When Ajaz Patel became only the third bowler in Test cricket's history to take all 10 wickets in an innings, it was no overnight success, but the result of many years of a long, hard slog.
His remarkable feat was even more dramatic as he was playing against the country of his birth. Ajaz grew up in Mumbai and arrived with his family at Auckland Airport aged eight, and they now live in Blockhouse Bay.
He says, “I grew up in a middle-class Indian family. My Dad [Yunus Patel] worked in refrigeration and my Mum [Nilofer] was a schoolteacher. There’s a big middle-class society in India and parents are constantly working while the kids are thrown into this cycle of study, study, study.”
“Despite the arduous nature of it however, you still had a lot of free time as a kid. With cricket, we would all just play to pass the time. Everyone would go outside and join in a game where you could. Generally, the older kids were in charge, so you’d go in and do some fielding and you’d be lucky if you got an opportunity to bat or bowl.
In 1996, Ajaz’s parents told him that the family was immigrating to NZ for a better life.
“From a cultural aspect we had quite a tight knit family and extended family, so for me I had a lot of cousins who were all pretty close in age and I spent a lot of time with them, so being able to integrate with them and being comfortable with that also flowed into school,” says Ajaz. “My Mum could speak English quite fluently because she was a teacher, but my Dad wasn’t as good. He went out on a limb to start a business without being able to speak English very well”.
“Sometimes I don’t feel like I’m doing enough when I look at what they went through”, he says, “but I’ll always be thankful and grateful to them for teaching me those lessons. It helped me be grateful for any opportunity I did get, and at the same time, any adversity that I faced, I realised how small it was compared to what a lot of people are probably facing”.
Ajaz always had a passion for cricket having played so much of it in India.
“In New Zealand, it wasn’t as common in the streets but within our family we used to play a lot in the backyard” he says. “I was a left-handed slogger who tried to hit everything through mid-wicket. After playing in my school team for fun, my Aunty and Uncle signed me up for the local club and I got my first taste of competitive club cricket playing for the under 15s”.
When Ajaz got to high school, he trialled for Western Districts, and made the B team. He was invited to a trial for Avondale College First XI, where he was tasked with bowling to Martin Guptill. “I bowled him a couple, then tried to throw in a bouncer. He hit me, to this day, for one of the longest sixes I’ve ever seen. It went over the set of classrooms on the boundary. I turned around and the coach just looked at me and said, “You better go get that ball.” He [Guptill] didn’t say anything to me at the time, but he probably just thought, ‘Who is this little Indian kid who thinks he can bowl quick.’”
While still in the under 17s, Ajaz got the opportunity to play for the Auckland under 19s. He got selected to replace an injured player. His dad asked him why he was pushing so hard with cricket instead of just focussing on his studies, thinking that there was no career pathway in the game.
Ajaz recalls, “When I got picked for my first age-group rep team I remember going up to dad and saying, “Dad, I really need some new cricket shoes. I can’t play without shoes; we’re going to be playing on grass and everyone else will have spikes.” Dad said, “OK, let’s go and get some spikes.” I still remember that feeling of elation and jubilation. It was the best day ever. Even to this day, as a sponsored cricketer, every time gear turns up, I turn into that little kid again.”
In his second year with the under 19s, he was told that his pace was slower which led to him not being selected. In tears, he told his dad he hadn’t been selected. His dad Yunus told him “Whatever happens, happens for a reason. Trust in Allah’s plan, you need to see what the good is out of this.” “When Dad said that to me, it put me at ease straight away.”
This led him to make the transition to being a spin bowler. Eventually, he played for Central Districts. He began to perform well, picking up the most wickets in both the 2015-16, and 2016-17 Plunket Shield seasons. From this, Ajaz aspired to be selected for the Blackcaps.
“There was definitely a sense of disappointment when another tour rolled around, and I didn’t get an opportunity. From a faith perspective, for me it was always about doing the hard work, turning every stone I could turn, then leaving the rest up to destiny.”
It was 2018 and he was 30 years old when Ajaz eventually got the call that he had been selected for the New Zealand A Team and the Test squad to tour the UAE as well. He says on hearing the news of his selection, his family went ballistic! “I was getting hugs from aunties, uncles, cousins. There was shouting, screaming, and a whole lot of jumping”.
