Nensi Patel: Spinning her way to the top

Nensi Patel © Getty Images

What comes to your mind as a cricket fan when you think of New Zealand? Small grounds, windy settings, spectators sitting with pints of lager on grassy banks, batters hitting sixes with ease and seamers moving the ball miles both in the air and off the wicket.

Few can visualize a spinner in that setting, and that too a finger spinner, dominating proceedings to such an extent that it could captivate our minds and make us observe every move she makes with our eyes peeled.

Spinning her way to the top

Nensi Patel in action for Northern Brave © Getty Images

But Nensi Hiteshkumar Patel of Northern Brave is turning the ball square to make people sit down and take notice of her artistry.

Patel had a remarkable Hallyburton Johnstone Shield 2021/22 with the ball. With 18 wickets in ten matches, the 19-year-old ended up topping the bowling charts. Her HBJ Shield numbers of the season gone by suggest how unyielding she was with the ball in hand. 

Patel averaged 17.83 with the ball and aggregated a staggering dot ball percentage of 57.80 during the season. What also stands out is the fact that she provided Brave with a breakthrough with every 21st delivery she bowled. 

She bowled with phenomenal control and sheer precision throughout HBJ Shield 2021-22. But was at her absolute best when she stepped on the field against Auckland Hearts at Seddon Park in Hamilton on February 19. She spun a web so inscrutable that the Auckland batters fell like ninepins without putting up much resistance.

When someone manages to put up such a season, where others are just bound to gape in perplexity, you are bound to think that the person must have done something immaculate or the other. But that’s where the catch lies.

Reflecting on the season gone by, Patel told Women’s CricZone, “I just kept it simple and did what helped me best, keeping everything in line, and just going through with what I needed to do and doing what was needed to be done for the team.”

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Longing for her birthplace

Patel is already making giant strides in the New Zealand domestic circuit and has spent most of her time in the island nation but the 19-year-old still vividly remembers her stay in India despite its brevity.

“I was born in India. I’m from Miyagam, Karjan in Vadodara and all of our relatives live over there. Although my parents and I moved to New Zealand when I was a toddler, India still holds a special place in my heart. I guess it’s just when you go back you get to see all your mates back at home. When you’re away you don’t really stay in touch as much, but when you go back everything just comes back to you and it’s just a very beautiful moment.”

Although Patel has not spent much time in India, her love for the sport started in India itself.

“My dad got me into cricket, he and I would just play in the house. He would just chuck balls at me and I just hit it and that’s pretty much how I started. When we moved to New Zealand, I joined a school team and then just moved from there.”

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Overcoming adversity with unyielding determination

Nensi Patel bowling seam up © Getty Images

Often the ones who aspire to soar high and tread into uncharted territories meet setbacks and setbacks big enough that could pull the curtains on a nascent dream.

Patel is a promising off-break bowler today but she hardly ever bowled off-spin before 2018. She started her career as a medium-pacer and would have carried on her merry way if it hadn’t been for a career-threatening injury.

“In 2018 I ruptured my ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) during a warm-up and that sent me back for one year, so I had a reconstruction.”

A defiant Patel showed unyielding determination to not only overcome the setback but also did the hard yards required to master the new craft she chose to resuscitate her career.

 “I came back the next season and I changed to off-spin during the winter, I looked on off-spin because I knew if I was gonna go back to bowling, bowling pace might be unstable for the knee, so I made the switch and chose off-spin.”

Wickets in New Zealand traditionally do not offer a lot of turn and purchase for finger spinners but despite being cognizant of the same, Patel made the transition to spin bowling and hasn’t looked back since then.

“I tend to vary my pace quite a bit and with my short height that comes in quite handy. I use the crease a lot and the different angles available to me as a bowler. All of that, in addition to the variations I use, helps me to a greater extent in picking up wickets.”

When a spinner in New Zealand ends up with a season as wonderful as Nensi just had, you are bound to assume that the person must have plenty of arrows in her quiver. But that’s not the case with Patel.

 “I most often bowl my stock delivery (off-spin). I do have some variations but don’t tend to use them until I need to, so I just keep it simple and attack with my stock delivery and see how it pans out.”

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Drawing inspiration from international stars

Cognizant of the demands of the modern game, Patel is also working on her batting and aims to take her batting game to a different level.

“Well, it was initially really hard with the batting side of my game. But in winters I do drills and everything to get myself prepared for the real games when they come around. A lot of work has gone into improving what’s become with my batting as well, so it’s just been a real tough progress. Well, I still got some work to do with it but it’s getting there.”

Patel draws inspiration from Virat Kohli and his approach on the field. In addition to that, Amelia Kerr and her stupendous abilities with both the bat and ball in hand are also a major source of motivation for her.

“Virat Kohli is my inspiration. He’s an absolute beast on the field and his passion for the game is what’s really brought it out in me as well, and Amelia Kerr from New Zealand also, someone I looked up to and I still do. Ever since she made it to the White Ferns, I’ve looked up to her and it is really cool to see how well she is doing.”

“I’ve tried to take a few pointers from her game like whenever I’m watching her, the way she bats, and the way she’s on the field. I’m trying to implement that into my game as well while keeping my natural game intact.”

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An international debut around the corner?

After a disappointing 2022 World Cup campaign at home, White Ferns skipper Sophie Devine mentioned that the team showed a lot of fight but were a tad unlucky.

“We’ve obviously been on the wrong side of a couple of results, but we’ve fought throughout this tournament. We want results to go the other way but the heart and character, I hope everyone sees it. We’ve played with absolutely everything we’ve got.”

A disappointing bowling performance was one of the major reasons why White Ferns failed to make it to the semis in their own backyard. They did not have a single bowler in the top 10 wicket takers and off spinner Frances Mackay was their leading bowler with 11 wickets. 

Hence when the selectors convened to pick players for the 2022-23 central contracts, they were driven by the need to blood in some new faces and the sheer weight of Patel’s performance was too much to turn a blind eye to.

Being one of the 17 to have received the central contract speaks volumes about Patel and the hard yards she has been putting in. One of the people to have observed her performances from close quarters during the season gone by was the Northern Brave coach Joanne Broadbent. Broadbent expressed her delight on Patel’s inclusion in the central contract list and hailed her as a bright talent.

“We are all very excited for Nensi and her White Fern selection. She had a fantastic season last year with bat, ball and in the field. Her strengths are that she is a skiddy type off spin bowler who is able to bowl in power plays and at the death. She is a middle order bat who became a match finisher and she fields in key areas, so she is always in the game. She is a brilliant young prospect.”

Nensi Patel and her story has a major life lesson in it “Do not let setbacks douse the fire in you of achieving your dreams, fight your way through and rekindle a flame scorching enough to propel you towards the same.”