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India Management Left With Decision on Spin

Published: 04th October 2015 04:23 AM  |   Last Updated: 04th October 2015 04:23 AM   |  A+A-

CHENNAI: Two domestic seasons ago, a group of uncut bowlers were thrown into a menacing batting line-up that comprised Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir, both prying for national comeback, on a shirtfront in Surat, the same ground where Ravindra Jadeja had reeled off a triple hundred the previous season.

The match, like most others at the venue, didn’t produce a result, but Gujarat, shockingly, garnered first-innings lead despite scoring just 320. They were stalled and stalked by a stick-slim left-arm spinner playing his second first-class match. In Delhi’s first innings, the you­ngster from Nadiad bowled 45 overs, 20 of them maide­ns, and winkled out six wickets for just 55 runs. He ope­­ned the bowling in the second innings, bowled 11 overs for 20 runs. He accounted for Gambhir in the first and Sehwag in the second.

The preface to Axar Patel’s career was just written, though nobody bothers flipping through those pages again.

For the more eventful pages of the Axar script began six months later, when he emerged the most economical bowler of IPL-7, conceding only 6.13 per over while plucking 17 wickets. In another 10 months, he usurped the spinning all-rounder’s slot, over which Jadeja seemed to have hung a “no trespassers” board. But the latter’s shoulder injury and subsequent loss of form catalysed Axar’s steep ascent in T20Is and ODIs, though his Test debut seems far-fetched in the present scheme.

But in the shorter versions, he has cemented his spot, as somebody who can keep an end tight, contribute with the bat and field agilely. He has worn the constrainer’s role to perfection, conceding 4.59 runs in 18 ODIs and five in two T20Is.

“He has done his primary duty well, which is to bowl economically. Maybe, with more opportunities, he will start contributing with the bat and take wickets on a regular basis,” opined Narendra Hirwani.

In short, Axar is cast in the Jadeja mould, though their similarities end with the generic classification, their predilection to bowl flat and not rely on side spin, and the similarity of their deputed roles. Their means and methods are different.

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Jadeja bowls closer to the stumps and pitches it within the stumps, the reason he gets a lot of batsmen bowled or lbw. Only if the strip affords massive turn does he pitch the ball outside off-stump, as he ensnares batsmen with subtle changes in speed and trajectory.

“When he was bowling well, he was wonderfully disciplined, gave batsmen hardly anything to cut and was always at the stumps, which meant batsmen had to take risks to hit boundaries. His pace meant they couldn’t step out to him easily,” pointed out former spinner Maninder Singh.

Axar, on the other hand, undercuts the ball, bowls wider from the crease, is shorter in length and mostly lands the ball outside the off-stump. He fools the batsmen into thinking that he is too short to be cut, and hence induces edges to the keeper. So far, he has given a good account of himself.

But his longevity will also depend on his batting utility, with the shadow of Jadeja lurking like a phantom. “Jadeja is so experienced that if he manages some consistency in the domestic season, he will be in the fray again,” felt Maninder.

Since his return from shoulder injury, Jadeja has seemed short of self-belief. Maybe, a trip to Surat is the best cure to restoring it.



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