Axar’s show of strength and a logical shift in India's strategy

By, Mumbai
Jan 06, 2023 06:11 PM IST

The all-rounder’s six-hitting innings at Pune and the lack of Pandya back-ups show why spin allrounders are the way forward.

Hardik Pandya’s white-ball bowling may be on the mend, but in terms of back-ups, there are none on the domestic circuit. Favourably for India, this year’s World Cup is of the traditional white-ball variety and at home. Rampaging innings like the one Axar Patel played against Sri Lanka in the Pune T20I are therefore worth their weight in gold.

Axar Patel(PTI)
Axar Patel(PTI)

The hunt for the next Kapil Dev didn’t take long to fizzle out as the focus shifted to a more realistic expectation of tracking down dual-purpose cricketers who can manage enough multi-tasking to meet the requirements of present day white-ball cricket. With Pandya, Indian cricket got dreaming again, only to realize, managing workload and form across formats was becoming too punishing for him too. Ravindra Jadeja, 34, has been injury-prone, of late. Axar's all-round skills gives India hope.

“His batting is growing leaps and bounds,” head coach Rahul Dravid said on Thursday. “We always knew of his quality with the ball. It was just a case of developing his batting. He is working very hard at it. For more than a year now, it’s an area of his game that we have identified. It’s important for us. In whatever opportunities Axar has got, especially with Jadeja missing quite a lot of cricket recently, he hasn’t let us down…whether it is Tests, ODI or T20.”

With the ball, Axar picked up two wickets, conceding 6 runs-an-over while bowling his full quota in a match that saw an average of 10 runs being scored every over. Given his control over lines and subtle variations, that comes as no surprise. But it’s with his batting, especially the power-hitting, that the all-rounder has raised his game.

He played two notable hands with the bat, last year– a 17-ball 38* in a winning seventh-wicket stand with Lalit Yadav in the IPL and a 35-ball 64* in an ODI against West Indies to pull off another successful run-chase. At Pune, he fell short, but for sheer destructiveness, this 65 (31, 3x4, 6x6) was his best effort.

Picture this! When Axar came to the crease India had lost half their side and the asking rate was over 16, to be maintained for nearly 11 overs. His first scoring shot was a maximum in the 10th over against Wanindu Hasaranga that went sailing over the waiting deep mid-wicket. At the other end, the more feared Suryakumar Yadav was batting at less than run-a-ball, 18 balls into his innings. With that 82-meter six, Axar signalled his intentions of breaking any stereotype about his game – he had come out to hit the long ball and out-bat Yadav, if the bowlers erred.

In the 13th over, he kept pushing the envelope. He attacked Maheesh Theekshana’s mystery spin with a four over deep extra cover and launched him over long on for a six, this time 84 meters long. Then came the onslaught against Hasaranga in the 14th over – six over deep square-leg, deep mid-wicket and lifted the googly over the bowler's head, the last one being 90 meters, long enough for any cricket ground in the world. Yadav picked up speed only after Axar had done all this damage. “When I am doing well with the bat, I am a batting all-rounder,” Axar had once said. Thursday was one of those days.

India had hoped Axar would fill Jadeja’s void in the recent T20 World Cup in Australia. But the testing wickets Down Under proved difficult for Axar the batter. In the sub-continent, using his reach and footwork against spin and improved power-hitting against pace, the Gujarat all-rounder stands a greater chance to succeed.

“It's really good signs for us to have someone like Axar, Washy (Sundar) who is also batting really well and hopefully with Jadeja coming back, it gives us that spin-bowling all-rounder,” said Dravid. “Our stocks are pretty good at the moment with Shabaz who was also there with the squad. For fast-bowling all-rounders, we rely heavily on Hardik and are hoping for other people to step up. To see Mavi 26 (15) bat today, it brings a smile on your face to see one of your bowlers, bat like that.”

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    Rasesh Mandani loves a straight drive. He has been covering cricket, the governance and business side of sport for close to two decades. He writes and video blogs for HT.

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