T20 World Cup 2024: 'Cricket is tougher than baseball', says US cricket captain Monank Patel

The 31-year-old says there is more buzz with every gam

T20 Cricket WCup USA Pakistan Monank Patel | AP

Interview/ Monank Patel, captain, USA men’s cricket team

Growing up playing gully cricket in Anand, Gujarat, Monank Patel would never have thought that he would lead a national team from across the globe. When his cricket career was getting stagnant in India, Patel moved to New Jersey and opened a Chinese restaurant ‘Teriyaki Madness’ and slogged for two years until the doors opened for his cricket career to take off. America lost a dumpling restaurant but gained an ace Indian cricketer, with a career built on dogged hard work, sheer talent – and luck.

Now the captain of Team USA, the 31-year-old is on the cusp of history, as his team has defeated the mighty Pakistan and looks set for a place in the Super 8. Excerpts from an interview:

Q/ What are your earliest cricket memories, growing up in India? 

A/I was nine years old when I started playing cricket. My favourite memory is of my dad always waking me up and getting me ready to play every single day. My passion for cricket is all because of him. He was my coach and introduced me to cricket. I used to watch him play every single day, and he got to know that I’m ready to learn. He used to train me and that's how the journey started.  He's the one who taught me everything, you know, the basics. The main thing is basics, and he's the one who taught me that.

Q/ How are Americans reacting to cricket now that you have beaten a former world champion?

A/ People were not so aware earlier, but now their interest in the game is growing and it is very exciting.

Q/ Is it mostly South Asian expats, or are mainstream Americans also taking interest?

A/ I do not have an exact answer, but whoever I am seeing are mostly Asian and Caribbean people. And because of those guys, their friends and colleagues who are American-born are also taking part.

Q/ Especially since cricket wasn’t your day job - your team had all been doing something else, right? So, to be against these players who are completely hardwired for cricket, must be quite a challenge, but very rewarding?

A/ We’ve worked for the last five years and are getting the rewards right now on this big stage, and people are recognizing us. That's so satisfying to see that finally we are getting this kind of reward for something which we have done for the past five years.

Q/ Like many immigrants, you once opened a restaurant, called Teriyaki Madness. Do you think you will revisit that interest some day?

A/ My passion has always been cricket. When I came here, for three-four years, I could not play cricket. But when I became eligible to play for the US, I went into the selection process and started playing. I got a second chance to play cricket at a different level.

Q/ You must have played with some of the current Indian cricketers in your junior days?

A/ Axar Patel and Jasprit Bumrah.

Q/ What does it mean to represent the US against your country of birth?

A/ Obviously, for me, my passion for cricket is more than anything. So, for me, that comes first, and representing the country where I live right now―it is a bright moment for me. I am proud that I have played with India [and its] superstars.

Q/ Do you think that the cricket and baseball comparison is fair? Which do you think is tougher?

A/ Actually, cricket is tougher. In baseball, you make one mistake and you still have a chance to come back and play. In cricket, you are done.

Q/ What response is Major League Cricket getting and do you think it has a future?

A/ This is a big exposure for cricketers and it is going to be a big thing. It has already been successful in the first season, and we are really looking forward to playing our second season. We (MI New York) are the defending champions.

Q/ If you make it to the Super 8, what would it mean for cricket in the US?

A/ Qualifying for the World Cup for the first time, and [playing] with the likes of India and Pakistan, you are seeing the growth, and it is growing very, very fast. With every game we play, there is more buzz.

Q/ And for you, what has been the most satisfying aspect?

A/The way we play as a team. It is also satisfying how people are supporting us on the field and on the screen, and it fills me with joy to see their love.

Q/ You lost your mother to cancer. She was the inspiration for you to persist with cricket.

A/ Ever since I started my journey, she was always supportive. Her last words to me were to play hard and work hard.

Q/ It must be rewarding for your father to actually see you on the field.

A/ He is very happy and I feel happy watching him smile and being satisfied with the play.

Q/ What would you want cricket fans in India to know about you?

A/ That I am a cricket lover and I am passionate about the game and want to do a lot of things for USA and to help cricket grow in America. That is why I started to play.

Lavina Melwani is a New York-based journalist who blogs at Lassi with Lavina.