India vs UAE will see Ajinkya Rahane vs old friend and batting partner

Rahane and Patil were part of the Mumbai Under-14, 16, 19 and 22 middle-order.

Sometime last year, during a break from selling forklifts for a Dubai-based firm, Swapnil Patil was at the airport, thinking of his flight to Mumbai and the cab ride to his Vasai home. A sudden pandemonium not far away would make Patil aware of the presence of a bunch of on-the-move India cricketers — one among those stars who was obliging selfie-hunters was his old mate. (Full Coverage| Venues | Fixtures)

Ajinkya Rahane and Patil grew up sharing dressing rooms, cricket gear and a common dream. They were part of the Mumbai Under-14, 16, 19 and 22 middle order. They knitted partnerships, knotted wins on the junior circuit to make it to the Ranji probables. That’s when the climb started getting steeper, and failures began to hurt more.

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Self-doubt and insecurity would make home in the young minds involved in the cut-throat race. Patil gave up. He headed to the Gulf to join a business group that had a cricket team. He had a job, and had it easy playing the UAE league. Ajinkya, more famously, took the tougher road.

At Perth on Saturday, the two friends, after contrasting journeys, will cross path. The Mulund Gymkhana team mates, who last had a match-winning partnership in a Mumbai league game some seven years ago, will face each other as India play UAE in a World Cup league game.

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“As juniors we have spent much time together. Because of distances in Mumbai, we couldn’t hang out together after games but Ajinkya is like a brother. Once I moved out of India, we lost contact. But that day at the Dubai airport, he was returning from India’s A tour to South Africa, it was like old times again,” says Patil, eagerly awaiting the moment when he’ll gets off the flight at Perth airport.
“I haven’t got in touch with Ajinkya yet since landing here but will meet him there and if possible take him out for dinner. Actually, not just him, I also have also been in Mumbai sides that had Rohit Sharma and Dhawal Kulkarni.”

Will Sharma and Kulkarni too join in the Mumbai Boys’ reunion? Aware of his old mates present-day star-status, Patil avoids the question saying players from big teams are very busy before match days.

However, it’s not the meal at the food court but the meeting on WACA central square that the 28-year-old is more confident about. “We had a practice game at Perth. I had heard about the bounce there. Now I can say it is true. I really look forward to facing those 140 kph bowlers.” And in a tone that’s a mix of both nervousness and excitement he adds, “Mazaa aayega”.

In 2006, when Patil got an international call informing him that a corporate team wanted him to be their wicket-keeper batsman and also store-in-charge, he wasn’t sure if cricket would give him ‘mazaa’. Back then, the World Cup wasn’t even on the horizon for those ‘special talents’ who were picked before him.

“Things weren’t moving in my cricketing career, so when my father asked if I was keen to go, I said why not,” recalls Patil, who does visit Mumbai maidans when on vacation. Catching up with old club coach, Vilas Godbole of United CC, to iron out flaws is a mandatory pit stop on India visits.

“The last time I had nets with Godbole sir was when I wanted to fix my cover drive. They all will be watching me during the World Cup, I think I have done them proud,” says Patil.

In Vasai, his family members and friends will be gathering together to watch the game against India. India vs UAE wouldn’t be the most-watched game at this World Cup but for this family from Vasai it can’t get bigger. For the son, it’s a chance to match wits against his one-time team mates and for the parents it’s about watching their dear one reach the dream destination after losing way.

Before ending the chat, Patil apologizes for keeping you waiting saying he was out having a hair-cut. It’s a big day, he wants to look good this Sunday, not a strand of hair out of place.

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