By Mark Baldwin
For Surrey’s Ryan Patel, and many other professional cricketers around the country, the Royal London Cup is already proving to be the right competition at exactly the right time.
Patel’s memorable 131 off 70 balls against Nottinghamshire at Guildford was a truly explosive innings which lit the touch paper not just for his county’s eventual 33-run Group 1 win on Tuesday in front of a rapt 3,000 Woodbridge Road crowd but also – potentially – re-booted his own career.
The 23-year-old batting all-rounder was also still in a state of wonderment afterwards about the spooky but very special relationship he seems to have with Guildford Cricket Club’s compact but well-appointed ground.
It was there back in 2018, his second county season, that Patel made national headlines by taking 6 for 5 with his medium-paced swingers against Somerset, including a burst of five wickets in 11 balls. Somerset were the County Championship leaders at the time, and then in 2019 he made 63 and 27 against them also in a championship fixture at Woodbridge Road.
“I’ve only played now three times here at Guildford for Surrey,” Patel said. “And, other than that, only a few games at club level. So it’s not as if I’ve played loads here before and have some sort of affinity with it. I just don’t know why it’s been such an incredible ground for me, but long may it continue.”
Patel was on 2 not out when, at 29 for 1 after eight overs, the Surrey innings was interrupted by heavy rainfall. At one stage, in early afternoon, it seemed as if the match itself would fall foul of the bad weather but then the skies cleared, sunshine appeared and play was able to re-start more than three hours later at 2.45pm.
Initially, Patel and opener Mark Stoneman looked to play reasonably carefully – as if assessing conditions for what was now a 30 overs per side contest. But, suddenly, it was if Patel decided that all-out attack was the only option on what was clearly a fine batting pitch.
From the first 27 deliveries he had faced, Patel scored 16. From his next 43 balls he hit 115. There were 10 sixes and seven fours in a spectacular assault and it was well-judged too: Surrey’s 311 for 8 was spiritedly challenged by Notts, who themselves ran up 266 for 7 in reply on a day of 31 sixes (23 of them Surrey’s).
“With Rikki Clarke coming in for Ben Geddes, from our first Royal London match up at Yorkshire, I was promoted up to No3 from No5 and it was nice to get the chance to bat at the top of the order,” Patel added.
“I decided to chance my arm a bit when the match resumed and thankfully it came off. It was also nice to see myself hitting sixes like that. It’s all very well doing it in the nets, but you want to know you can also do it in match situations.”
Patel, who has played 29 first-class games, seven T20s and now five List A games in his early Surrey career, had hit a total of just five sixes in all those previous appearances. He had also scored only 66 runs in 11 previous white-ball matches.
But the former England Under-19 player, four years on from his Surrey debut, can now use this innings to kick on strongly. With Surrey winning both their opening two Royal London group games – after beating Yorkshire last Thursday – Patel is surely in line for an extended opportunity at No3 and said: “It will be nice hopefully to get that chance in full 50-over matches in the next couple of weeks.”
Widespread player absentees from county squads – either due to Hundred or England Test call-ups – have provided a golden opportunity for the likes of Patel. On this week’s evidence, he for one is determined to grab it.