Ajaz Patel: One Of The Most Reliable New Zealand Cricketers

Ajaz Patel is one of the most reliable cricketers on the New Zealand horizon. The 35-year-old Ajaz, who was born in Mumbai, has shown that he is one of the best Kiwi slow-arm bowlers in the Test formats. He has the unique record of being only the third bowler in the history of the game to take all ten wickets in a Test match.

Ajaz, whose father, Arif, had a refrigeration business in Mumbai, decided to leave for New Zealand when his son was a mere six years old. Despite being so young, Ajaz had a special connection with Mumbai. “I always loved Mumbai, and despite leaving the city when I was small, I managed to retain some friends. I am in active touch with them even today,” said Ajaz.

Ajaz, whose mother is a schoolteacher, said he learned the virtues of discipline and hard work from his parents. My parents were average middle-class, hard-working people. They inculcated in me the need to work hard and have a balanced approach to life,” he said.

Interestingly, Ajaz was not initially interested in cricket. He had a penchant for badminton and other racket sports. But it all changed when a chance to play an afternoon of cricket with his uncle Sayeed Patel led Ajaz to have a deeper appreciation and love for cricket. “That afternoon session of family cricket led me to have a deeper connection to the game. I found that cricket was unique to other sports,” he said.

Thereafter, it was his uncle Sayeed who helped him go through the initial paces and also put him at the famous New Lynn’s Club in Auckland. “The stint at Lynn’s was the stepping stone to my growth as a professional cricketer. It was very competitive, and I knew that I had to work very hard in order to become a pro cricketer,” Ajaz said.

From the beginning, Ajaz admired and eulogised Sachin Tendulkar. He was watching Sachin more and more on TV and was hooked on the Little Master’s approach to batting. Aussie legendary spinner Shane Warne was another cricketer he admired a lot.

Initially, Ajaz started his career as a fast bowler. Despite his 5-foot-6 frame, he was able to generate pace. But after some initial success, he was struggling, and a chance meeting with New Zealand spinner Dipak Patel proved to be a lifechanger.

In fact, Ajaz was going through a tough phase. He had failed to make the cut for the New Zealand under-19 squad and was crestfallen. “I was going through a tough period and feeling low after failing to make the under-19 team. There were clouds of doubt forming in my mind about my career in cricket,” said Ajaz.

His chance meeting with Dipak proved to be the turning point of his career. Ajaz said Dipak gave him a pep talk and also convinced him to change from a fast bowler to a spinner.

“Dipak Patel has been one of New Zealand’s best spinners to date. He has been like an elder brother, always giving me tips on how to improve. He happened to ask me to bowl slow balls during a net session and was pleased with my flight. Although there was no turn at all, Dipak was not at all bothered by it. He gave me some very valuable tips on how to spin the ball—something that I incorporated,” he said. 

But the transition from pace to spin was not an easy one. ‘Spin bowling requires a totally different mindset and set of skills from fast bowling. While bowling slowly, one has to be very careful about line and length. I had to sort of go back to the drawing board,” he said.

Slowly but surely. Ajaz worked the paces and began to make a dent with his slow turners. His performances went from strength to strength as he began to script success with his turners.
The high rate at which he was gaining success as a spin bowler was something that left Ajaz surprised. ‘Frankly, I had not expected to get this sort of success so early. I had been focused on excelling as a spinner and had also put in a lot of hard work. But this sort of quick success that I got is something that I didn’t expect,” he added.

Ajaz’s cherished moment finally arrived when he was chosen to represent New Zealand in the 2018 series against Pakistan. “I was 29—not exactly a bubbling youngster. I thought I should get my break to play Test cricket a couple of years earlier. But then I am not complaining,” he said.
He made his Test debut a very memorable one. He claimed five Pakistani wickets in the second innings—something that very few bowlers do in their debut match. “I was over the moon when I claimed the five wickets; I never expected to have a fiver in my very first Test. It was beyond words,” he said.

His success on his debut made Ajaz egg himself on to work harder and look out for bigger challenges. 

And soon enough, his moment of crowning glory arrived. Ajaz was super excited when he was named in the New Zealand squad to tour India for two Tests in 2021. In the first Test, Ajaz took three wickets in both innings.

In the second Test at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai, Ajaz made history by taking all ten Indian wickets in the first innings. “To do the unthinkable, and that too at my favourite Wankhede, was something that will be etched in my memory for ever. I can still recall each and every delivery that I bowled to get my wickets. I still envisage taking the wickets of Cheteswar Pujara and Virat Kohli for ducks. Its something of a dream, and I relive it very now and then,” said Ajaz.

Chacko Saji

With nearly two decades of experience in sports journalism, Saji Chacko is one of the few English media journalists who has had a chequered career across the three main media platforms i.e. print, television and digital. He has done a lot of human interest sports stories and is currently working on the biography of a famous sportsperson.

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