India have as many as three similar kinds of bowlers vying for the same spot in limited-overs cricket - Ravindra Jadeja, Axar Patel and Krunal Pandya.
The first one is an established player, the second a 'in and out’ player and the third a fringe player zeroed in for higher honours. With the experienced Ravindra Jadeja 'rested’ for the ODIs in Sri Lanka, the lottery fell on Axar Patel yet again to push his case for a more permanent role in the limited-overs side and he delivered.
He bowled his quota of 10 overs, conceded just 34 runs and picked up 3 wickets with his round arm skiddish bowling.
In several ways, all three spinners discussed are quite similar. All three are left-arm slow bowlers, bat left-handed and hit big and field with the enthusiasm of school kids. As bowlers, all of them land the ball on a stump-to-stump line, cramp batsmen for room and thrive on building up pressure.
But as a limited-overs bowler, Axar has better control over his lengths and isn't afraid to vary his pace smartly.
In the Champions Trophy, when Jadeja was belted to all corners of the park, the critics called out for a change. Far too often, the Saurashtrian has gotten away with his one-dimensional bowling in limited-overs cricket. There is no doubt regarding the value-factor Jadeja brings in as an all-rounder in ODIs. But so does Axar. In fact, statistics tell that Axar does a better job than Jadeja in ODIs.
In 31 matches, Patel has 38 wickets at 28.71. Jadeja has 155 in 136 matches at 35.88. There is little to separate here although the average is quite high for Jadeja. Axar bowls at an economy of 4.35 as opposed to Jadeja’s 4.90 and has a strike rate of 39.63 as against Jadeja's 43.91.
What probably works in Axar's favour is the fact that he has played only four games outside the sub-continent (excluding six in Zimbabwe). But unless you try him out elsewhere, you never know. For far too long, India have relied on Jadeja’s mediocrity in limited-overs cricket and perhaps it is time to invest in a different bowler with similar qualities.
It is worth analysing the duo's List A statistics as well given that Axar has played less than a 100 matches to Jadeja’s tally in ODIs.
In List A cricket, Axar has 115 wickets in 87 matches at 27.89 and an economy of 4.31. Jadeja has 216 wickets in 181 matches at 32.56 and an economy of 4.72. Once again, Axar trumps Jadeja in terms of statistics and once again he has a better strike rate as opposed to Jadeja (38.9 vs 41.3).
More than sheer statistics, it is Axar's ability to impose himself in the game much akin to how Jadeja does in Tests that sets him apart. The more experienced Jadeja has failed to create chances in the middle-overs in ODI cricket and despite his rigorous routine of hitting the same channels, lack of variations have meant batsmen have thumped him in ODIs.
In the Champions Trophy, Jadeja played in five matches, picked up just 4 wickets at an average of 62.25 and went at an economy of close to six. At no point in the tournament did Jadeja extract any kind of pressure on the batsmen.
As opposed to that Axar has quite often proven to be a handy bowler in the middle of the innings. In fact, at Kings XI Punjab, he revelled in every single responsibility given to him. He bowled with the new ball, bowled in the middle-overs and in the death, came as a pinch hitter and scored runs, slogged in the death, took stunning catches and has been an impact player.
Since being named as the emerging player of the year in the 2014 IPL, Axar has consistently churned out good performances for the franchise. Against RCB in a match at the Chinnaswamy stadium, Axar nailed the role of a finisher and smashed 38 in 17 balls at a strike rate in excess of 220. He then returned with the ball to scalp three wickets including two in the 18th over to win the game for Punjab.
That is what Axar Patel brings to the table. He has Jadeja-like attributes but knows to up his game when the situation demands. Jadeja does all this but only in Test cricket. In limited-overs cricket he has been sulky and monotonous.
He might be a better batsman (in terms of statistics) and a better fielder, but batting at 8,9 Jadeja’s batting is barely required and even when it has been, the Saurashtrian hasn't delivered.
Axar, on the other hand, knows to catch the situation by the scruff of its neck and create an impact. In the Dambulla ODI, when Kedar Jadhav created a breakthrough from one end with Dickwella's wicket, Axar knew that Kusal Mendis would be a comfort factor for Sri Lanka. They had to get rid of him. The left-arm spinner produced a 104 kmph slider that beat Mendis and smashed into his stumps.
Six overs later, his relentless lines forced Hasaranga to launch him without purpose only to gift him a second wicket and then he beat Sandakan's defence to trap him in front. In fact, in his last three games for India in ODIs, Axar has gone at less than 4 an over in terms of economy. He hasn't gone at above 5 an over in the last nine games. As a matter of fact, he has conceded above five an over only in six occasions out of the 31 matches he has played.
All said and done, there is no foolproof evidence to say that Axar would be a better bowler than Jadeja in limited-overs cricket. But is there a harm in trying out? After all, they have stuck to Jadeja for more than 130 games despite his below average returns. Why not give someone else a go? However, there is strong evidence to suggest that “that someone else” has to be Axar Patel.