Ajaz Patel became an instant hero during his test debut last night when the Black Caps claimed a thrilling win over Pakistan in Abu Dhabi.
The 30-year-old sparked a disciplined Pakistan's eventual downfall, finishing with a 5-59 in a man-of-the-match performance in the fourth innings to lead New Zealand to win the test by just four runs.
After making his Twenty20 debut in October, Patel's test debut was well worth the wait.
"It's a dream come true debuting for New Zealand and being in a position to win the game for your country so it's a very special feeling," Patel said after the match.
It hasn't been an easy road to the top for New Zealand's cricket hero, who only in his early twenties realised that he needed to make a major change.
Cricket's late bloomer had been a fast bowler his whole life but after trying to bowl spin for fun in a few club games, Patel realised it was the one thing he needed to change in order to make it as an international cricketer.
Under the guidance of former test off spinner Dipak Patel - now his longtime mentor - the transformation was seamless and Patel quickly rose as the one to watch.
Becoming the highest wicket-taker in first-class cricket for three years straight, named the Men's Domestic Player of the Year at the 2018 New Zealand Cricket Awards, and leading the Central Stags to winning the Plunket Shield title with 48 wickets at 21.52, repeated success at domestic level set the foundation for his Black Caps selection earlier this year.
"I'd like to think I've waited a while," Patel said. "I'm 30 now, so I've put a lot of work in to be able to put myself in this position so it's quite rewarding to be able to contribute and really get one across the line for the country."
A never-say-die attitude was what Patel credited to the Black Caps' big win at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium after a decent start from Pakistan with 40 runs on the board without loss made the chances of a New Zealand victory seem unlikely.
When asked what the team did during the break to come back strong and topple Pakistan, Patel said it was just about keeping things simple.
"I think it's the New Zealand way to believe anything is possible and we went out there in true character to us and we went out and played the Kiwi way," he said.
Black Caps captain Kane Williamson also praised the performance of Patel and his team for a superb fighting effort.
"It's a great advertisement for test cricket. We knew the surface wasn't easy and it required a really scrappy performance. The attitude was outstanding – the guys stayed in the contest for long periods of time," Williamson said.
"That fighting attitude that we showed throughout was something that we want to hold onto."
This article was first published on nzherald.co.nz and is republished here with permission.