The Axar X-factor: Give ball, will spin
“Test cricket is easy for Axar Patel”. This has been the saying going around after the left-arm spinner bamboozled England in his first two Test appearances.
But has it really been that easy for Axar? Playing international cricket since mid-2014, his maiden Test call-up came later that year itself when India toured Australia. On that occasion as well, Ravindra Jadeja was indisposed and Axar was rewarded for some impressive performances in the home ODIs versus West Indies and Sri Lanka. But he did not make the Test XI then.
Prior to his Test debut, in the second match at Chennai of the ongoing series, Axar had last donned national team colours three years ago, in a T20I versus South Africa.
With Jadeja re-establishing himself in all formats alongside the growth of Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav, a toehold in the team even for limited-overs matches looked a tough ask for Axar. But again, with Jadeja out injured and Kuldeep not having enough confidence of the team management, the door re-opened for Axar.
With his small yet meaningful contributions in the IPL, Axar made sure he was never out of the radar. And as soon as he donned the Test cap, he showed that terming him as a white-ball specialist wouldn’t be the correct assessment as he could be the X-factor of the Test team too, having outshone even the world-class Ravichandran Ashwin at the Motera stadium.
“His biggest strength is his accuracy and the pace at which he bowls along with his height,” former India left-arm spinner Venkatapathy Raju said. “And on these wickets, his kind of bowling turns out to be ideal.”
But how tough could it be for Axar once Jadeja returns? “Well, first, Axar isn’t someone who had set the domestic stage on fire with his bowling.
“He’s been a utility cricketer in the white-ball format, but when he got the opportunity in Test cricket, he grabbed it with both hands and delivered on responsive pitches. So you must credit him for that.
“But to talk of Jadeja, he’s the most valuable cricketer in the world to me and we also saw the impact he had in Australia both in terms of his bowling and batting. So when he comes back, he’s obviously an automatic choice in the XI,” former India left-arm orthodox Dilip Doshi told The Telegraph from London.
With his rare feat of three five-wicket hauls in his first two Tests, Axar has matched the feat of Narendra Hirwani.
Decoding Axar’s bowling, former leg-spinner Hirwani, who played 17 Tests and 18 ODIs, said that if the left-armer stays consistent with his accuracy and speed, the wicket will do the rest for him.
“In case of a left-arm spinner, the angle that he creates makes it tougher for batsmen on turning tracks, because they can’t understand which ball will turn and which one will be straighter.
“When he balls from close to the corner (of the crease) with the hand sideways, that angle creates the confusion as the batsman feels he must play the ball as it’s coming in towards him. Because, from that angle, the ball comes in and turns away which makes batting very difficult on spin-friendly surfaces.
“At the same time, if the left-arm spinner bowls at a good pace, that leaves batsmen with little time to make adjustments,” Hirwani, now the spin bowling coach of the India women’s team, said.