“My cricketing journey has been that, really – challenging adversity. Going towards something that others probably thought was unattainable, but I believed I could. And that faith has been repaid to me ten-fold. I couldn’t have dreamt at the age of 30 being selected for the Blackcaps. I couldn’t have dreamt of taking five wickets on debut, leading to a dramatic win away from home. I couldn’t have dreamt of seeing the words ‘Ajaz Patel – Blackcap’. But here I am, the boy from Mumbai. Blackcap #274.”
Ajaz wrote these comments before his spectacular feat of taking all 10 wickets in the later test innings against India, which really propelled his fame. His family in Blockhouse Bay were delirious with joy. "I’m very proud ... he's got very, very big wish to play against in India. Ajaz was born in Mumbai, not far from the stadium," Yunus Patel said. Nilofer said "Our hearts basically stopped ... when he made that amazing catch, we were all screaming and jumping for joy. Mum, dad, grandma, were all jumping. We still couldn't believe it".
The rollercoaster ride continued to test Ajaz’s faith when after that historic accomplishment, he was not selected to play in the tests at home against Bangladesh in 2022 because NZ conditions do not suit spin bowlers.
Ajaz has the last word “That’s kind of somewhat been what my career’s been all about – every time I’ve faced a setback or a disappointment, I guess the hunger grows and the fire in the belly gets bigger. So, for me it’s really about just going back and knuckling down and improving my game, and all facets of my game.”
Based on an article written by Ajaz Patel for the website “After The Whistle” www.afterthewhistle.co.nz Quotes used with permission.
The highs and lows of Ajaz's career
By Michael Wagener, Cricket writer and statistician
Ajaz Patel’s start in cricket was as a left arm fast bowler. In his Avondale College school team he was not the spinner – that was Jeet Raval, who went on to play as a batsman for New Zealand. He was the joint top wicket taker at the NZ domestic under 19 tournament (along with Tim Southee). But fast bowling is generally a tall man’s game, and at 5 foot 6, Patel’s future prospects were dim. So he switched to bowling spin.
It took a couple of years work with former NZ spinner Dipak Patel to master the basics, but he eventually got to the point where he was regularly taking wickets for his club. Professional cricket opportunities soon followed, and he secured a spot playing first class cricket for Central Districts. It did not take long before he started picking up wickets regularly. He had 3 years in a row where he took more than 40 wickets. Only 3 other bowlers have managed to do that once in the last 7 years, doing it 3 times was extraordinary.
That led to his international selection. In 2018, he was given a chance to play in a test series in UAE against Pakistan. That is not an easy opposition to start against as a spinner. In the last 10 years, Pakistan have been the hardest team for spinners to dismiss. It is certainly not an ideal place to debut. But he showed his worth, winning the man of the match award in his debut test, and helping New Zealand to beat Pakistan in a series in UAE.
What followed, however, was a sudden crash to earth. His first test on home soil was against Sri Lanka in Wellington. He did manage to get some deliveries to trouble the Sri Lankan batsman, but they managed to see him off, and he bowled 31 overs without picking up a single wicket. Part of the lot of spinners in New Zealand is that the pitches are not often very helpful for them. Spin generally relies on the pitch being dry, and the grass cover being patchy. However, as our large agriculture industry attests to, it rains a lot here, meaning New Zealand is pretty much the best place in the world for growing grass.
Patel’s career has developed accordingly. Despite not having taken a wicket in a home test, he has a world class record in away matches, cumulating in his incredible 10 wickets against India in Mumbai. That puts him in very special company. There have only been two other bowlers take 10 wickets in an innings in the 144 year history of test cricket. Since the start of 2018 (his debut year), only one spin bowler has more wickets at a better average in Asia than Ajaz Patel, and that’s the Indian maestro Ravi Ashwin. Patel is ahead of all the other Asian spinners, in their own conditions.
His career has certainly come a long way from being a short fast bowler from Avondale College!
by Andrew Yelverton
Essentially Men is an Auckland based charitable trust whose mission is to promote positive social change for men and boys through a range of educational programmes such as ‘Men Being Real’ and ‘Pathways to Manhood’.
