IM ONLY HUNGRY FOR SUCCESS
When Samit Patel received his first call-up for an England Test squad, it was a significant sign that he is finally winning his battle of the bulge.
Patel, who last year returned to the one-day squad after a two-year exile because of problems with his weight and lack of fitness, was the most notable inclusion in a 16-man party for the two-Test tour of Sri Lanka.
The talented batsman and left-arm spinner played a solid supporting role in England's successes in the one-day and Twenty20 series victories over Pakistan and finally looks to be winning coach Andy Flower round.
It looked as though Patel, who seemed to have blown his last chance when he was left out of England's World Cup squad for fitness reasons, had finally cracked it when he returned in one-day cricket last summer and went on to be one of the few bright sparks in the 5-0 thrashing by India before Christmas. But had he?
Patel's extra pounds became an issue again when Flower, who will not accept anything less than what he believes is total commitment to the England cause, was scathing in his criticism of the Notts all-rounder in an interview in November.
'No, he has not cracked it, in answer to your question,' Flower told us. 'His commitment to fitness has to be questioned. He hasn't addressed his issues. His fielding let himself and his team down and if he doesn't improve he will be out of the team, simple as that.' Ouch.
Then, when Patel was selected for the recent Pakistan one-day series, Flower said that he was 'inching' towards his fitness targets but still had 'a long way to go'. The message could not be any louder or clearer if it had been delivered with bells on.
Patel had to take that attack from his coach on the chin - yes, he only has the one - and insisted again that the worst is behind him.
So was Flower's criticism a little harsh?
'Probably,' said Patel. 'I'm getting there slowly, as he's put it, but I'm moving in the right direction,' added a man looking positively skeletal compared to the bulk of the journalists questioning his fat levels.
'There's only one way to go now and that's forward. I wouldn't be here if Andy didn't think I'd made progress and we're getting on very well. Hopefully I'm getting to where I want to be. It could be quicker but there's no specific target and I don't talk to Andy about it. I've just got to keep improving and show the attitude I have at the moment. More running. More bike. Eating better.
'Yes I feel slimmer than I did a couple of years ago. Do I not look it? Definitely I can feel the difference. Energy-wise you feel it every day. Not just on a game day.
On a training day, too, my energy levels have been higher than normal. I just feel the problem was maybe eating the wrong foods at the wrong times. It was probably the carbs at night. I've cut down a lot. I just try to eat proteins now.'
Patel reacts wearily to yet another question about his weight rather than his weight of runs and wickets as he ponders the difficulty in convincing England that the only hunger he possesses these days is for cricketing success.
Patel will never be naturally thin but the most talked about waistline in English cricket is looking trimmer as he addresses the lingering doubts about his commitment to fitness and a healthy diet.
The reason Flower is so exasperated over Patel's fitness levels, is that he does not want him to waste his talent. This is a man who Kevin Pietersen considered a candidate for England's Test top six when he was captain and Patel could solve a lot of problems with his Test inclusion in Sri Lanka this month. He can certainly play spin better than many, as he showed when he hit an unbeaten 70 off 43 balls against India in Mohali last October.
'I've never really worried about wasting my career,' insisted an indignant Patel.
'I've got too much hunger for cricket for that. I'll never take a backward step. I'll always be positive in any situation. I do like a bit of competition. If it gets a bit easy I kind of go through the motions a bit but I do like a bit of fight and grit about the game.'
But it will count for little unless he finally proves to Andy Flower that he has bought into the fitness ethic that is now so ingrained in England's culture that even Stuart Broad, with barely a spare inch of flesh on him, felt compelled to go on a strict diet before Christmas.
Patel traveled to Sri Lanka as the fourth spinner in England's squad along with Graeme Swann, Monty Panesar and James Tredwell but it is as a batsman that he is more likely to succeed in Test cricket.
He is a wristy player well suited to the sub-continent and showed that he can play Saeed Ajmal, who took 39 wickets in all forms of cricket against England on the tour of the UAE, by hitting the mystery spinner for a straight six.
Eoin Morgan was dropped from the Test squad after a wretched time against Pakistan.
Morgan, believed to be such a key player against spin, was all at sea against Pakistan's array of spinners and had a top score on tour of just 31 in 17 innings in all forms of cricket.
National Selector Geoff Miller agreed with the need to give Morgan a break.
He told Radio 5 Live: 'We have options obviously and it was an option to keep Eoin in but he had a tough tour of the UAE.
'He has work to do on his Test game but I know him as a character, he is unflappable and a very talented cricketer.
'He will go away and work on his method and at this moment in time it was necessary to cover certain other bases.'
Ravi Bopara, who was in the England Test squad to face Pakistan but who did not play in the three matches, is surely first in line to replace Morgan in the team for the first Test in Galle on March 26 because of the continuity that England so desire.
Miller added: 'It could be Ravi's job but we have also brought Samit into the squad which gives us options. He (Patel) is a quality middle-order batsman with left-arm spin so it gives us flexibility to cover all areas.
'It looks at this moment in time that Ravi will take the place but we will wait to see what the conditions are like.'
Otherwise the Test squad virtually picked itself with only the injured Chris Tremlett missing out.