In his playing days, Sandeep Patil was known for his cavalier attitude and stylish strokeplay. He is, after all, the man who hit Bob Willis for 24 runs in an over, and frequently dumped cricket balls into the Arabian Sea when batting for Mumbai at the Wankhede Stadium.
But on Tuesday, the former Indian middle-order batsman and coach found his name pencilled in for a new role – that of head of the national selection committee panel. Patil's name had not featured in the list of contenders – headed by his former India team-mate and South Zone selector Roger Binny – and considering that he had no prior experience of being a selector at any level, the BCCI's decision to announce him as Kris Srikkanth's replacement at its AGM in Mumbai made heads turn. Out of the blue, he has assumed the most important role in the BCCI.
It is not as if Patil, 56, has come from obscurity, though his inexperience as a selector will be scrutinised. He brings a creditable managerial CV to the table, having previous coached India, India A, Kenya and Oman, as well as Mumbai Champs in the defunct Indian Cricket League (ICL), and currently serving as the director of the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bangalore.
Patil's stint as coach of India in 1996, when he took over from Ajit Wadekar, lasted six months after the disastrous tour of England. From 1997 to 2003, he coached Kenya, famously guiding them to the semi-finals of the 2003 World Cup in South Africa. Following that successful stint, Patil returned to coach India A and oversaw an unbeaten tour of England and a tri-series win in Kenya, also involving Pakistan A.
He quit the job after being "shabbily" treated by the BCCI and became coach of Oman, whom he helped qualify for the ICC Trophy after a good run in the ACC Trophy. He later turned down a last-minute offer to lead India A against South Africa A because he had not been given a full-time contract despite many years of service. He was associated with Mumbai Champs, but severed ties with the rebel Twenty20 league and was welcomed back into the BCCI fold. In October 2009, Patil took over from Dav Whatmore at the NCA where he was serving until the BCCI named him as Srikkanth's replacement.
As an India batsman, Patil was nowhere near as constant a feature in India's Test and ODI teams as Srikkanth, Binny and Mohinder Amarnath, who was also a candidate for the chief selector's role. But by replacing one team-mate and beating two to the coveted post, Patil has been given a belated chance to stamp his presence on Indian cricket. Whether he does so in that inimitable style remains to be seen.