The little boy flew to New Zealand from Mumbai when everything was unknown around him. He and his family faced challenges to cope and since then, Ajaz Yunus Patel believed, he can overcome any hindrances in the coming days and it has been a long journey for the Mumbai-born spinner


At stumps on Day 2, Ajaz Yunus Patel would certainly not be delighted after watching the World Test Champions – New Zealand crumbled at Mumbai in response to India’s first innings total. The kiwis were shot out for 62 and the only man not out was Patel at the other end, who, a couple of days back, along with Rachin Ravindra combined in a stunning rearguard to secure a thrilling draw at Kanpur.

The story was different at Mumbai – there would be no sort of resistance from the visitors as Virat Kohli rubbed salt to the wound by not enforcing follow on – allowed the Indian openers to have fun on a day that was historic for Patel and New Zealand.

Before the New Zealand batters dished out a nightmarish batting display, Patel became only the third bowler to pick up all 10 wickets in an innings in international cricket.

Ajaz joined the England off-spinner Jim Laker (vs Australia at Old Trafford in 1956) and the India leg-spinner Anil Kumble (vs Pakistan at New Delhi in 1999) in picking up all wickets in an innings. Ajaz also overtook Richard Hadlee as the bowler with the best figures for New Zealand; Hadlee had taken 9 for 52 against Australia in 1985.

The only other bowler from New Zealand to achieve this feat is Albert Moss, a fast bowler from Canterbury who took all ten against Wellington in 1889.

Patel struck on Day 1 when the India openers – Shubman Gill and Mayank Agarwal were going great guns.

In the 28th over, he lured Gill out of the crease and emphatically beat him in flight, but Tom Blundell, the wicketkeeper, botched a stumping chance. Ajaz, though, found Gill’s outside edge next ball and had him nicking off to Ross Taylor at slip.

At the start of his next over, Ajaz hit Pujara’s pad as New Zealand challenged umpire Anil Choudhary’s on-field not-out decision. The verdict stayed not out, with ball-tracking suggesting that it would have missed leg stump – well, in the next ball, however, Ajaz got the sharp drift and even sharper turn from leg stump to knock back Pujara’s off stump – a peach of a delivery!

In the same over, Kohli stretched far too forward and wore a full ball from Ajaz on his front pad before he nicked it. He had called for a review of the on-field out decision, thinking he had hit it with his bat first, but there wasn’t enough conclusive evidence for Virender Sharma, the TV umpire, to overturn Choudhary’s call.

Patel extracted extra bounce and turn – Shreyas had an uncertain prod at one and ended up inside-edging it onto his thigh pad. The ball lobbed up to Blundell who collected it cleanly.

Ajaz had begun the second day by sending India reeling from 221 for 4 to 224 for 6 in the second over, taking out Wriddhiman Saha and Ravi Ashwin off successive balls.

The Ashwin dismissal came via a peach, beating his forward defensive with drift, dip and turn to hit off-stump.

After lunch, Patel struck again!

He dismissed the dangerously well-set Agarwal to follow the ball with his hands because of the length and the sharp turn to feather a catch behind and Axar Patel was sent to the dressing room after being trapped lbw.

Jayant Yadav’s had planned to have a go at Patel backfired when he holed out to long-off, and the record books had a new addition when Mohammed Siraj’s slog across the line was sliced up in the air for a catch to mid-off.

The ball swirled and hung in the air for a second, a second that seemed a lot longer than it was as history held its breath until Rachin Ravindra’s safe hands closed around it.

A remarkable feat in a venue which is his home town – he was a month old when New Zealand last played a Test in Mumbai and when he arrived in New Zealand, he was an eight years old boy with a lot of dreams in his eyes.

After twenty-five years he returned home that made him nostalgic.

Two days before the start of the second Test, Patel told the reporters, “I was thinking about it when we landed in Mumbai yesterday. It was nice coming out – we have come here with family for holidays [in the past]. It’s a little bit different now, obviously. This time I am with cricket.”

“I have come to the Wankhede for a lot of IPL games, thanks to Mitch McClenaghan. He has been very kind every time I have come here. I have also bowled here a few times, training and stuff like that. It is kind of nostalgic being here. I just have to cope with not being able to see the family. I’m sure I will be making a quick trip back home very frequently whenever that’s possible.”

“I have got various members of the family coming in on different days of the game,” he said.

“I guess it’s the beauty of Test cricket. Everyone can come in on days that they are free.”

“I don’t think about it [playing in front of the family] as pressure, it’s more of excitement. I know we didn’t get off at the airport. I have got a lot of flashbacks – leaving Mumbai for the first time and coming back to Mumbai for the first time, coming to Mumbai for a wedding and stuff like that. For me, it’s going to be a very, very special moment.”

