Het Patel taking one step at a time to fulfill father's dream

The Gujarat wicketkeeper-batter will take field for West Zone in the Duleep Trophy semifinal on Tuesday
Trying to focus on what I have to do...: Het Patel.
Trying to focus on what I have to do...: Het Patel.
CHENNAI: It was the 2022 Duleep Trophy final between South Zone and West Zone at Coimbatore. On a surface that had some extra bounce, South Zone pacers had run through West top-order before spinner R Sai Kishore took command. Up against Shreyas Iyer and Sarfaraz Khan, the Tamil Nadu left-arm spinner, showed his class, dismissing Shreyas.  In came, Gujarat wicketkeeper-batter Het Patel.
Even as he was trying to settle in, Sai Kishore showed his class, reducing West from 99/4 to 167/8. However, the one person who remained uncluttered through all this was Het. With experienced Jaydev Unadkat for company, he would go on to lift West Zone to 270. Although he would miss his century by four runs, Het had made a mark. Had it not been his knock, West would not have secured the title.
A year on, nothing much has changed for Het as he is set to take the field for West Zone in the Duleep Trophy semifinal against Central Zone on Wednesday at Alur. If anything, with Rishabh Pant's injury, the role of wicketkeeper-batter has become the talking point, especially in red-ball cricket. If there was ever a situation to make the most for the keepers in the domestic circuit, this is the season. However, Het is not thinking about all that at the moment. "I am trying to focus on what I have to do and improve to contribute to the team. The rest will happen accordingly," Het tells this daily.
One look at his first-class numbers — 945 runs in 22 innings with an average of 45 — it might not be something that turns heads. But there is more to him. For someone who started out as a medium-pacer, Het took up the gloves when he was 12 after realising that he might not be tall enough to make an impact as a pacer, and has grown from strength to strength since. He was a part of the India U19 Asia Cup side in 2016-17, playing alongside the likes of Shubman Gill and Prithvi Shaw; made his list-A debut for Gujarat in the same season under Parthiv Patel.
In red-ball, however, he had to bide his time. With Parthiv leading the state and donning the gloves till 2019-20, Het was waiting for his opportunity. Through those formative years, the veteran India keeper had taken Het under his wing. "When he used to play, we used to keep and train together. He used to give me tips and asked me to train with him during the season, we used to practice match situations and so on. I was learning from outside. He asked me to be patient and learn. 'For keepers, there is only one spot and that my time will come. It will happen'," Het recalls.
And when the chance came after the pandemic in 2022, the right-hander grabbed it with both hands. He amassed 429 runs for Gujarat in three Ranji games that year, and followed it up with a stellar show in Duleep Trophy. While he was not able to build on the momentum in last year's Ranji Trophy, Het is aware of the significance of contributing with the bat as a keeper. "In this day and age, batting is very important. It will be difficult to sustain without it. You have to work on both your batting and keeping equally. I train with the coaches at the Gujarat association and after a season, you look at what mistakes you made and work accordingly to improve the same."
The effort that goes into his batting comes as no surprise, for it was his father Jignesh Patel who put a bat in his hand as early as when he was three. "At that time, there were no pads for my size, but he used to stitch them for me and always made me have a bat in hand. I eventually fell in love with the sport as well. It is his dream for me to become a cricketer. That is what he has spoken about from day one. We used to practice at home, we still do whenever he gets time away from his business. Whatever I am today is because of him," says Het.

While he reiterates on sticking to the process and focusing on everyday improvement, there is a dream inside him too, to play at the highest level and represent the country. And he is moving towards that, one step at a time.

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