On 13th February 2021, Axar Patel became the 302nd cricketer to play Test cricket for India. As the day progressed, though, there was enough to suggest that the all-rounder would have no role on the opening day, for Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma were motoring along, after India had elected to bat first.
Yet a flurry of wickets in the final session meant that Axar Patel was cast into the deep end – much sooner than he would’ve expected, but much later than he would’ve wanted.
To put things into perspective, representing the country in the longest version still remains at the pinnacle of cricketing achievements, meaning that nerves would’ve certainly flogged into Axar Patel’s system. Thus, at such junctures, it is perhaps better to get into the groove on the field, rather than spending hours off it, contemplating how the debut might play out.
Consequently, one wouldn’t be wrong in opining that Axar Patel might emerge a better player, post the few minutes he spent at the crease towards the end of Day 1. If one were to stretch it a tad further, it could also be an initial glimpse of what could prove an ideal debut for Axar Patel.
Ever since the 1st Test, conversation has been ripe about the nature of the surface at Chepauk – something that was called into question, for it proved pretty docile during the early exchanges of the first game. Subsequently, perhaps as a marker of over-correction, the strip for the second match seems quite loose and crumbly – aspects that have already made the ball talk, in just 88 overs of play.
During the first session itself, the ball gripped in the surface and spun prodigiously – traits that were in scant supply till day 3 of the first Test. The extravagant assistance for the spinners was characterized by Virat Kohli’s dismissal, who despite being bamboozled convincingly, wore a quizzical look due to the amount of turn the ball took.
Post that, Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma buckled down, unfurling an extensive repertoire of strokes as they, literally and metaphorically, swept the English bowlers off their feet. Even during their vigil, the odd ball reared up, stuck in the surface or spun exceptionally, meaning that despite the sheer number of runs they stacked up, they never really felt ‘set’.
That Rohit 100 was so from the Sehwag school of batting! Set his own agenda irrespective of conditions & situation. 👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼#INDvsENG
— Sanjay Manjrekar (@sanjaymanjrekar) February 13, 2021
As the day meandered towards its conclusion, the track began playing more tricks, most notably when Joe Root started turning his arm over. Not only did the English skipper account for Ravichandran Ashwin, he also looked more threatening than Moeen Ali – England’s frontline off-spinner. Though that might be a damning indictment of the latter, it highlighted the amount of assistance the spinners were garnering.
More importantly though, Joe Root bowled considerably quicker through the air, as opposed to Jack Leach and Moeen Ali. Yet, he somehow seemed the most unplayable of the trio, thereby indicating that spinners who bowl flatter and faster might extract more off the surface. And, that, is perhaps where Axar Patel could come into the equation.
Since breaking onto the scene with the Kings XI Punjab in the IPL, Axar Patel has always been someone capable of darting the ball into the batsman, rather than relying on flight and guile. In fact, he seems a bowler that is cut out of the white-ball cloth, wherein tweakers are encouraged to build pressure and be accurate, instead of being unnecessarily imaginative and leaking runs.
In the process, he has moulded his modus operandi to bowl at the stumps at all times, irrespective of the game situation. While he has compromised a touch on the number of revolutions he gets through the ball, the immaculate lines and lengths have offset it.
Thus, his bowling style has always been more suited to pitches that are conducive to spinners, thereby allowing him to fire the ball into the surface and extract turn. And, in sync with the above, he seems to have found an able ally at the MA Chidambaram Stadium.
Furthermore, most of England’s batsmen, including Joe Root, have a propensity to deploy the sweep shot. However, that could prove disastrous against Axar Patel, who simply put, is a lot more accurate than Shahbaz Nadeem and Washington Sundar.
Additionally, Axar Patel is a lot quicker through the air, meaning that the English batsmen might not have as much time to skip down the track and negate any prospective turn. And, if that isn’t enough, his height allows him to generate bounce that the likes of Shahbaz Nadeem and Washington Sundar couldn’t effectively do in the opening encounter.
Most tellingly though, due to Axar Patel’s tendency to slightly under-cut the ball, he does not get the ball to turn as often, meaning that his arm ball could become an enormous weapon. Not just because it could zip through the defences of the English batsmen, but also because the straight delivery becomes much tougher to tackle on spinning surfaces.
Apart from the aforementioned elements, Axar Patel also has the opportunity to create a ripple with the willow. At the moment, India find themselves comfortably placed at 300/6, with the new ball only two and a half overs old.
So, at the outset of Day 2, Axar Patel, alongside his Delhi Capitals teammate Rishabh Pant, might fancy his chances of unleashing a counter-attack that could firmly take the wind out of the English sails. In addition, it would help India negotiate their way to a total that might be beyond the visitors’ reach.
To that end, Axar Patel does have a strike rate of 62.54 in First Class cricket, with him having played countless belligerent knocks for Gujarat lower down the order. As far as Axar Patel is concerned, he considers himself more of a batsman – something that might only make England a lot more anxious.
Thus, as Day 2 of the 2nd Test dawns, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that the outcome could be defined by Axar Patel, despite the all-rounder only playing his maiden international red-ball fixture.
Yet, that could also prove to be a baptism by fire for Axar Patel, considering he might have to showcase exemplary temperament to navigate through all the expectations. And then there is also the small matter of him trying to replicate what a certain Ravindra Jadeja would’ve done in a similar situation.
Welcome to Test cricket, @akshar2026! 👏👏
— BCCI (@BCCI) February 13, 2021
At the start of Day 1, when Axar Patel received his Test cap from Virat Kohli, he would most certainly have ventured into dreamland and thought about the ideal start to his red-ball career. Now, though, hours after the ceremony, he has the opportunity to metamorphose those ideas into something more tangible.
Either way, one reckons Axar Patel might not erase his Test debut from his memory in a trice. If it is one to remember or one to forget, is probably up to him. Quite a roller-coaster ride, eh?