And, what a special moment it was!

“It is obviously quite a special occasion for me and my family,” Patel told Sky Sports.

“It’s pretty surreal. I don’t think you ever believe you can achieve something like this. To be able to do it in my career is pretty special.

“I think, by the grace of God, I am very fortunate that the stars have aligned to have an occasion like this in Mumbai. To be born here and then come back to achieve something like this is pretty special.”

But, surprisingly, Patel had no plans to become a spinner in his early days as a cricketer.

Rather, he was charging in with the new ball for Suburbs New Lynn in Auckland premier club cricket.

He followed the likes of Martin Guptill and Jeet Raval through the Avondale College first XI to the same club and spin bowling was not at all in his plans.

“Initially I was a left-arm seamer and played premiers and Auckland Under-19s as a fast bowler, then I decided that being 5 foot 6 wasn’t quite going to cut it at the next level,” Patel said in an interview with Stuff.

“I had to make a change if I wanted to progress and play higher up.”

It was the former New Zealand offspinner – Dipak Patel – whose influence helped Ajaz to take spin bowling seriously.

“I recall a game at Suburbs where I opened the bowling then ended up coming back and bowling spin. My spin ended up taking more wickets. It was something different and I was apprehensive about whether I’d enjoy bowling spin but I loved it and it took off from there,” Ajaz told Stuff.

Moving to a new country from the subcontinent was a new challenge for him and his family. His father would set up a new business back in New Zealand apart from learning English and facing the daily challenges that made Ajaz feel, he would be able to cope with the challenges in the coming days.

His switching to spin bowling from pace was challenging but he did not give up and kept on working. The exclusion from the New Zealand Under-19 side was a significant blow and getting hit by Guptill at club level acted as a motivating factor. Still, cricket has always been a secondary for his father, who bought him first-ever spike boots – Patel nurtured his dreams and waited for his opportunity.

Ajaz toiled hard with the Central Districts without enough rewards and reorganization in the summer of 2010.

But patience and hard work always have their rewards – Patel made his List A debut in the Ford Trophy of the 2015-16 season. He took the most wickets in the 2015–16 Plunket Shield season, with 43 dismissals. He was also the leading wicket-taker in the following season, with 44 dismissals.

In 2018, for the series against Pakistan in UAE, Ajaz was included in the team among the three spinners.

Ajaz was picked in place of Mitchell Santner who was recovering from a long-term knee injury.

“Ajaz has deserved his inclusion on the sheer weight of his domestic first-class form over the past couple of summers,” selector Gavin Larsen said.

Back then, was named last year’s domestic Player of the Year and was a vital member of the Central Stags team that won their first Plunket Shield title in five years. He took 48 wickets at 21.52 and is among the three frontline spinners in the squad alongside Ish Sodhi and Todd Astle.

Ajaz was gobsmacked at the call from selector Gavin Larsen to say he’d made the 15-man test squad.

So too were his extended family who joined Patel and wife Nilofer, his parents Yunus and Shahnaz, and younger sisters Sanaa and Tanzeel at the family home for dinner that night. Patel reckons at least 30 people were in the room when he rose to speak.

“After dinner, I announced it to the family and it was amazing, the whole house went ballistic, everyone started cheering and applauding. It was a madhouse for a minute and I was worried the neighbours might complain,” he said to Stuff.

“We’re a close-knit family and the amount of support I’ve had… I owe it to all of them and it was nice to share it with them and see how pleased they were.”

“It gives me goosebumps thinking about it. If you told me then I’d be selected for the Black Caps as a spinner I’d say you’d be having a laugh as well. It’s been a whirlwind but it’s been good fun.”

Ajaz would be New Zealand’s fifth Indian-born Test cricketer after Ted Badcock, Tom Puna, Ish Sodhi and Jeet Raval.

Patel credited Stags coach Heinrich Malan for questioning his gameplan and tactics and said the key to his rise was keeping it simple, bowling a huge number of overs and gaining confidence in his own game.

“When you bowl so many overs you tend to learn on the job. That’s where my biggest improvements have come, figuring out what my game is and how I’m looking to dismiss different individuals. And thinking on your feet and being able to work out a few different plans. It’s a good time to get this opportunity and I’m in a good space for it.”

The Mumbai-born spinner wasted no time in making an impact.

In the first test at Abu Dhabi, Ajaz bagged five wickets including the final scalp of a resolute Ali to take New Zealand over the line by four runs.

It would be an understatement to say the Test was an epic, Pakistan losing four wickets after lunch in a manic period of play to slip from 147 for 4 to 155 for 8, which became 164 for 9 not long after.

