The year of Axar Patel the ‘all-rounder’

  • With 36 wickets and 464 runs in five Tests (including the ongoing Mumbai match) this is still the year of Axar the all-rounder.
The year of Axar Patel the ‘all-rounder’(AP)
The year of Axar Patel the ‘all-rounder’(AP)
Published on Dec 05, 2021 10:21 PM IST
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By, Kolkata

Of the four sixes hit off Ajaz Patel in the second innings of the Mumbai Test, Axar Patel’s was possibly the closest to how coaches prescribe it. A shimmy down the track to get to the pitch of the ball and a clean hit through the line over long-on, Axar was faultless from planning to execution. Batting with a strike rate of 157, two fifties in two innings was there for his taking had Virat Kohli not declared at the fall of Jayant Yadav’s wicket. Not that it would have mattered in the bigger context of burying New Zealand under a pile of 500-plus runs, but in this uncompromising race to be among the top two spinners at home, every fifty counts.

Selection for home Tests usually follows the template of choosing an off-spinner and a left-arm spinner (to take the ball away from the left- and right-handed batters) and then a third spinner at times as insurance. For years, Ravindra Jadeja has walked into the side as that slow-left arm bowler and an almost specialist batter, besides being the best fielder. It has been a model of runaway success as well with Ravichandran Ashwin and Jadeja accounting for 359 wickets in 34 Tests at home so far. But in his first year at this level, Axar has proven to be more than adequate in that role.

With 36 wickets and 464 runs in five Tests (including the ongoing Mumbai match) this is still the year of Axar the all-rounder. That is what Axar believes he, Jadeja and Ashwin are--all-rounders. “My batting is benefitting the team and if you see me, Jaddu and Ash bhai playing as all-rounders, it releases a bit of pressure on our batters,” Axar said after the third day’s play. Maybe it was a subtle way to camouflage the topic but there is no disputing that what Axar really does best is make Jadeja redundant at times.

There are more similarities than differences between the two and the Kanpur Test (where Axar and Jadeja finished with six and five wickets respectively) showed it can be neck-and-neck. Both bowl wicket-to-wicket and at a fair speed as well. If at all, Jadeja is slightly more reliant on the rough, which explains why he is most menacing in the third innings of home Tests (52 wickets in 20 Tests at a strike rate of 45.5 and an average of 16.44).

Axar is better at using the crease, especially with the newer ball. Adept at varying the release heights, Axar adds his accuracy to make life tougher for batters. It happened in this series, like it happened against England earlier this year.

Bagging 27 wickets in his first three matches at an average of 10.59, Axar made one of the best starts ever by a bowler in Test history. Helping him in this seamless transition from T20 cricket to Tests was a long stint in Ranji Trophy for Gujarat and even County cricket for Durham in 2018 (he was stranded on 95 on debut). But for a knee injury, Axar would have played the first Test against England in Chennai as well, but he more than made up with an insane haul that kept India in the hunt from both ends for the next three Tests. Jadeja, ruled out due to a fractured thumb, wasn’t missed at all.

“Actually, this has been my dream year, you can say. The way I bowled in the England series and now how the New Zealand series has panned out, in between there was the IPL, so I can say this has really been a good year for me,” said Axar, who is very much central to India’s larger scheme of things, especially at home. “My endeavour is to keep improving and look at areas where I need to get better,” he said, when asked about the approaching South Africa tour where he may not make the eleven, or even the squad.

Safe to say though, selection for home Tests won’t be straightforward anymore.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Somshuvra Laha is a sports journalist with over 11 years' experience writing on cricket, football and other sports. He has covered the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup, the 2016 ICC World Twenty20, cricket tours of South Africa, West Indies and Bangladesh and the 2010 Commonwealth Games for Hindustan Times.

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Friday, January 28, 2022