Coimbatore hosted the 2022 Duleep Trophy final between the South Zone and the West Zone. On a surface with extra bounce, the South Zone pacers had dispatched the West top-order before R Sai Kishore assumed control. In opposition to Shreyas Iyer and Sarfaraz Khan, the Tamil Nadu left-arm spinner demonstrated his superiority by removing Shreyas. In came Gujarat wicketkeeper-batsman Het Patel.
Even as he attempted to settle in, Sai Kishore demonstrated his superiority by reducing West’s score from 99/4 to 167/8. He was the only individual who remained uncluttered throughout all of this. With the assistance of the seasoned Jaydev Unadkat, he would propel West Zone to 270. Although Het fell short of his century by four runs, he made his mark. Without his knock, West would not have won the championship.
A year later, not much has changed for Het as he prepares to play for West Zone against Central Zone in the Duleep Trophy semifinal at Alur on Wednesday. With Rishabh Pant’s injury, the role of wicketkeeper-batsman has become a topic of conversation, particularly in red-ball cricket. If ever there was a time for domestic goalkeepers to maximize their potential, this is it. However, Het is not currently considering all of this. “I am attempting to concentrate on what I must do and improve in order to contribute to the team. The remainder will occur accordingly,’ Het says daily.
A cursory glance at his first-class statistics—945 runs in 22 innings with an average of 45—may not inspire awe. However, he has more to offer. Het, who began his career as a medium-pacer, began boxing at the age of 12 after realizing he might not be tall enough to make an impact as a pacer. Since then, he has continued to improve. He was a member of the India U19 Asia Cup team in 2016–17, playing alongside Shubman Gill and Prithvi Shaw, and he made his List-A debut for Gujarat in the same season under Parthiv Patel.
In red ball, he was required to be patient. With Parthiv leading the state and wearing the gloves until 2019-20, Het awaited his chance. During those formative years, the veteran Indian goalkeeper mentored Het. “When he played, we used to maintain and train together. He provided me with advice and invited me to train with him during the season, where we would practice match situations, etc. I learned from the outside world. He requested that I have patience and learn. There is only one spot for keepers, and my time will come. It will happen,” Het recalls.
And when the opportunity presented itself in 2022, following the pandemic, the right-hander seized it with both hands. In three Ranji matches that year, he scored 429 runs for Gujarat, and he followed that up with an outstanding performance in the Duleep Trophy. He is aware of the importance of contributing with the bat as a keeper, despite the fact that he was unable to build on last year’s Ranji Trophy momentum. “In modern times, batting is extremely important. Without it, it will be difficult to survive. You must devote equal effort to batting and keeping. I train with the coaches at the Gujarat association, and after each season, we evaluate our mistakes and work to correct them.”
His father, Jignesh Patel, gave him a bat when he was three years old, so the effort he puts into his batting does not come as a surprise. “At the time, there were no pads in my size, so he would sew them for me and always ensure that I had a bat in my hand. Eventually, I too fell in love with the sport. It is his hope that I become a cricket player. This is what he has been discussing since day one. We used to practice at home, and we continue to do so whenever he has time off from his work. “Everything I am today is due to him,” says Het.
While he emphasizes sticking to the process and concentrating on daily improvement, he also harbors a desire to play at the highest level and represent his country. And he is moving in that direction step by step.