Great opportunity for Axar to come out of Jadeja’s shadows

By, Mohali
Sep 18, 2022 10:57 PM IST

His bowling skills are well known while his batting has steadily improved. His T20 World Cup selection with the senior spin-bowling all-rounder injured is a big chance to cement his spot.

“People have been telling me you are a bowling all-rounder and cannot bat. I entered the game as a batsman. I have always said that I can bat.” A daring claim after scoring only 40 runs in nine ODIs but Axar Patel had solid reasons when he had said this in 2014. He had just taken West Zone to the Deodhar Trophy final scoring an unbeaten 64 off 38 balls in a 315-run chase against South Zone. It took Axar 33 more matches to replicate that on the international stage. He smashed an unbeaten 64 off 35 balls in an ODI against West Indies in Port-of-Spain this year, in skipper Rohit Sharma's words to “single-handedly” win the game.

Axar Patel(BCCI)
Axar Patel(BCCI)

More than the number of matches, the eight-year gap between that Deodhar innings and the one in Trinidad will hurt Axar more, and that he could not become India's first-choice spin-bowling all-rounder. He was always No 2 to Ravindra Jadeja, playing whenever he was resting or nursing an injury. Axar wouldn't have played the Windies ODIs had Jadeja not picked up an injury.

Despite his heroics in the Caribbean in July, he was not selected for the Asia Cup as Jadeja regained fitness. Jadeja though suffered a knee injury in the Asia Cup that ruled him out for the rest of the tournament and the T20 World Cup in Australia. In came Patel again.

“We needed an all-rounder there because Jadeja was a big miss for us. Axar was always a part of our plans. It was always going to be between Axar and Jadeja because they do similar things. Since Jadeja is not available we were quite clear that Axar is the guy who can do the job for us," said skipper Rohit Sharma ahead of the three-match T20I series against Australia starting here on Tuesday.

This time, however, things are a little different. Axar has started to bridge the gap in batting. And it didn't come suddenly in the West Indies. He had shown gradual improvement in the last 2-3 years. In IPL 2020, he had hit Jadeja for three sixes in the last over to bamboozle MS Dhoni and win the match for Delhi Capitals. In DC's IPL 2022 opener, Axar hit a match-winning 38* off 17 balls against Mumbai Indians. He had showed his range of strokes and maturity even in the Test arena when he hit New Zealand's Ajaz Patel, against the turn over extra cover, for a six and brought up his maiden fifty on a turning track.

“Recently if you saw in the West Indies, he batted brilliantly, won the game single-handedly,” Sharma said. The captain’s confidence was there to be seen in India's first training session on Sunday. Axar was one of the first to walk out to bat in the nets, and while Virat Kohli, KL Rahul and Rohit Sharma batted in multiple short sessions, the left-hander carried on for about an hour, facing both pace and spin.

Axar’s batting career, in a way, has a lot of similarities with that of Jadeja. The latter had a strike rate of 93 and averaged only nine in T20Is till 2018. But since January 2019, his strike rate has gone up to 140 with the average rising to 45. Axar’s trajectory too is such that he also can be described as a late bloomer. He had a strike rate of 125 in T20Is till 2018 but in the last four years it has gone up to 149.

What about bowling? Sharma said Axar can be used in different phases of the game. “He is a three-phase bowler, bowls in powerplay middle-overs, maybe can bowl an over at the death as well if you want to make use of the bigger boundary,” he said. Sharma is right, Axar has a better success rate than Jadeja in the powerplay. He has bowled more overs than his senior partner, and has taken seven wickets in the first six overs of a T20I compared to Jadeja’s three.

With his height and new skills of pace variation added to his armoury, Axar has shown he is more than someone who bowls darts. He is a genuine wicket-taking option in the first 10 overs. His new-found batting prowess and bowling skills will be put to test in the home series against Australia and South Africa, and then in the World Cup.

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    Aritra Mukherjee, who happens to be a journalist, is in an eternal relationship with food and sleep. He can, however, sacrifice both or at least the latter for his love-affair with cricket. 'He said,' 'he added,' 'he signed off' are some of his favourite phrases. When not juggling between food, sleep and cricket, he wastes time by surfing OTT platforms.

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