Men Being Real
Thoreau’s observation that ‘the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation’ resonates with me as I suspect it does for many New Zealand men.
From a young age, our boys are taught not to cry and when things get tough, we are told to ‘harden up’ or ‘get over it’. Our culture rewards competitive behavior in men whilst men talking about their feelings is sometimes viewed as a sign of weakness. These stereotypical behaviors are now recognised as being incredibly damaging to generations of New Zealand men and their families.
The good news is that there is a growing awareness that this traditional model of masculinity is broken, and an increasing number of men are exploring what it is to be a ‘real’ man in today’s society. They are hungry to break their emotional isolation and engage in deeper, more authentic relationships.
But many don’t know where or how to start, and many are fearful of taking that first step. After all, it takes courage for a man to admit that he is struggling, and it is deeply ingrained in our culture that men don’t ask for help.
I was in this position about 15 years ago. At that time, I was seeing a counsellor who suggested I participate in a Men Being Real weekend workshop.
I was a reluctant attendee; I knew that something was missing in my life, but I did not consider myself ‘broken’ (like I assumed the other men on the weekend would be!) How wrong I was. The weekend turned out to be a transformative experience. Something powerful occurs when men lay down their metaphorical armor and connect; sharing with each other their stories and experiences.
I was surprised at the common threads that wove through our lives and was relieved to understand that I was not alone in my own fears, struggles and insecurities. This insight is something that cannot be gained from a self-help book or a one-on-one conversation. It simply has to be experienced.
The Men Being Real workshops are run on a quarterly basis and spaces are limited to 28 men per workshop.
Pathways to Manhood
After attending the Men Being Real workshop, I wondered how much better my adult life would have been had I been exposed to this collective wisdom of men when I was an adolescent, starting out my journey to adulthood.
In many cultures, there exists a rite-of-passage process whereby young men are initiated into manhood by older men in the community…and much of this process involves men sitting in circles and sharing stories. This is no longer common in western societies, however we are now seeing a resurgence.
Essentially Men has been running their Pathways to Manhood programme for over 20 years. This is a 5-day residential rite-of-passage for boys between 14 and 16 years of age accompanied by their father (or significant male figure).
This is not your typical ‘father and son’ camp; rather it is a programme designed to help boys gain a clearer understanding of masculinity and what it is to be a good man in today’s society.
At Pathways to Manhood, the boys are immersed in a community of older men who are willing to share real life stories about what it means to be a good man. Through the sharing of stories, modelling and other activities, the boys gain a better understanding of who they are, their possibilities and how they may contribute to their communities in a meaningful way.
The fathers who attend learn how to connect with their sons on a deeper level and how to more effectively stand alongside and support them as they cross the bridge into adulthood.
The next Pathways event will take place at Camp Karanga, West Auckland in the school holidays between the 19th and 23rd April, 2022. Spaces are strictly limited and are already filling so if this sounds interesting to you as a parent, or you know the parents of a teenage boy who will benefit from this experience, please visit Essentially Men’s website: essentiallymen.net or call (09) 376 2386 for further information.
Andrew Yelverton serves on the Essentially Men board of trustees and is a regular volunteer for the Men Being Real and Pathways to Manhood programmes.
New Lynn Community Constable
Senior Constable Clay Polamalu passed away on Friday 14 January 2022 at his Point Chevalier home, surrounded by family. Clay was 57 years of age. He had medically retired from the Police in 2020.
He was farewelled at a service at Eden Park on Tuesday 18 January, attended by almost 500 friends, colleagues and family. He lay at his family home before a service at his birthplace, Maketu, in the Bay of Plenty at the Whakaue marae before burial at the Wharekahu Cemetery on Thursday 20 January 2022.
Clay was from a large Maketu family, and was related to the late Peter Tapsell, former MP and Minister of Police. He moved to Auckland at 12 years of age and attended Mt Roskill school and Mt Roskill Grammar School.
A talented rugby player, Clay was a member of the Mt Roskill Senior rugby team for a number of years. He also played rugby in the UK on a working holiday as a young man.
