Even when Zimbabwe’s old hand Sikandar Raza was running away with the match, the Indian pacers stuck to their plans. On a track with no help, India’s two death-over bowlers for the game – Shardul Thakur and Avesh Khan – didn’t lose the plot. And it was their smart bowling that saw the team escape with a win in the third and final game of the ODI series in Harare.
India’s left-arm spinner Axar Patel, after the game, spoke about the role of pacers in the tight game. The Gujarat player also said that for him personally it felt like home when taking the field in West Indies and Zimbabwe. “When playing T20 against the West Indies in the US and also in Harare, there were about 80 to 90 Gujaratis in the crowd. It was like playing in Ahmedabad. They were in Gujarat Titans T-shirts, and they were singing songs that went as ‘Gujarati faafda, Axar bhai aapda. So I really enjoyed those moments.“
However, the Indians fans were tense when the hosts were within striking distance of a consolation win, needing 17 runs from 13 balls. But the pacers didn’t lose their cool. Avesh and Thakur accounted for Raza and Brad Evans – the two batters who had carried Zimbabwe from 167/7 in 35.5 overs to 273 in the 48th over. Raza scored a gritty 115 and Evans supported him with a useful 28.
As a part of the bowling plan on the flat Harare track, Thakur and Avesh denied the batsman any pace by cutting down on pace. The two also pulled their length back, minimizing the risk of over-pitching and keeping the ball away from the big swing arc of the bat.
The planning worked, Thakur on the fourth ball of the 49th over got Raza. It was a short ball with no pace. A tired Raza, instead of hitting to the square boundary, hit it to long-on. The shot didn’t have the power to clear the ropes. Actually, Gill on the boundary had to run in, dive in front of him to hold the catch. Had Thakur tried to bowl a yorker, it might have not worked. Earlier in the innings Raza had shown he had learnt the tricks of white-ball batting by guiding the full balls to fine leg.
Like Thakur, his fellow pacer Avesh Khan too had broken the dangerous-looking Raza-Brad Evans partnership with a slower ball. A mighty heave by Evans didn’t connect as the ball was too slow for his liking. Evans was out for 28 and he had more than a hundred run partnership with Raza.
After the game, Axar Patel said the big take away for the team was the implementation of the strategy decided in the dressing room.
“I think the way the fast bowlers executed the plans was very good. The way Avesh yorker and slower ones, we came back very well. Shardul in death overs and Shubham Gill’s batting were the biggest takeaways for us,” he said.
Later, he went on to speak about Gill, someone who he said wasn’t as serious in the dressing room as he when batting.
“He is taking singles and twos more regularly and is not playing a lot of dot balls. I think that is his biggest positive. Whenever he bats, he makes it a point to keep rotating the strike. He also converts bad balls into boundaries. He also plays spinners very well and is very good with the sweep and reverse sweep,” he said.
Axar had figures of 2/30 from 10 over and was also credited with bowling a maiden over on the pitch tailor-made for batsmen to terrorise batsmen. He also gave the player’s perspective on the recent chopping and changes in the playing XI. “Actually it is tough, you play two games and you are out after that and after that you get more games. I always back myself. I always see this as an opportunity. I say if I do well in this game I will get more games. I don’t take it negatively,” he said.