When Akshar Patel traveled to Bangalore for a pre-season Under-19 camp at the National Cricket Academy three years ago, he aspired to be a batsman. Having been an opener for his district and state side in junior cricket, the boy from Nadiad, a small town in Gujarat, dreamt of making it big with the bat.
"But the coaches at NCA advised me to join the bowlers' group instead of batsmen since there were too many batsmen in the camp," Akshar told reporters after helping West Zone beat South Zone in the Deodhar Trophy semi-final at the Wankhede Stadium. "On hindsight, it has turned out to be a boon for me since my bowling has also improved a lot."
Despite being primarily in the bowling group, Akshar's skill with the willow did not go unnoticed. Dinesh Nanavati, V Venkatram and Mukund Parmar, seasoned coaches in domestic cricket who were working as consultants at the NCA then, all spotted his talent. As Parmar had told ESPNcricinfo earlier in the year, Akshar had all the ingredients to be a "valuable allrounder".
And Akshar is delivering on his promise. Having first emerged as a rising star of the IPL and then proving his credentials at international level by picking up 14 wickets from nine ODIs, Akshar has given a glimpse of his talent with the ball. Monday's knock would have eased the concerns of all the national selectors, as well as the chairman Sandeep Patil who watching from the sidelines.
When the selectors sit down to discuss the World Cup probables on December 4, Akshar is a certainty in the list of 30. In fact, he has now made a strong case to be picked in the squad of 15 which the selectors will pick in the first week of January.
Akshar admitted that World Cup selection was at the back of his mind, though he is trying hard to take it one game at a time. "Obviously it remains at the back of the mind, I am focusing more on the tournaments that I am playing. After this, we will be playing the Ranji Trophy and if I keep performing, there will be a chance of being picked for the World Cup."
For a 20-year-old, making a case for a World Cup spot may sound ambitious. But Akshar spoke more assertively than belligerently. He believes that his stint with the India squad has made him a more confident cricketer. "When Virat Kohli appreciates you, it helps. Being selected to play against Sri Lanka and my performance with the bat and the ball was good. Playing for India gives the confidence a boost and teaches you to play under pressure and it helps in matches like today."