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Match Analysis

Pace, loop and dip: the other side of Axar Patel

Renowned more for his lack of turn, he produced three wickets with ones that went away on a slow, unhelpful track

Sidharth Monga
Sidharth Monga
Coming into this Test, Axar Patel, he of the scarcely believable bowling average and strike-rate, had taken right-hand batters out 28 times out of his 35 wickets. Six of those 28 wickets were aggressive sweeps or catches in the outfield, eight times he took the outside edge or beat it. A staggering 14 wickets - exactly half - had come by beating right-hand batters on the inside edge or taking it.
It was neither disparaging nor inaccurate to say that what made Axar so successful was the lack of turn or a smaller degree of turn. Himanish Ganjoo dove into HawkEye data to surmise that the angle that his long arm created by going roundarm was so big that the turn he got there barely straightened the ball, thus making the batter play outside the line.
It is important to notice that a high percentage of these wickets came on tracks that turned a lot. So the ball that didn't turn or turned less became extra dangerous because the batter's instinct is reacting to the visual clues of the ball turning and bouncing dramatically. Few of these wickets come from arm balls that can be picked out of the hand. Sometimes, it was natural variation, sometimes the extreme angle created by his roundarm release.
Also, batters watch. They watch footage and analyse how a bowler gets wickets. So what do you do if you see a bowler getting most of his wickets through the straighter ones? They become aware of the incoming or the less-turning delivery, and start playing for the angle and not the turn. Basically, play him as left-arm medium.
How the batters wish it was so easy. On perhaps the least turning track that Axar has played on, all four of his right-hand batter victims have been done in on the outside edge. The one to bowl Yasir Ali, after only one wicket had come in nearly 50 overs on a slow pitch with little assistance for the bowlers, was a proper seed. Axar went roundarm, pitched it on off, Yasir defended for the angle, but Axar managed to get just enough turn to beat the outside edge and hit the off stump. Because he was stretched full forward, there was no way Yasir could have adjusted to the ball off the pitch.
Ganjoo's study found that on most of the occasions that Axar took the ball away despite than angle, the ball had to turn at least four degrees, which is a significant amount of turn. Quite a few of the balls he turned at more than four degrees appeared to be coming in because of his angle. Now you can't blame Yasir for playing the angle and not the turn when he saw Axar go roundarm.
Then again, this is not the first time Axar has managed big turn with a roundarm delivery. Often in limited-overs cricket, Axar manages that big turn with a low-arm release. It is a testament to the revolutions he imparts on the ball.
Axar perhaps bowls too quickly to get any dip, but it is that pace that keeps batters from lining him and stepping out to hit him off his length. His length, Axar hardly ever misses. That is the most important quality in a bowler: to be able to land the ball where you want and to know which length works for you. For Axar, attacking the stumps works the best.
That's what he did with the second new ball, with which things happened quicker. Mushfiqur Rahim saw the trajectory and stayed back, only for the ball to be fullish and then turn away past the outside edge. There was no time for him to do damage control with the bat. The off stump was pegged back.
"What really stands out with Axar is pace that he bowls at first [of all]," India's bowling coach Paras Mhambrey said. "It is not easy for the batsman to step out. Also the angles he bowls. The way he releases the ball, it is kind of very difficult for the batsman to [decide whether to] leave it or play at it. And especially in conditions where the ball is turning a little bit, you have to play at those deliveries. That's what stands out for him."
Always at you, extreme angle of release, mostly quick in the air, turning the odd ball, Axar gives you no relief as the Bangladesh batters will have realised. His other two victims were stumpings: Mehidy Hasan on a step-out in the first innings and Nurl Hasan on a forward-defensive in the second.
In top-level cricket, if someone comes into a Test having a bowling strike-rate of 33.5, you know he is still in the honeymoon period thanks either to the conditions or ordinary batting against him. You wait to see how he will react when he has to bowl in less friendly conditions. The second innings on a dying Chattogram pitch was one such occasion. Axar had to work hard for his wickets. Still, he has taken one every nine overs, and with a delivery that is not supposed to be his main threat. He may not be your conventional loop and dip spinner, but he is doing just well even as the post-honeymoon starts.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo