Axar revels in cocktail of flight and turn
Axar Patel has - not entirely undeservingly - earned the unwelcome reputation of being a one-dimensional bowler. A spinner who bowls flat, doesn't let batsmen get under his deliveries, and takes wickets through containment. That is usually when he is one of the two or three spinners playing for India.
When he is leading the Gujarat attack, though, he lets the whole range come out. Not that veers too much, but he is flexible. Against Tamil Nadu in the Vijay Hazare Trophy semi-final, defending just 248, and coming in to bowl at 84 for 0, Axar took six wickets to dismantle the favourites. Four of his wickets were stumpings, three of them to forward defensive shots, which showed he dragged them out by beating them in the flight.
"The way the wicket was behaving I thought it was better to bowl a little slower rather than bowling fast," Axar said later. "To go against my style and get these wickets, four stumpings and catches in the slips, is especially satisfying.
"When the batsmen were new to the crease, seeing the pitch and the situation, I knew they wouldn't go on the attack immediately. My plan was to make them defend as much as possible. Make them drive the ball, which could bring wickets on this pitch."
Axar allowed himself a little chuckle, though, when reminded of Dinesh Karthik charging at him in the first over he bowled. That is something batsmen rarely do against Axar, who said he was surprised Karthik did so so early in the piece without having a look at what the ball was doing and what Axar was trying to do. The other wickets, though, were all beauties, turning past the outside edges of batsmen trying to defend.
Hang on, though. Isn't it the opposite of every self-respecting fast spinner in the world? If the pitch is turning, they bowl fast and go slow only if they have to make the ball turn. Axar agrees, but pointed out a subtle difference here. "I look at what the pitch is like, what the batsmen are trying to do," he said.
"It's not that I go and bowl slow on every turning pitch. But this pitch had slow turn. So if you bowled slow it was causing the batsmen more problems. Sometimes you get a square turner, and on those pitches I also bowl fast so as to not give the batsmen time to recover. This pitch had slow turn so I bowled accordingly."
With his 19 wickets at an average of 13, Axar is now the joint-highest wicket-taker in the Vijay Hazare Trophy. Having carried his team through to the final, Axar has a chance to go past Punjab's Siddarth Kaul. He has also contributed a not-small matter of 214 runs to Gujarat's cause, at an average of 43. Only two of his team-mates have scored more runs.
This is perfect preparation for the tour of Australia, and gives Axar a bit of a head-start over Ravindra Jadeja in the competition for the second spinner's slot in the first XI. Axar, though, doesn't see it is a competition. "I have always maintained that your competition should be with yourself," Axar said. "Bowl better than you did in the last match, and you will automatically find a place in the team. If you compete with team-mates, it can cause cracks and clashes in the team."
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo