But there aren't very many leading finger-spinners in world cricket at the moment, which is a shame. Obviously, with all these top-class leg-spinners, you are going to get lots of kids trying to bowl leg-spin, which is fantastic for the art of spinning, but hopefully it won't make the job of the finger-spinner redundant."

There is a chance that Patel will be redundant at Lord's and that England might opt for an all-seam attack, but he is optimistic that he will at least make the final XI.

"Obviously, we'll have to wait till we get down there and look at the track. At Edgbaston, everyone had anticipated an all-seam attack, but the pitch looked like it was going to wear. In the event, it didn't and I was largely redundant as a bowler. But in county cricket, whenever I've played at Lord's it's always been helpful in the latter stages of the match. If I can win a Test match at Lord's it will be an incredible feeling."

If an England spinner were to win a Test match anywhere, it would be an incredible feeling for everyone.

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