Ali and Mohammad Abbas then added 16 runs to get within one hit of sealing victory, but Patel struck the decisive blow, trapping Ali for 65.

In 2019, Ajaz would feature for Yorkshire and almost a decade ago arrived at Cranleigh Cricket Club in Surrey as a young cricketer in transition.

Rob Johnston wrote, “For Patel, summer in England playing as much cricket as possible for Cranleigh was the ideal way of grooming his new action. For the five months before, he had spent hour after hour with former New Zealand spinner Dipak Patel standing at the crease, without a run-up, and bowling the ball, trying to build a spinner’s action from scratch. It was boring work, but essential. Even now you can perhaps see the influence of those sessions in the way Patel barely follows through, ending up behind the popping crease.”

“Matt Crump was the Cranleigh first team captain during Patel’s first summer with the club and his initial impressions were that the 18-year-old spun the ball big, had a natural dip and ‘tried to give it a fizz every single delivery’ but that, unsurprisingly, he lacked control.

“When he bowled well, he was superb and would literally clean up,” Crump said to Rob.

“He just lacked some game awareness and how to work batsmen out. He just tried to bowl the same ball all the time, the magic ball.”

“Despite Patel’s new-found role, there was one game where the club needed him to return to bowling seam,” wrote Rob.

“We had a couple of players missing so we needed Ajaz to open the bowling. He bowled five overs with the new ball, had a break and then came back on to bowl spin. He got a five-for in that game.”

Rob wrote, “The 2019 summer following his Test debut in Abu Dhabi, Patel was back at Cranleigh for another season of club cricket. He wanted to be playing ahead of the tour to Sri Lanka in August of that year. During his first stint at the club, Patel was like so many young overseas cricketers, talented, hoping to make a career out of the game but unsure if he would cut it. When he returned, he was a hardened first-class and Test cricketer. The difference was like day and night.”

“He was so professional nine years later,” Crump says.

“He was very disciplined with diet, how he approached things like stretching. It had a massive impact on everyone else because everyone sees that and goes ‘Wow if he’s doing that, why aren’t we?”

Patel took 56 wickets in 13 matches that season at the remarkable average of 8.43 and his performances helped the club achieve promotion.

“The control he had and the tactical side of things, he just knew how he wanted to get players out,” Crump adds.

“We had a rain-affected game at Valley End. We were chasing promotions and had to bowl them out. He got seven-for and bowled one of the best 12 over spells I have ever seen at club cricket level. We bowled them out in the second to last over.”

“He was absolutely brilliant off the field too. If you wrote down what you want an overseas player to be, he would be exactly what every club would need. He was professional, turned up on time, and did all the junior coaching. All the juniors loved him. He would do spinning classes with them. I just couldn’t speak higher of him.”

He knows, as a spinner from New Zeland, he would receive limited opportunities and thus his target has always been to utilize most of them as he said in an interview, “As a spinner, you thrive on situations where you have an opportunity to contribute to the team and contribute to the environment, especially as a New Zealand spinner, knowing how few opportunities we get.”

“I try not to put any [added] pressure on myself. I still just try to enjoy my cricket and you know obviously faith is a big factor for me, which allows me to stay grounded and back my abilities and be comfortable with whatever’s thrown towards me. So, I mean, I just make sure I’m still working hard and developing my game and continue to grow so that when the opportunity does come, I try and make the most of it.”

Since his Test debut, he has been all about impact – Patel grabbed 5 for 59 on debut, as New Zealand successfully defended 175 in Abu Dhabi for one of their most memorable Test victories. Then, he went Patel went wicketless in the Wellington and Christchurch Tests against Sri Lanka. His specialist left-arm fingerspin was later needed in Sri Lanka, where New Zealand launched a remarkable comeback to level the series 1-1 with Patel bagging a five-wicket haul in Galle.

Although Patel was not picked for the Australia tour, and then went wicketless at Basin Reserve against India, he was rewarded with a first central contract by mid-2020, with New Zealand leaning towards a spin overhaul. Patel’s accuracy and versatility were valued over Santner’s batting and more defensive left-arm fingerspin.

After having proven his fitness and form in the domestic competitions, Patel worked his way back into New Zealand’s enlarged squad for the England tour, with the World Test Championship final against India thrown in.

In the Test series against England, Sixteen of the 20 wickets they took were shared between Boult, Henry and Ajaz Patel. For all the success of their seam attack, Patel returned match figures of 4 for 59 in 23 overs.

After the series win against England, came the glory against India in the World Test Championship Final.

And, right now, Patel is relishing the moment in Mumbai despite a bittersweet Day 2.


The late bloomer has still a lot to offer for New Zealand.

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