When Parthiv Patel made his Test debut against England at Nottingham back in 2002, it took many by surprise. After all, he was just 17, and while players at that young age had made Tests debuts before, the fact was that Parthiv hadn't even played a first-class game when he was handpicked, and put among the big men. Even Sachin Tendulkar had slammed hundreds in domestic cricket before being blooded into the international team at 16. While some experts termed it as a bold move, others opined it could backfire. While the decision remains open to interpretation, the fact is that Parthiv has played only 20 Tests and 38 ODIs since his debut 14 years back.
It was a tough initiation into Test cricket for the baby-faced cricketer, who still hasn't lost much of that charm after all these years. Parthiv was dismissed for a duck in his very first Test innings. But, in the second innings, he batted for more than an hour to help India save the game from a tricky position. It was early sign of his promise. The sight of Alec Stewart playfully patting Parthiv at the end of the innings remains one of the cutest sight on the cricket field till date. At that, India had just lost Nayan Mongia to a combination of poor form, injuries and match-fixing allegations. Parthiv was expected to be the new kid on the block, but it wasn't to be.
In hindsight, the fact that Parthiv had not played any first-class cricket before making his international entry definitely hurt him. He proved to be raw with both bat and ball. The think-tank persisted with him for a couple of seasons, but he was eventually discarded and sent back to find his way in domestic cricket. At the same time, a man named Mahendra Singh Dhoni jumped into the limelight. His game seemed best suited for the shorter formats, but Dhoni adapted himself well to fit into the scheme of things in the longer format as well. The fact that he ended up playing 90 Tests, and leading in a number of them, meant Parthiv was pretty much confined to the sidelines.
In the aftermath of the Dhoni wave, Parthiv only played when the Indian skipper was either injured or rested. Even here, he faced competition from the likes of Dinesh Karthik and Ajay Ratra. As a result, he hasn't featured in a single Test, since one against Sri Lanka in August 2008, more than eight years ago. He briefly sparkled on his comeback to the one-day team in 2011, making back-to-back fifties. There was even a 95 to prove his mettle as India tried him out as an opening option. The experiment however was short-lived, as Parthiv failed to maintain his consistency in the games that followed. As a result, he hasn't featured in any international match since 2011.
When he was dropped five years back, Parthiv's career effectively seemed over. But, you never know how and when luck shines on you, just as it did with Gautam Gambhir out of the blue. And so, at 31, still looking like a 17-year-old, Parthiv will take the gloves for India, and step out in whites when the third Test gets underway. Gambhir blew his golden opportunity and has been possibly axed for the last time. With Wriddhiman Saha having established himself as the frontline Test keeper, Parthiv's chances too could be few and far between. He has to make sure he makes the opportunity count, for you never know when the next one will come.
--By A Cricket Analyst