The innings of played by Smit Patel in the final of the U19 World Cup 2012 in Australia can be put in the same balance as the innings of 97 played by Gautam Gambhir in the final of 2011 World Cup.

Both had much importance in team’s triumph but when it comes to handpicking one match-winning innings in both the contests, MS Dhoni’s 91* wins the medal in 2011 triumph while Unmukt Chand’s 111* in the U19 wins the race in that victory.

In the final of U19 World Cup in Townsville, India were four down on a score of 97 when an 18-year-old Smit Patel walked onto the pitch to accompany his skipper, Unmukt Chand, in the quest to score those remaining 129 runs.

The pressure was on the young blue brigade. There was just one established batsman left in form of Akshdeep Nath after the pair and another wicket would have rotted team India’s chances.

The batsmen in the middle had opted a strategy to not throw away their wicket by playing a rash shot - one of the common things which happen in the game – and opted to take the game till the end, “We were pretty much involved in the game,” says Smit, one of the stars of the final. “Wickets were falling at that time but I was hitting the ball nicely in the tournament and I just wanted to go out there and be in the middle as long as I could to take the game till the end. That was my thinking. We (me and Unmukt) just discussed the same thing that let's not play any rash shot and give away our wicket. We were thinking to be in middle and play a ball as it comes,” he adds.

India chased down the target of 226 and lifted the cup for the third time. Unmukt Chand was rated as the future star but he is yet to fulfil the promise he showed at the junior level.

The same year, Smit went onto make his first-class debut when he played Gujarat in the first round of Ranji Trophy against Madhya Pradesh in Indore. Opening the innings with Priyank Panchal – now an India A player – Smit could just score in 19 runs his first outing as a first-class cricketer.

Riding on pretty quick innings of 162 off 205 from Parthiv Patel, Gujarat posted 355 on the board to which Madhya Pradesh replied with 250. Smit, in the second innings, scored 60. Match ended in a draw as Devendra Bundela led Madhya Pradesh saved the game by saving their last three wickets.

It was in his debut game where he learnt the difference between U19 cricket and first-class level as he tells that in first-class cricket, the patience level is high as compared to junior cricket, “The main difference between U19 cricket and Ranji Trophy cricket is only the experience and patience. In U19 cricket, players tend to lose patience pretty easily but in Ranji Trophy, there are players who are very experienced. They have played over the years. Patience level in Ranji Trophy cricket is pretty high; if you win the battle in patience, you will definitely perform better.”

Right from the day Smit made his debut for Gujarat, the side had team India’s irregular player Parthiv Patel in the ranks in form of captain and a wicketkeeper-batsman, which clearly meant that in future, it would be either of Patels would play.

Smit played in the all the eight games in his debut season but his appearances squeezed to five in next Ranji season, followed by another five appearances in 2014/15 before he could get just three games in 2015/16 season.

The lack of opportunities, which he got while in Gujarat camp as a wicketkeeper-batsman, was the reason behind him switching over his base to Tripura before 2016/17 season, as he accepts, “I started playing first-class playing in 2012/13 and I was not getting those opportunities as a wicketkeeper -batsman. Our captain (Parthiv Patel) was the wicketkeeper in Gujarat. I did not get many opportunities to keep wickets and bat. I wanted to shift my base.”

“I am still doing really well and my performance in last two years has been very nice. I have performed consistently. I have scored 5 centuries in past two seasons. I am feeling very confident right now. I am pretty sure and confident about my game and lot of runs coming up in time,” Smit adds while remembering his two fruitful seasons with Tripura, where has played in all the 14 games that the team has played.

He has a tally of runs 1122 runs in across 25 innings for his new team.

The structure in Northeast states is not at par compared to other states, one of the reasons why North-eastern states are yet to produce even one international cricketer, “I think infrastructure wise I would say Tripura is not developed as developed as Gujarat but I think environment I got there to perform at my best is the good thing. I got the environment which I wanted which is to play freely.”

Has marriage to do something behind his purple patch?

“Last year as well I was the highest scorer, this year I was married and my wife is always motivating me to perform. She keeps asking me how I played. She keeps supporting me all times and is pushing me to do better. This is one of the emotional things that has attached to my game,” he adds.

Smit, in 35 first-class games he has played, has scored 2039 runs at an impressive average of 36.41 as a wicketkeeper-batsman. Five of his last seven centuries have come since he has shifted to Tripura and the man in form thinks that he has it in him to play for the country, “I think I have everything which is needed to play for India and it just needs sharpening a little bit. I have been doing well in past two years and I think maybe IPL or India ‘A’ or any major tournament this year would help. I would like to perform my best in the tournament and see myself in the Indian team in a couple of years,” Smit opines.

It was in 2015/16 Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy where Smit led Gujarat to a title victory. In a low scoring encounter, Punjab posted a total of 117/9. Gujarat could just chase it down in 19.5 overs and it was Smit who played a crucial role in the win with his innings of 50 off 49.

(Image credits: Rajnikant Baral)

His innings could have earned him an IPL call-up but unfortunately, the auction was done and dusted and on the next day (April 8) the opening game of IPL was played. This year, BCCI has already advanced the staging of the domestic T20 tournament so as the players can throw their hat in the ring during IPL auction, “I am very confident to perform in the upcoming T20 tournament and fingers crossed for IPL auction. I really want to play IPL and perform,” Smit says, who seems to be a little desperate to play IPL.

How does Smit prepare before going into a season? Does he set any numerical goal in front of him before the start of any season?

“I don’t exactly limit my performance but I have something when I go out in the game. I think to do better than the best I have done in past. In hindsight, I just try to do that. I go out there and think that I have to surpass my best score.”

For a player who dreams to play for India, motivation coming from the team members is basic prerequisite which is needed and in Smit’s case, he has Yashpal Singh in the ranks, a veteran domestic player with an experience of 117 first-class, 93 List A and 47 T20 games.

He was also the first player to player from Services – his ex-team – to play in IPL and also the first player from Services to play 100 first-class games. Yashpal ended his 15 years tie with Services before 2016/17 season, “He is one of the best batsmen in India. When he and my self-bat in the middle we enjoy our cricket and just keep talking to each other how to play a bowler and how to play in a situation. He keeps smashing me. He always says that you have the potential to play for India. Even I see it as very good that best player in the game is batting me to play for India. It’s very fortunate to share the wicket with him,” Smit says in praise of Yashpal.

In the league stage of the ongoing Ranji season, Smit, along with Yashpal, rescued Tripura against Tamil Nadu where at one stage, Tripura were reeling at a score of 41/3 and from there, they carried the team to 203 by sharing 162 runs for the fourth wicket.

Incidentally, neither of two could reach the triple figure mark. Smit played an innings of 99 while Yashpal fell short of triple figure mark by just four runs. In the same match, Smit faced India’s Test specialist, R Ashwin, whom he rates as one of the toughest bowlers to face in domestic cricket, “I played R Ashwin in Chennai. He was bowling beautifully and I was very happy to play him and score against Tamil Nadu. Unfortunately, I got out on 99.”

From World Cup glory in 2012 to domestic grind till date, Smit has plethora of experiences to tell in his career and the only thing he rues presently is that he didn’t get highlighted much, “The only thing is that I wanted to far better than this but due to lack of opportunity initially, may be, I didn't get highlighted that much. Since last two years, I have been doing well. I am waiting for that chance and very confident about it,” he concludes.