Former India U19 wicketkeeper Smit Patel and his wife Nirali were driving through the streets of Bensalem, Pennsylvania, on the night of May 7, 2022. At about 11 o’clock at night, a car in the other lane got off track and crashed into their car head-on at a very high speed. Nirali got away with just a few small cuts on her leg, but Smit was knocked out by the impact and didn’t wake up until he was in the emergency room of a hospital.
Smit’s broken body was rushed to the hospital quickly. He had a lot of cuts and scrapes on his arms and face. Because he had lost so much skin on his arms, doctors had to take skin from other parts of his body and clip it to his arms. He was also told he had a broken right wrist, tennis elbow, a concussion, and shifted discs in his neck and back. He also hurt his knees because of how hard he was hit.
On strong painkillers, he was barely awake for the first few days. He came to the next day, but he couldn’t remember what happened or what led up to it. When the doctors wouldn’t tell him when he would be able to play professional cricket again, Smit started to lose his mind about his cricket future.
“Cricket is all I know, and it’s all I’ve done since I was 4 years old! Smit said, “It was a horrible feeling to lie in the hospital bed and wonder if I’d ever be able to pick up a bat and go back into the middle.”
Having played against my namesake since we were both in U-15, you would never think of Smit as a good person who quits. When he was 16, he wanted to play for the India U19 team, so he decided to stay in India on his own after his family moved to the US. After his team won the U19 World Cup, he decided to stay and try to get an India cap on his own. After Gujarat fired him, he worked hard in the Indian first class system, sometimes for states like Tripura. He toured for 9 years, and for 4 of those years, he was away from his wife Nirali, who was living in the United States. He didn’t move to the United States until Covid had made the world unclear.
Smit went on a hard journey to get his life and body back, just days after being released from the hospital. Because of his bad knee, he had to use a walker for the first month. His broken hand was in a cast and the other one had stitches, so he had to depend on someone else to feed him for the first couple of months. Even worse, night sweats and dreams started to be a regular part of his life. His damage to the top of his head made his eye muscles weak enough that he started having blackouts and tunnel vision when he worked out hard or strained his eyes.
He knew it was a battle he had to fight every day when he got up. He was supposed to go to rehab every day, either for his head injury, his shoulders and arms, or his neck and spine. He would then have to do a few more movements at home very carefully. Even though he was in a lot of pain from rehab, Smit was determined and smiled his way to almost a full recovery in just a few months.
Most of the time, Smit had to stay in bed, so he used meditation and imagination to pass the time. “I did picture quite a lot. I can’t help but watch the game. Even when I wasn’t playing, I was still marking my guard, tapping my line, and getting ready for the next ball.
Even though he may not have mastered vision yet. As soon as he started making his way back, he started getting better. In October of that year, Smit played his first game against other people. It was the Atlanta Open T20. He got an 80 or so against players like Corne Dry, Amila Aponso, and Rahkeem Cornwall, and he ended up with more than 200 runs in 3 games. But he says he was completely spent when it was all over.
“It was hard for me to get back on my feet after the Atlanta Open. First of all, it was nice to be back on the field and hitting in such a way. But I still had a long way to go to get fit,” Smit said.
Smit didn’t do well at the MLC Draft selection event because his body was still hurt from the winter and he was still getting over it. With doubts about his fitness and health, it seemed like teams were about to turn their backs on the 30-year-old, but the San Francisco Unicorns took him with the last pick of the draft.
“I’m back to my old self. After my body was totally torn apart, I feel like I was born again as a person. I came out of it with a much stronger body than I had before. When I think about it, the hard rehab has been good for my body. I can’t wait to get out on the big stage and act. “That is what kept me going when things were hard,” Smit said.
Man’s determination can move mountains. This, along with his determination, is what brought him back from the brink of death and back to his dreams.