Has England all-rounder Samit Patel finally won his fitness battle?
All-rounder Samit Patel is in England 's Test squad for their tour of Sri Lanka but has he finally won his battle to get into shape?
The surprise call-up of Samit Patel to the England Test squad to face Sri Lanka has led many to wonder if the spinner is – at last – winning over his critics.
A first-time Test selection for Patel marks a significant step in his career but raises a host of questions too.
In 2009, a 24-year-old Patel, was memorably dropped from the limited-overs squads for the West Indies tour due to concerns over his weight and lack of fitness.
Kevin Pietersen, during his short-lived reign as England captain, described Patel as “unfit, fat and lazy”.
Hugh Morris, England Cricket’s managing director said in a rather more polite assessment: “Samit Patel is a talented cricketer but he, like every other player who joins the senior England team, must be aware of the strict fitness criteria.”
Since being recalled to England’s one-day international and Twenty20 squads last summer, the Nottinghamshire all-rounder has gone from strength to strength – and he was rewarded with an ECB incremental contract after playing nine one-day internationals since the start of last season.
He has carved out a vital supporting role in the one-day game, which England have not had since another slightly round all-rounder, Andrew Flintoff.
Coming in at number seven, Patel has proven an adaptable asset.
With the ball, he has sometimes shown more guile than the side’s leading spinner Graeme Swann – particularly to Pakistan’s right-handers – against whom all his wickets were taken in the ODI series.
But despite his Test call-up, question marks remain over his fitness.
Despite being told to lose weight, and being prompted to do so by a two-year international exile, he still looks out of place amongst his slimmer team-mates.
It was only last November that Andy Flower was quoted as saying that he did not believe Patel had won his fitness battle.
“No, he hasn’t cracked it. He hasn’t properly addressed his fitness issues. He has, however, improved. We do specific fitness tests on everyone and monitor their speed, strength and stamina test results. Some of the tests are based on body fat percentages,” the England coach said.
Patel looks trimmer than in the past, and Flower conceded recently that he is “inching towards” better fitness, and the 27-year-old has no doubts about his own ability to succeed as an all-rounder in all forms of cricket.
He was one of the few successes on England’s ODI tour of India, and it would have been easy for him to accept an offer from the Indian Premier League.
It was reported that his representatives were in talks with several IPL franchises after some solid performances against India in their own backyard, including a sparkling 70 off 43 balls in Mohali – Patel’s highest ODI score.
Yet, Patel decided to continue to strive for his ultimate goal – to play Test cricket – and withdrew from the IPL auction.
“My biggest ambition is to play Test cricket and I need to score a high volume of runs in the Championship to push my case,” said Patel before his Test inclusion on Tuesday.
“If I was selected for the IPL then I would miss several Championship matches and that won’t help me at a time when I need to do everything I can to impress the selectors.”
Without doubt his inclusion into the 16-man squad heralds something of a remarkable turnaround for the man who has battled with fitness issues throughout his career.
And Patel will go to Sri Lanka vying for the number six spot with Ravi Bopara, hoping that for once supporters focus on what he does on the pitch rather than what he eats off it.