After returning from Europe, he joined the NZ Police, working on the front line and in Youth Aid in West Auckland before taking the role of the New Lynn Community Constable in 2012.
The many speakers at Clay’s Auckland service spoke of a loving husband and father, a wise, kind, and passionate man, and a dedicated officer.
He is survived his wife Carolyn, daughter Kayla, and son Joseph, who are both graduates of Victoria University, Wellington.
He will be sadly missed by his loving family, numerous friends, the New Lynn community, and the Police family.
Any messages of condolence can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org who will pass them on to Clay’s family.
New Lynn Police Station
A great man
At the time Clay joined the New Lynn Policing team, I was the New Lynn Business Association manager. From day one Clay was there to help us to build a better community, working alongside our large business whanau and locals, all for the betterment of communities.
Logical, open minded, and fair, Clay worked in a collaborative, positive, and genuinely compassionate way. Someone recently described Clay as “the go to man” and he certainly was that - both to me personally and our business team.
Clay could always be depended upon to show up at association events, lending support with his calm logic and a smile. He was an integral part of the team at Christmas events, helping with the crowds around Santa, showing the kids the police car, his laugh always at the ready.
We are deeply saddened by the loss of this wonderful man, but we are thankful to have known him and for all that he did. We also thank Warren Strand and the New Lynn Police Station team for their contribution to a better society.
Our deepest condolences and aroha to his family who grieve the loss of an amazing father, husband, and friend. Our thanks to his whanau and work family for sharing Clay with us.
On a personal level, I am so grateful to have known Clay, to have worked alongside him, learned from him. He was a great man and will be very much missed.
Auckland Councillor, Whau Ward
Spreading the COVID-19 message in Pacific community
By Alan Perrott
Mt Roskill GP Vanisi Prescott, “the TikTok doctor”, knows the personal impact of good role models; she didn’t believe a job in medicine was possible until she saw Samoan GP Debbie Ryan in a white coat.
Then, after Dr Prescott completed her training, Fijian GP Apisalome Talemaitoga gently nudged her into the Pacific chapter of the RNZCGP, where she is now the registrar representative.
Her fellowship will eventually sit alongside the other she achieved – in urgent care medicine. A mother of three, she credits her work ethic to her Tongan mother, who took on multiple jobs to help feed the family.
Dr Prescott, a GP vocationally registered at Stoddard Road Medical Centre, says it’s her turn to not only inspire and support others to follow her into medicine, but to use her position to rail against COVID-19 misinformation.
Again, she credits a role model with prodding her into advocacy: her daughter, Zephaniah, who began creating short dance routines to post on social media site TikTok.
After realising how far their posts reached, especially among young people, she started a TikTok page of her own and began telling her own story. She explained how people still see her as an orderly, cleaner or nurse even since she became a doctor.
“That kind of went viral, and straight away I started thinking that this was a way to share my journey, the uplifting stuff and the struggles I have faced.”
Her earliest struggle was against herself, when poor marks saw her dumped into Onehunga High School’s lowest-ranked learning assistance class.
“I couldn’t stand being in that class, so I worked really hard, but I have to acknowledge the teachers who saw the potential in me.”
Dr Prescott’s page has more than 75,800 followers and has attracted 3 million likes. It has led to invitations to address school assemblies, requests for career advice, and shout-outs whenever she is recognised at vaccination centres.
But there has been a dark side. She has seen more COVID-19 misinformation being spread online among Pacific communities.
And she is now being attacked on the platform over the way her videos debunk outlandish claims, such as the Pfizer vaccine leaving people “magnetised”.
But Dr Prescott says only a small number of people believe she is ridiculing their relatives, or are “clouting” (a social media term for using attacks as self-promotion to attract followers.)
“So, I just keep thinking of the wider picture,” says Dr Prescott. “Most of the people I hear from just want information, so I tell them: ‘Look, you don’t have to believe me. Go talk to your GP, you trust them.’
“But I know this is something I need to do for our people, and to show that Pacific GPs are here to be a voice for our people as well.”
Reprinted with permission from New Zealand Doctor | Rata Aotearoa.