THERE is no nicer story in connection with the return of County Championship cricket to York next summer than the fact that Jeetan Patel, the captain of opponents Warwickshire, played for the Clifton Park club in 2003.
Patel, the New Zealand off-spin bowler, was York’s overseas player that season, helping them to third place in the Yorkshire Premier League along with fellow spinner Dan Broadbent, who represented England Under-19s alongside the likes of Yorkshire first-team coach Andrew Gale and former England all-rounder Tim Bresnan.
Patel was 23 years old then, around two years short of beginning an international career that brought him 130 wickets in all formats.
He is relishing the prospect of returning to Yorkshire’s capital city, where the White Rose entertain Warwickshire from June 17 and where Yorkshire have only once previously played a first-class game – at the now defunct Wigginton Road ground in the first official year of Championship cricket in 1890.
Speaking to The Yorkshire Post from his home in Wellington, for whom he is currently playing in New Zealand’s first-class competition, the Plunket Shield, Patel said: “As soon as I saw it on the fixture list, I was definitely excited at the thought of going back.
“It’s a long time ago now, but I’ve still got some good memories from living up there and playing for York CC.
“I love York – I think it’s a great city, a great part of the country, to be fair, with the Minster and the walls and the cobbled streets.
“I also worked on the ground there and helped to look after the rugby fields as well as roll the wicket and prepare for the Saturdays.
“It was just one of those opportunities that comes along – someone was looking for a player, I was available, and, at 23, I thought, ‘Why not?’
“I was a young guy, and it was nice to go and explore. I hadn’t really spent much time out of home, and I just thought it was a good chance to get away and go and see what the world had (to offer).
Although it’s nice to have contributed against them over the years, we don’t always come out on top against Yorkshire, that’s for sure.Jeetan Patel
“There were a great bunch of lads that looked after me, and I still keep in contact with the guys I played with. It’s just nice to know that Warwickshire will be going there, and hopefully we can tip them (Yorkshire) up on my former home ground.”
If there is any “tipping up” to be done by Warwickshire, then there is a fair chance that Patel will be doing it.
The 38-year-old has been a thorn in Yorkshire’s side for almost a decade; he scored a hundred on his Warwickshire first-class debut against them in 2009 and has not looked back since.
Patel hit what remains his career-best score of 120 in that match at Edgbaston, a remarkable effort from the No 10 position, eclipsing his previous highest score of 58.
He also shared in what remains a record ninth-wicket partnership for Warwickshire – and a record ninth-wicket stand against Yorkshire – of 233 with Jonathan Trott, who scored 161 not out to help the hosts avoid the follow-on in a drawn encounter.
“I was over there to bowl off-spin and ended up scoring a hundred in my first game,” laughed Patel.
“So, look, a little bit of a fluke, I suppose, but you take the milestones when you can get them.”
Another one followed in 2017, when Patel scored 100 exactly from the No 8 position against Yorkshire at Headingley, a match in which he also returned figures of 6-50, a performance that did not deserve to see him finish on the losing side.
His only other career hundred was an innings of 105 against Middlesex at Edgbaston in 2014, while he also claimed a T20 hat-trick against Yorkshire at Headingley in 2014, removing fellow countryman Kane Williamson, Andrew Gale and Adam Lyth.
“I suppose with the hat-trick there’s obviously a lot of luck involved with that,” said Patel, downplaying his achievement. Like Williamson, he is an engagingly modest and humble character.
The bottom line, however, as York looks forward to a match made possible by the fact that Headingley is needed to stage World Cup games, is that Patel seems to enjoy playing against Yorkshire. If anything, it is their own ability and cricketing ethos that seems to bring out the best in him.
“Yorkshire play a really tough brand of cricket,” said Patel, who has taken 48 wickets against the White Rose in all cricket at an average of 26.72.
“You’ve got Headingley, and it’s not an easy place to play, especially if you haven’t been there before. The wicket is just a little bit different; I don’t know really how to explain it. It suits Yorkshire and the way that they play.
“They’re very bolshy about the way they come out and bat, and they look to score and hit the ball hard, and with the ball they bowl attacking areas and ask tough questions, and you know that you’re in a fight. It’s never an easy game against them.
“That’s probably why I enjoy playing them so much because it is such a challenge.
“Although it’s nice to have contributed against them over the years, we don’t always come out on top against Yorkshire, that’s for sure.”
Patel, who played 24 Tests, 43 one-day internationals and 11 T20 internationals, will have been on Warwickshire’s staff for 10 years next summer.
His attacking bowling has been a key factor in their success during that time, with the club winning the 2012 Championship title, the 2014 T20 title and the 2016 50-over crown.
In some ways, he is Warwickshire’s answer to Darren Lehmann, an overseas player who has shown great loyalty to his county as well as great skill. His love for Warwickshire remains palpable, infectious.
“I’m never going to compare myself to a great like Darren Lehmann,” said Patel, quickly dismissing the comparison with the Yorkshire legend, “but what Warwickshire and I have created, I suppose, is a very good marriage. I suit them, and they suit me. They look after me, and I try and look after them as much as possible.
“It’s not just me they look after, they look after my family as well, and when we come to England and drive up from Heathrow to Edgbaston, we get excited every year to come back.
“We also get a little tear in our eye to have to come home, but going home is important to us, too, because we love being in New Zealand.”
Depending on family commitments, Patel would like to extend his contract beyond next summer.
For now, he is simply relishing another season with his beloved Bears and a chance to turn back the clock at York’s Clifton Park.