India news June 3, 2014

Big stage brings out best in Akshar Patel

One of the brightest talents to emerge from the IPL has impressed with his ability to stay on top of the best batsmen and team-mates have been impressed by his all-round ability

It was early on in the 2013-14 Ranji Trophy season when Gujarat faced Delhi in Surat in a league game. Parthiv Patel, the Gujarat captain, was stunned by the confidence of a young left-arm spinner who was playing his first game of the season, and second first-class match. Aside from the miserly spell of 6 for 55 off 45 overs, Parthiv was struck by Akshar Patel's desire to bowl at the best opposition batsmen. That too against Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir, who were both both fighting for India comebacks and perhaps as hungry as the youngster from Nadiad, a small town in Gujarat (about an hour's drive from Ahmedabad).

"Ever since he knew he would play, he was constantly asking me to let him bowl to Gautam and Viru as much as he could," Parthiv told ESPNcricinfo. "For a youngster who was relatively new to first-class cricket, having not cemented his place in the side to be gunning to bowl at two of the best batsmen in India, he had to be supremely confident about his abilities. And he proved that even during that match."

While Akshar, a lanky left-arm spinner who considers himself a batting allrounder, dismissed Gambhir in the first innings, he fooled Sehwag in flight and got him stumped in the second.

Almost seven months down the line, Akshar has emerged as the youngest sensation in Indian cricket, thanks to his impressive performance in the seventh edition of the IPL. His 17 wickets at a stingy economy rate of 6.17 - the best for a bowler who played more than three matches - for Kings XI Punjab helped him not only emerge as one of the leading spinners of the tournament but also be adjudged with the Emerging Player of the tournament. More importantly, just before Kings XI featured in their maiden IPL final, Akshar was named in India's squad for the three-ODI series in Bangladesh, to be played later this month.

Many would have been surprised at Akshar being preferred over the likes of Glenn Maxwell, David Miller and Mohit Sharma for that award but those who have seen his terrific surge in the last three years are not surprised. Mukund Parmar is one of them.

Parmar, a prolific run-getter in domestic cricket, was the batting consultant at National Cricket Academy and was watching Akshar shape into a "valuable allrounder" since 2010. It was in 2011-12 that as Gujarat's chief selector, Parmar thought he should be tried out at the senior level. "He is an outstanding fielder and a quick learner, so we thought he should be given a go in the limited-overs format, so we included him in the one-day team," Parmar said.

It was just before the 2011-12 zonal one-dayers when Parthiv first saw Akshar. Since Parthiv was a member of India's ODI squad, he didn't play the zonal one-dayers but trained with the team for a couple of days. "What impressed me about him right away was his accuracy and ability to extract bounce off the wicket. He was also an outstanding fielder. And when I saw him batting, I realised that he is a special talent," Parthiv recalled.

After an impressive outing in the one-dayers and Twenty20s, the teenager was straightaway drafted into the Ranji Trophy team the following season, when Parmar was the coach. But after making his first-class debut against Madhya Pradesh, Akshar had to be released for the Under-19 games. The selectors wanted to groom him in the U-19 championship, and he didn't play any more Ranji games but returned to the senior side in style for the one-dayers and Twenty20s.

Impressive performances in both the limited-overs formats not only earned him an IPL contract with Mumbai Indians but he was also shortlisted for a camp at the NCA that featured 20 cricketers who had just crossed junior cricket ranks but needed further grooming. It was in that camp, also Sanjay Bangar's maiden prominent coaching assignment, that the Kings XI coach was convinced about Akshar's ability.

Soon after, Akshar proved his bowling skills yet again by picking seven wickets in India Under-23's triumphant ACC Emerging Players' trophy campaign. When he joined Gujarat's training camp after returning from Singapore, Parthiv could see the transformation.

"I could sense he had evolved into a terrific reader of the game. That coupled with his ability to adapt to any situation of the game made him into a permanent fixture in the Ranji season. I am sure he can be a reliable allrounder at No. 7 even in the longer format. And he has shown that during the Ranji season," Parthiv said.

Akshar finished the Ranji season with 29 wickets at 23.58 and 369 runs at 46.12 from seven games. And as he displayed in his 65 against Mumbai on a turning track in Valsad, he has the ability to turn the game even with the bat, though his side fell narrowly short.

Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Amit on June 4, 2014, 20:02 GMT

    One thing is guaranteed...Dhoni will over-bowl him and he will be a spent force in few years just like many before him...Patel needs to concentrate on his batting more if he wants to last longer…sad; but, true fact…

  • Dummy4 on June 4, 2014, 8:02 GMT

    @ Facebook user: Akshar's first class average is 44 whereas Jaddu's is 49. In terms of bowling Akshar is 24 whereas Jaddu's is 29. Akshar may have better figures but Jaddu has played another 48 matches and managed to sustain it on one of the flattest roads in the country. Akshar has certainly started well but for now I think I am more than happy with Sir Ravindra Jadeja.

  • Dummy4 on June 3, 2014, 9:10 GMT

    Venkatesh018 : Just go check his FC averge, you willbe shoked. This lad is much better bowler than Sir Jadeja . Let's give him the all rounder's slot in ODIs. Sir Jadeja needs to come as a batting all rounder in place of Rayadu etc.

  • Sriram on June 3, 2014, 8:59 GMT

    Ohja lost to Jaddu recently primarliy coz of his triple hundreds and misery spells in IPL and ODIs. If Akshar has to uspur Jaddu, first he needs to show he can bat and if he indeed gets a go in Bangladesh, then grab it. I still see Jaddu has MSD's go to man in England tests and Akshar has to wait for Jaddu to flop. What is now key is for Akshar to perform similar in Season 2 of Ranji and IPL 8 as well. That will determine him if he is ready for next level, until then paitence is key for fans and Akshar.

  • Nish on June 3, 2014, 8:36 GMT

    Even in the final when all the other King's XI Punjab bowlers were going for a lot of runs, it was so refreshing seeing this young bowler keep it tight & give nothing away that even the opposition batsmen were quite content to take singles only off his bowling. Considering he is also a good fielder & decent batsmen too, he seems to have the whole package as a good all-rounder & hopefully will be in Team India for many years to come! Was deservedly judged to be the Emerging Player of the tournament.

  • Chris on June 3, 2014, 8:09 GMT

    Where batsman have to risk in a T20 format anybody can be made to look good. T20 performance doesn't prove much at all.

  • VENKATACHALAM on June 3, 2014, 7:33 GMT

    Everyone is going overboard on a player who has proven nothing yet. What he has done so far is to hold his nerve and bowl darts even against the biggest of hitters.Is this all he is going to do in his career? A Holding role ! Does he have the skill to get the wickets of batsmen who can take their time in building an innings ? It is a question even Narine hasn't answered convincingly so far.

  • Android on June 3, 2014, 7:16 GMT

    all the best akshar patel

  • Naresh on June 3, 2014, 6:48 GMT

    Although its not nice to think regional. We gujarats are proud of this youngster. India does have lots of new spin talent but I wish a senior ex-cricketer could be used to spot/train/groom this talent.

  • Ramesh on June 3, 2014, 5:38 GMT

    Lets hope he shows his skills in Bangladesh and they play him in those matches. All the best Akshar.

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