Skilful Patel makes his mark

Skilful Patel makes his mark

No one deserved the man of the match award in Sunday’s third one-day international between India and Sri Lanka here more than Axar Patel who sucked the life out of visitors’ innings with a clutch of wickets in the batting Power Play.

The left-arm spinner bowled three of those five Power Play overs, took three wickets and conceded just 11 runs. The Lankan innings, which had barely managed to crawl back on track after early setbacks, slipped further into abyss before settling for a modest total that was never going to test the home batsmen.

Mahela Jayawardene, who stroked his way to 17th ODI ton that kept Sri Lanka’s head just above water, understandably felt embarrassed upon being declared the man of the match. There appears no end to this obsession of placing batting exploits over bowling efforts.   

The veteran right-hander pointed out that Lanka needed to post a minimum of 300 runs to put the Indian batsmen under pressure and that was denied to the islanders largely because of Axar’s show at a crucial stage of the innings. With Ishant Sharma out of action after bowling just four overs due to back spasm, Kohli had just one bowler in R Ashwin who he could trust to bowl with field restrictions in place. With Umesh Yadav and Dhawal Kulkarni required to bowl in the slog, Kohli threw the ball to Axar and the 20-year-old responded in splendid fashion.

On a pitch that didn’t have much for him in way of turn, Axar maintained a flatter trajectory and stump-to-stump line to dry up the runs. Come to think of it, this has been the template of his bowling and has earned him enough success in his short career.      

“We are looking to give more chances to Axar as we believe he’s a confident guy and he’s got the right kind of temperament to deliver at the right situations for the team,” stand-in skipper Kohli said of the youngster.

“(We are playing him) just to keep a guy like him in confidence knowing he can be an important member of the ODI scheme of things as of now. It’s great to see his temperament. Have seen him in IPL and have seen him in the series… In the first game, to go out there and hit two sixes off the first two balls, and that too two difficult shots in pressure situations, the kind of composure he showed was very impressive.

He is a big-hearted bowler and he’s very, very brave. He does not lose his consistency in bowing. He backs himself a lot which is very important. It’s great to see him growing in confidence with every game,” Kohli explained.

With an ability think on his feet despite his obvious lack of experience at the highest level and a great understanding of his own strengths and weaknesses, the Gujarat player is perhaps the brightest talent that India has unearthed in the last year or so.

With seven wickets, which is second only to eight by Yadav, in his bag at an impressive economy rate of 3.96 per over in the series so far, Axar has shown that his accomplishment with Kings XI Punjab in IPL VII is no flash in the pan.

Former India batsman Y Venugopala Rao, who now turns up for Gujarat in domestic circuit, describes Axar as a captain’s delight. “He can bowl well, bat well and field well… What more can a captain expect from a player? He is a true all-rounder,” he remarks.

Axar’s numbers in the 2013-14, his first full season, attest Rao’s claims. The youngster scored 369 runs in seven matches at a more-than-acceptable average of 46.12 besides claiming 29 wickets at 23.58. The last IPL, where his team Punjab were the losing finalists, further underlined his credentials after he picked up 17 wickets at an economy rate of just over six.

The success of Axar not only has given an extra spin option for India but it has also sent a strong message that Ravindra Jadeja, who also plies similar art, can’t take his place for granted.  

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