In series-winning knock against WI, Axar proves he has batting ability to prosper at elite level

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Axar Patel has been so much of an understudy to Ravindra Jadeja that eight years since his international debut, he has played all of six Tests, 40 ODIs and 23 T20Is. And in the handful of games he’s got, the spotlight has squarely been on his white-ball run-squeeze and red-ball five-fors.

It is only in the last couple of years or so that his batting has begun to garner some attention. More evidence of that potential came in his unbeaten 64 off 35 balls, a maiden ODI half-century that won India the ODI series against West Indies in Trinidad on Sunday.

Memorably, in October 2020, Axar had hit Jadeja for three sixes in the last over to win an Indian Premier League game in Sharjah for Delhi Capitals against Chennai Super Kings. In the Mumbai Test against New Zealand last December, he’d shown both sides of his batting range; a patient 52 off 128 – his maiden Test fifty – in the first innings – was followed by an unbeaten 41 off 26 in the second as India were looking to declare. In IPL 2022, he came in at 104 for 6 in a chase of 178 and took DC home against Mumbai Indians with an unbeaten 38 off 17 balls at Brabourne Stadium.

In the past few years, Axar has worked on his hitting game, especially at DC, under head coach Ricky Ponting, assistant coach Pravin Amre and former assistant coach Mohammed Kaif. A realignment of his front foot while lofting down the ground, holding his hitting shape and developing scoring areas square of the wicket have expanded his stroke options.

The left-hander has always had the basics of both defence and attack in place, having been nicknamed ‘Jayasuriya’ in hometown Nadiad in Gujarat for his big hitting in junior days. His coaches would try to keep him focused on the red ball, but he would also take out time to have fun in tennis-ball cricket. Playing with regular and scuffed-up tennis balls – bowled with pinched grips to turn and bounce awkwardly on cement and other uneven surfaces – honed his defensive and driving technique. Axar had to make sure he was to the pitch of the ball, and adjust quickly if he couldn’t get there in time.

Axar Patel, IND vs WI Axar Patel is embraced by teammate Mohammed Siraj after hitting a six to win the second ODI cricket match against West Indies at Queen’s Park Oval in Port of Spain. (AP Photo/Ricardo)

But at the higher levels, his career has played out in the shadow of his fellow all-rounder. Opportunities with the national side have been irregular, and even in the IPL, he has been known for his four accurate, economical overs more than anything else. And it is probably not easy to keep pushing oneself if one is mostly going to remain on the national bench.

“When he came to DC, he was perhaps a bit happy-go-lucky. But gradually, he realised that he would have to push even harder if he wanted to be consistently in the reckoning for India as an all-rounder,” Kaif had told this paper before IPL 2022.

And that meant spending more time working on his batting. Axar’s front foot would come down towards mid-off when he looked to hit straight. As a result, despite his reach, the bat-swing would get obstructed and he couldn’t manage a good connection. “We worked on getting the front foot to come down in the direction of mid-on or at least straight, thus freeing up the hitting zone,” said Kaif.

Technical tweak 

It took a while, but Axar has made it a part of his set-up now. All his straight boundaries in the second ODI in Trinidad were played with the straightest of front feet, placed well inside the line of the ball.

Axar said that he had gone in with a positive mindset at 205 for 5 in the 39th over, with another 107 required. “Hundred-odd is chased in the last 10 overs in the IPL. So, I went in with the intent that we could do it here as well, and not let it get to us that we have to get so many runs still. Our thinking was that we would take at least one chance every over,” Axar told Yuzvendra Chahal on bcci.tv.

After the Brabourne chase against MI, where he had lofted Jasprit Bumrah for six over long-on, Axar had said that he tried to maintain his shape and react to the ball instead of clouding his mind with too many thoughts.

“I was maintaining my shape,” Axar had said. “When you see you have to get so many runs and only so many balls are left, you can start thinking that I should loft the ball there, or that I can hit the sweep. But I keep talking to Ricky and I have worked on staying in the moment, about seeing the ball and hitting the ball. So that is what I was trying to do.”

India’s Axar Patel celebrates with teammate Mohammed Siraj. (AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan)

Another aspect of his game that Axar has improved is attacking the wide yorkers designed to prevent him from slogging through midwicket. “His release stroke would be through midwicket but bowlers would bowl wide yorkers to him. Then he worked on hitting that particular delivery through and over point,” said Amre.

Axar’s 182 runs in IPL 2022 came at a strike rate of 151.66. He is not yet elite finishing material – India had sent him ahead to save Dinesh Karthik for the death against South Africa in Cuttack – but at least his batting has started to enter the conversation more often.

“He does not get too many chances with the bat but his intent is pretty good, and his confidence has been high since he hit Jadeja for those sixes,” said Amre. “He is basically a sharp, smart cricketer who has an understanding of the game situation. He works out quickly which bowler to target, and when to turn the strike over if there is a set batsman at the other end. And it may not be apparent, but he does have the ability for power-hitting.” And it is beginning to make its presence felt now.





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