On Day 1 of the 3rd Test, Axar Patel didn’t prey as much on the Motera pitch as he played with the minds of the visiting batsmen.
“Those balls that were doing much weren’t actually getting you wickets, it was the mind that was actually getting the wickets.”
What Ravichandran Ashwin verbalised at Chepauk, Axar Patel channelised at Motera to wreak havoc on the opening day of the Ahmedabad Test.
Between them, Ashwin and Axar delivered 226 of the 292 legal balls bowled by India as England collapsed for 112 inside the first three-and-a-half hours of play at the world’s largest cricket stadium. That stat, in isolation, might lead you to believe it was yet another trial-by-turn for the visitors; in reality, India’s spinners – Axar in particular – didn’t prey as much on the pitch as they played with the minds of their opponents.
Four of Patel’s scalps in his excellent 6/38 were victims of the straight one; one of the remaining two was a case of a batsman anticipating greater turn than there was.
Jonny Bairstow was trapped in front by one that skidded through on its angle – off the first ball of what was to become a memorable afternoon on home turf for Patel; Jofra Archer and Ben Foakes heard their stumps rattle trying to play for turn to good-length arm balls; Ben Stokes played for much more spin than imparted, and found himself trapped. The real pearler though, was the one to get Zak Crawley – responsible for half the non-extra runs scored by England – for the left-armer’s second wicket on the day.
Until the over of his dismissal, Crawley had actually made more than a fair fist of taking on India’s most potent weapon on the day, taking 17 runs off the 30 balls he had faced from Patel. Then came a quick, three-card tutorial on how to set up a set batsman.
The second ball of the over, the 25th of the innings, Crawley left an arm ball that almost kissed the off-stump. The next delivery was the slow-left-arm classic: slower in the air, fuller, angling into the batsman, turning sharply past the outside edge. The turn would have played on most minds. Up next? Slightly faster, slightly flatter, skidding on with the angle… trapped, plumb in front.
As much as he did get the ball to grip and turn, all of Patel’s six wickets came off deliveries that finished in line with stumps. There was wide-ranging pace (from the low-80s to the high-90s), there were well-executed plans; the pitch was a mere accomplice.
The constant feature, of course, was control. Leaving aside Crawley’s relatively more comfortable stay, the rest of the English batsmen managed only 21 runs from 16 overs against Patel. In the second session, the two-Test-old spinner had astonishing returns of 10.4-5-8-4. Of the 130 balls he bowled in all, he only allowed three runs in the conventional ‘V’.
The simplistic consistency – surprisingly perhaps for the English batsmen, but not so much for those who have followed Patel’s rise to Indian Test cap number 302 – has made the newcomer a giant thorn in England’s flesh. Patel has drawn an edge or a miss with more than a quarter of his deliveries so far this series; over a sample size of 62.4 overs, those are simply staggering returns.
The rich haul to kickstart his Test career puts the 27-year-old in exalted territory – he’s only the third Indian to take a five-for in each of his first two Tests; the last time an Indian bowler achieved the feat was six years before Patel’s birth (Narendra Hirwani in 1988, to follow from Mohammad Nissar in India’s first two Tests in 1932).
Patel’s perfection on his homecoming also puts him on high ground with the pink ball – only once in 15 day-night Tests before this has a spinner recorded better innings figures (Devendra Bishoo’s 8/49 against Pakistan at Dubai in 2016).
A fortnight on from being in dreamland, having inflicted upon India their first defeat in a home Test in nearly four years, England are meeting their worst nightmare.
178, 134, 164, 112. Having given a glowing account of themselves in their first innings of the series, scoring 578 in 190.1 overs in the opener at Chepauk, the visitors, in their last four innings, have tallied 588 runs in 209.2 overs.
And they have three more innings of Axar Patel to contend with at the Motera over the next two weeks. And we’ve barely mentioned Ravichandran Ashwin yet.
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