Vinesh Patel is this year’s Cricket Innovator Award winner at the YCB’s Cricket Collective Awards.
They celebrate the efforts of volunteers across the grassroots game and are organised by the Yorkshire Cricket Board, in partnership with Yorkshire County Cricket Club and the Yorkshire Cricket Foundation.
Vinesh or ‘Vinnie’ as he’s known, has done something pretty remarkable. And brave.
He has shone a light on his own battles with anxiety and discussed them through the prism of the 2023 club cricket season in Yorkshire.
The project takes the form of a three-part docu-series on YouTube and is put together with the aid of animations, interviews, actual cricket gameplay and, as he put it himself, his overthinking.
It’s called Straight Drive to Survive; a reference to the popular F1 Netflix series but with a nod to cricket.
Watching Episode 1 (Scared Shotless) without much context and then chatting to Vinesh about it later, I was struck by the impact it had on me and how it would likely relate in some way or another to many of you, involved in cricket or not.
Anxiety takes many forms but it can certainly manifest itself in performance on and off the cricket field. Vinesh takes a curiosity, analytical brain and his own experiences as the basis for understanding those triggers and ways to counter them.
During the three-parter, he also addresses a sense of identity, shame, resilience, crippling self-doubt and the ability to heal.
But, when did this anxiety all start?
For Vinesh, it began at university where he struggled to find where he fitted in and became more isolated and insular, cocooned instead with his Chemistry studies in Nottingham.
It developed into social anxiety; a fear of meeting people, talking to them and social events.
That was overcome enough to travel, form friendships and enjoy adventures around the world but it’s still very much with him still.
A lightbulb moment was recognising and rationalising that going out to bars or nightclubbing weren’t the threats his body was interpreting them to be.
Which is where we turn our attention to club cricket.
Vinesh’s performance anxiety – with any sports, he’s always early – “I think it’s part of my personality, I love playing sports and like to turn up early to make the most of it.”
A routine has developed to counter the anxiety is to warm up, do some cardio with a football and in the first episode, he shares other tips he’s learnt along the way.
It’s six weeks until the start of the cricket season, a pre-season net at Crossgates Cricket Club and Vinnie chats to Gian Virdi, Crossgates’ Chairman.
With his batting, he’s been worried with his backlift that he’ll not react quickly enough so in the past, he ends up playing the shot too early. Gian suggests later and faster wins the day. The missing piece of the puzzle is Vinnie telling himself that he’s good enough to play the shots he wants.
The advice is walking in with positive affirmations ringing in his ears. For anyone rolling their eyes at this, it works. Saying what you want to happen – or thinking it – locks it in. Makes it real. And probably nudges our subconscious a certain direction.
It won’t magically transform you into Jos Buttler or Virat Kohli but in a myriad of ways, cricket is a game of the mind and this is part of what makes Vinnie’s YouTube series so fascinating; particularly given his own battles.
Cricket nets are an opportunity to experiment, free from the constraints of match scenarios. In Vinnie’s case, something clicks and he’s alot more attacking than normal. Fear tends to constrain us and indoors at least, there is a freedom we can tap into.
He decides to document how to accurately simulate real-match scenarios in practice sessions to bridge the gap between preparation and being out in the middle for matches.
Gian’s insight came across loud and clear afterwards during a debrief with Vinnie, who was pleased to have been more attacking but wary of playing loose shots that he’d perhaps get out to during the season. It’s a balance, after all.
In the end, Vinnie moves to Yorkshire LPS in Bradford to be closer to where he lives and cut down on travel.
LPS were founded by the Patel community in Leeds in 1994 and in episode two of the docu-series, we learn about the role of identity – beginning with a history of surnames.
In India, the surname naming convention is based on the geographical area so Vinnie’s parents came from the State of Gujarat where land-owning farmers are often named Patel.
Patels began to move to the UK in the 1960s in search of better opportunities and naturally enough, formed a cricket team. It even led to an extraordinary match in 2001 when Yorkshire LPS played Amarmilan in the Bradford Mutual Sunday School League – with all 22 players called Patel!
Vinesh discusses the challenges of being caught between two nationalities and feeling not British enough for the UK and not Indian enough either.
There is a cricket comparison here too. At Crossgates, he developed an anchor role as a defensive player who’d dig in and defend. Moving to LPS, where they like to attack more, the expectation was perhaps to change his batting identity.
In Episode 3, the subject is around shame (in this case with low scores and not contributing) and fitting into a new cricket team dynamic. Even one where he knows LPS players well and socialises with them away from cricket.
After struggling with the bat, Vinnie offers to go out on loan but is reassured by LPS that he contributes in lots of other ways like catches and run-outs in key moments, helping with team warm-ups, scoring, umpiring and writing the match reports that help bind everyone together as a group.
While Vinnie finishes the season with 180 runs playing for LPS first XI in the Dale Council’s Division A, it hasn’t been the season he wanted.
He confides in me that he might enjoy his cricket better with shorter formats for 2024 like indoor games at Leeds City College where everyone is involved and the time commitment is much less.
“But horse for courses…you’ve got to let people do what they want to do – if they like longer formats then go for it!”
The series Straight Drive to Survive on YouTube is well worth a watch. It’s a thoughtful, deeply personal video diary that will get you thinking about your own cricket and life.
Though that gnawing anxiety remains, his openness has helped others consider their own mental health. I do wonder how many suffer with this: “Some people are high functioning so just because they get on with it, it doesn’t mean they’re not feeling it.”
Meanwhile, he has a YCB Cricket Collective Awards dinner to look forward to. The Innovator category win is well deserved given the sensitivity of the subject matter and how he tackled it with a blend of humour, animations, video clips and loads of insight.
I did wonder if Vinnie would attend the Headingley showpiece, given the social anxiety we’ve been discussing but the answer comes back with an enthusiastic nod: “Absolutely. I’ll try anything twice! If the second time, I don’t like it then I’ll never do it again.”
Thanks to Vinnie for sharing his thoughts and many congratulations on his YCB Award.
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