From Vinoo Mankad to Dilip Doshi, from Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel - there has been a long and inexplicable legacy of successful Gujarati left-arm spinners.
And just when you thought the sample size wasn’t enough to stereotype, Ajaz Patel picked up 10 wickets in an innings to stake his claim with the greatest performance by a Gujarati left-arm spinner in a Test to date. Only, he happens to be a New Zealander.
His joy was somewhat punctured by New Zealand’s dismal batting show, which saw them crash to 62 all out on the second day of the second Test. They trail India, who finished the day at 69/0, by 332 runs.
Ajaz, however, broke enough records in the opening innings at the Wankhede Stadium to send statisticians into a tizzy, but numbers alone don’t do justice to his feat. He was born to a middle-class Gujarati family in Mumbai before migrating to Auckland in 1996. He had played gully cricket here but nothing serious until club cricket in New Zealand at 15. He rose through the ranks without much promise and even switching from pace to spin didn’t fast-track success.
He was all-but-forgotten until he found his groove in the Plunket Shield five-or-so years ago when the senior team was in search of a probing spinner. Mitchell Santner was beginning to fill the void left by Daniel Vettori, but they needed more options. Thus, Ajaz.
His first nine Tests were good, he fetched 26 wickets, but in the opening Test in Kanpur - on his first trip to India as a Test cricketer - he was shoddy and ended with three wickets in the game.
The teams then landed in Mumbai. Ajaz was evidently moved by his own circuitous journey back home, remembering the first time he left the country, his vacations here, his wedding, his relatives and on he went.
He rewarded those few relatives who did turn up on the opening day with figures of 29-10-73-4. He was already being added to the long list of touring left-arm spinners who have troubled Indian batters historically.
Derek Underwood’s enviable record against the Indians was being revisited. Hedley Verity and James Langridge’s stats were being looked over. Replays of Sachin Tendulkar’s trouble against Ashely Giles were being noted. Iqbal Qasim’s name was being dusted off. Michael Clarke’s six-fer at the Wankhede in 20014 was remembered, as was Monty Panesar’s 11 wickets at the same venue in 2012. Even Steve O’Keefe’s six in each innings in Pune came up.
But Ajaz wasn’t in that league on the opening day, even if he did show promise. He was dexterous with pace and flight and the pitch was conducive to his metronomic action. With such consistency, Indian batters - evidently not great players of spin anymore - looked at sea.
They looked for the bad balls which wouldn’t come. Only Mayank Agarwal applied himself long enough to cash in. The others were hung on for dear life.
On Saturday, Ajaz looked better. Having studied the surface on Friday, he had built enough trust with the pitch to land on a spot and have the ball do as he pleased.
Ajaz’s no-frills action held on for 30 overs across two spells on the second day. The result: six more wickets, and a Tweet from Anil Kumble which said, “Welcome to the club #Perfect10”, a club only the former Indian skipper and Jim Laker were a part of, until now.
From not being in the same league as other quality touring left-arm spinners to being in a league of his own in one day: Ajaz’s story is the stuff of dreams.
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