Ajaz Patel is possibly New Zealand's fourth-choice T20I spinner, behind Mitchell Santner, Ish Sodhi, and Todd Astle. But, as the side's only specialist spinner on tour in Bangladesh, he is relishing the responsibility in friendly conditions. With the series on the line in Dhaka, Patel scythed through Bangladesh in their chase of 129, returning 4 for 16 - his best T20 figures - as a second-string New Zealand pulled off a memorable 52-run win.
"I guess, as a spinner, you thrive on conditions like this and you have to take a bit of responsibility in these conditions to try and make sure you can do something for your team," Patel told the broadcaster at the post-match presentation. "It was nice to get a few [wickets] up top and I thought all our bowlers bowled brilliantly. I thought we bowled really well as a collective and our spinners [Cole McConchie (3-15) and Rachin Ravindra (1-13) were the others] did a great job."
Patel went too short and wide with his first ball, which was laced through the covers by Liton Das, but soon eased into his rhythm and outwitted the batters with his variations, including a yorker that cannoned into Afif Hossain's off stump.
"You know, for me, it was trying to get a read for the player. I knew Mahedi (Hasan) was going to try and take me on, so I tried to tighten him up, bowl a little bit quicker and flatter and try to squeeze one through him," Patel said after the match. "Obviously, Shakib (Al Hasan) - we know how dangerous a player he is, so it was about trying to make sure I take some pace away from him.
"I was fortunate there; he kind of mistimed it, and Afif, I bowled him a couple of slower ones, so it was really about the next one, trying to make sure I can fire a quicker, flatter one in."
Patel explained that darting the ball into the Dhaka pitch on an in-between length posed the biggest threat to the batters. "Obviously, over here, we've realised it differs quite considerably from day to day. It's about figuring out what the pace for the surface is and what's the most dangerous ball," Patel said. "So, for me, it was really about trying to get over the top of the ball today, make sure I bowl the ball into the wicket and make sure I spin the ball hard.
"So, that was my main focus today, and from thereon it was about changes of pace, line and variation, using the crease. As a fingerspinner, you know that you are limited in terms of how many ways you can turn the ball, but you can definitely use the crease and changes in pace and variations that way to kind of make a difference."
McConchie also netted his best T20 figures to give Patel good support from the other end. Das had picked off the offspinner for back-to-back leg-side fours and when he went for another sweep two balls later, McConchie found just enough turn from a good length to trap him for 15 off 11 balls. As for Ravindra, he got the wicket of Mohammad Naim, the other opener, and didn't concede a single boundary in his four overs.
Patel credited McConchie and Ravindra for ramping up the pressure on Bangladesh. Even Mushfiqur Rahim couldn't put them away as he laboured to an unbeaten 20 off 37 balls. "It's always great to have other spinners alongside you and both of them bowled brilliantly tonight," Patel said. "And it could've easily been them with three or five wickets. Oh, Cole did get three wickets, but Rachin could've easily got three or four as well.
"So, it's great in that sense that we can communicate and have a chat about what's working and what's not working. I guess, for me, I've played a little bit more cricket; it's a small responsibility that I take on myself to kind of make sure that I can give them some feedback on what the surface is doing and what we can look to do."
Patel acknowledged that the 66-run sixth-wicket stand between Henry Nicholls and Tom Blundell was central to New Zealand keeping the series alive. Nicholls and Blundell came together at 62 for 5 in the 11th over and after bedding in, they took 46 off the last five overs. Nicholls belted Mustafizur Rahman's whippy cutters down the ground and over extra cover for fours while Blundell pulled off eye-catching scoops despite the lack of pace from Rahman.
"I thought they both batted brilliantly. Obviously, it's not easy on that surface to kind of go out there and bat and feel comfortable," Patel said. "But they scrapped hard and played some great cricketing shots and put some pressure on the Bangladesh bowlers. We were fortunate that they got us close to 130 [128 for 5] and we thought that was a reasonable score but we were in with a chance if we bowl well. I guess we started off quite well, which allowed us to put a bit more pressure on the Bangladesh batsmen. Batting, obviously, is the tough part out here and I thought our batters did a great job today."
Patel believed that New Zealand could yet snatch the series if they keep digging deep. "It's great that the series is still alive," he said. "We really feel like if we fight and scrap well, we've got a good chance. So, it's just making sure we turn up next game and put our best foot forward again and make sure we're ready for a fight."