I'm really lucky to be alive: Sandeep Patil about Hughes-like 1981 blow

Former India batsman and current chief selector recalls the head injury he suffered in 1981 which was similar to Phillip Hughes' fatal blow

For more than a couple of days now, former India batsman and current chairman of selectors Sandeep Patil has been agonising over Phillip Hughes’ fatal injury and his subsequent death.

Sandeep Patil
Sandeep Patil

Patil ducked into a bouncer from Australian pacer Len Pascoe in the first innings of the opening Test at Sydney in 1981 and the ball struck him on the left temple. He was flat on the ground and had to retire hurt after a strokeful 65, coming in at 70 for four.

Sandeep Patil
Sandeep Patil in the throes of pain after a Len Pascoe delivery hit his left temple in Sydney, 1981. Pic/Sportsweek's World of Cricket 1981.

After being helped off the centre, Patil collapsed and regained consciousness next morning in the hospital. Heroically, he walked out to bat in the second innings but could manage only four in a Test which Australia won by an innings and four runs. But in the next Test at Adelaide, Patil was India’s batting hero with a career-best 174, scored off the same pace attack — Dennis Lillee, Pascoe and Rodney Hogg.

Sandeep Patil
Sandeep Patil after being hit by a bouncer at the SCG in 1981

“I have been thinking about my Sydney injury ever since Hughes suffered his fatal injury and my wife (Deepa) has been listening to a blow-by-blow account of my injury,” Patil told mid-day yesterday. “I just can’t stop thinking about this 25-year-old man. I suffered a similar injury and I have lived to tell my tale. I was batting without a helmet and Hughes had one on. I am really lucky to be alive.”

Sandeep Patil
Sandeep Patil is lifted by Yograj Singh (left) and manager Bapu Nadkarni as pace bowler Len Pascoe (extreme right) looks on at the Sydney Cricket Ground in 1981. Pic courtesy/Cricket Year 1981 by Ken Piesse.

Hughes’ death has put the first India vs Australia Test at Brisbane in jeopardy, but Patil would like to see the game being played as per schedule. “What happened to Hughes is shattering. It is most unfortunate, but the game must go on. I remember when I asked the team manager to arrange for me to speak to my parents while I was in hospital in 1981, my late father came on the line and said in Marathi, “paloon yevu nako’ (don’t run away and return). He reminded me of my Shivaji Park and Mumbai background. My father’s words over the phone had a tremendous impact on me. I also remembered Vasu Paranjape’s words to young cricketers, ‘if you don’t want to get hit, play carom or chess.’

Sandeep Patil
Patil hooks Dennis Lillee en route his 174 at Adelaide

“I am even reminded of an incident that took place in the 1994-95 season. I was appointed as coach of the India ‘A’ team for the SAARC Quadrangular tournament in Bangladesh. Just before the team left, my father suffered a heart attack. I contacted the BCCI and informed them that I would not be able to tour as I wanted to be by his side.

“When my father heard about this, he insisted that I accompany the team and do justice to my appointment as coach. The BCCI had already decided on my replacement, but I informed them that I would be available. I respected my father’s wishes which he expressed from his bed at Hinduja Hospital. As it turned out, India won the tournament under the captaincy of Pravin Amre.”

Phillip Hughes
NSW players attend to the injured Phillip Hughes in Sydney on Tuesday. Pic/Getty Images.

Sunny’s support
Back to Patil’s Sydney injury: “When I regained consciousness in hospital, I noticed a stainless steel strip placed on the wooden floor. I was asked to walk on the strip to check whether my balance was fine. I took two steps and fell to my left. But Sunil (Gavaskar) insisted I bat in the second innings. So after my hospital stint, I was at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Sunil did it to help me get over the fear. I walked into bat and the crowd gave me a good reception. My vision was poor and I was frightened. I remember being dropped by Doug Walters and the ball going to the boundary. One ball later, I was caught by Graeme Wood off Dennis Lillee. The same crowd that cheered for me was silent. At the boundary line, there was Sunil who said, “well done, Sandeep… you have done it.”

Sobers’ praise
The second innings at Sydney was the first time Patil used a helmet in a Test. In the first innings, he was hit on the throat by Rodney Hogg but decided against wearing one when he returned to the pavilion for the tea interval. “Sir Garfield Sobers visited us during the tea interval. He praised my half-century. He didn’t approve of me wearing a helmet and urged me to continue batting the way I did before the interval. I felt very proud of what Sobers had said and resumed my innings without a helmet.” One wonders whether Patil would have had to retire hurt if he wore that helmet.

His heroic 174 in the Adelaide Test was hailed. Richie Benaud wrote in Test Cricket 1980-81: “Patil’s innings was marvelous, particularly in view of the way he had been forced to retire hurt in the opening Test match of the series at the SCG. Now in Adelaide he wore a helmet rather than his white floppy hat and, whether or not that made the difference is purely a matter of conjecture, but at the close of play of that third day he was 150 not out, had batted for 260 minutes and had hit 19 superb boundaries,” Patil admitted that the Sydney injury scarred him especially when it came to facing fast bowling. “I was scared even while facing a domestic medium pacer.” That is some disclosure!

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