BENGALURU: 2/40, 5/60, 6/38, 5/32, 4/68, 5/48 – these were Axar Patel’s numbers in his first three Test matches ever since his debut earlier in the year. These stats would make anyone proud, but the challenge for the slow-left armer was to carry on that form and challenge India’s key spin duo of Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja in the Test series against New Zealand. The all-rounder was able to do that, scalping an impressive five-wicket haul against the Kiwis in the first Test at Green Park in Kanpur on Saturday. His prolific display played a central role in dismissing New Zealand for 296 in the first innings as India were 14/1 at stumps with a lead of 63 runs.
However, this incredible run of wickets in the longer format still does not make him a first or second choice spinner for India. It is only when Ashwin or Jadeja gets injured or when the think-tank opt for three spinners that Axar gets a chance in the playing XI. In fact, he made his Test debut almost six years after making his ODI appearance, reflecting how patiently he had to wait for his turn. In February, he got his break after Jadeja was ruled out of the England series due to a broken thumb and the bowler has not looked back ever since. And in Kanpur, India decided to field three spinners and the 27-year-old had to make this opportunity count.
Though his first three games of his career were played in absolute rank turners, the situation was quite different in Kanpur. The pitch did not take much of a turn, but it was a slow, low surface. This Test gave him a further chance to prove that he has it in him to make use of his skills even when the surface is not turning square. It demanded patience.
The left-arm stuck to his strength, bowling wicket-to-wicket, making the batters play as much as possible, which worked. Of his five wickets, two were bowled while one was trapped leg before. If there were any changes on Day 3, the bowler tried to use the crease much more, which helped him get more purchase from the track comparatively. At times, he also bowled quicker though the air.
With New Zealand having started the day on 129/0, they were 227/5 and that set the ball rolling for India as Axar gained further confidence, claiming two more wickets before Ashwin took the last two to put India in a good position. “When I am out there on the ground, I just try and enjoy myself. I do not think that Ashwin bhai is there or Jaddu is also there. I always see what is happening on the wicket and likewise prepare my bowling plan as well. I do not think….lead role or anything like that. I only concentrate on my bowling and think about the requirements of the team during that period,” said Axar during the virtual press conference.
India 1st innings: 345
New Zealand 1st innings (O/N 129-0): Latham st sub ( Bharat) b Axar 95, Young c sub (Bharat) b Ashwin 89, Williamson lbw Umesh 18, Taylor c sub (Bharat) b Axar 11, Nicholls lbw Axar 2, Blundell b Axar 13, Ravindra b Jadeja 13, Jamieson c Axar b Ashwin 23, Southee b Axar 5, Somerville b Ashwin 6, Ajaz (not out) 5.Extras (b 6, lb 4, nb 5, w 1) 16, Total (all out, 142.3 ovs) 296.FOW: 1-151, 2-197, 3-214, 4-218, 5-227, 6-241, 7-258, 8-270, 9-284.
Bowling: Ishant 15-5-35-0, Umesh 18-3-50-1, Ashwin 42.3-10-82-3, Jadeja 33-10-57-1, Axar 34-6-62-5.
India 2nd innings: Mayank (batting) 4, Gill b Jamieson 1, Pujara (batting) 9. Extras 0, Total (one wicket, five ovs) 14. FOW: 1-2Bowling: Southee 2-1-2-0, Jamieson 2-0-8-1, Ajaz 1-0-4-0.