Patel was handed his first call-up to a Test squad as a replacement for Eoin Morgan, following a productive few months in the one-day set-up. He could yet be considered for the first Test in Galle although team director Andy Flower said Patel still had “significant work” to do.
“Fitness is a key factor and everyone has to work hard on their fitness – some more than others,” Patel said. “It’s probably an issue that will stay with me, but I’m not frustrated. The more work you do, the better you feel. Hopefully I am doing the right things now.”
Patel is competing with Ravi Bopara for the No. 6 spot vacated by Morgan – unless England change tactics and include Tim Bresnan as the allrounder – and his chances could depend on whether England continue with the combination of two spinners and two quicks they used against Pakistan in the UAE. Monty Panesar made a successful return to the team with 14 wickets in two Tests, and it would be a harsh decision to leave him out, while Graeme Swann remains the No. 1 spinner despite a less productive series against Pakistan.
“I’m ready to come in and bat where I’m asked to bat and do the job with the ball. I’m comfortable with the role I’ve been set,” Patel said. “It’s a massive boost for me, having never been in the squad before, and I’m very excited to show everyone what I can really do and take any opportunities I’m given. One of my goals is to play Test cricket. I’ve always wanted to do that as well as one-day cricket. I want to play all formats for England.”
One of the issues that will confront not just Patel but the whole England squad will be adapting to the hot and humid conditions in Sri Lanka. Patel was part of the group of players who flew to Sri Lanka early for training under the guidance of batting coach Graham Gooch, who is confident the visitors can overcome the challenge.
“These are unnatural conditions for English players – we don’t get this kind of heat,” Gooch said. “It’s different to the UAE. It’s more humid, the heat is more oppressive … but they’re not going to focus on that. They’ll focus on their skills with the bat and ball, and in the field. That is what can hopefully bring us out ahead of Sri Lanka. This is not an obstacle to us, not something to be feared. We have to see it as a challenge.”
England’s top order is under pressure going into this series following their failure in the UAE during the 3-0 whitewash. They were often rendered scoreless by Saeed Ajmal, Abdur Rehman and Mohammad Hafeez, and spin will again play a central role in this series. Although Sri Lanka’s attack doesn’t possess the same quality as Pakistan’s does, the pitches, especially in Galle, should offer assistance.
“Our skills didn’t match up and we were thoroughly beaten by Pakistan,” Gooch said. “That’s tough to take but you have to take it on the chin and think how you move forward from there. We have to work hard on technique and also on thinking patterns – how are we going to score our runs?
“Our players are capable of improving their performances against this type of bowling and being a lot better than we were against Pakistan. Only time will tell how much of an improvement we can make.”