In a series where their backup pacers have struggled on flat wickets and the onset of dew at night, India’s ‘spin twins’ leggie Ravi Bishnoi and left-arm spinner Axar Patel have stood out, delivering telling blows. In the fourth T20I, if Axar’s three for 16 in four overs-in a spell which included the prized scalp of an on-song Travis Head- was largely instrumental in India’s 20-run win, Bishnoi’s role was no less crucial, as the leg-spinner completely halted Australia’s initial charge, taking one for 17 in four overs.
Leaving the Aussies puzzled with his fastish, flat deliveries and slipping in a deadly googly in between, Bishnoi has been the best bowler on either side in this series, taking seven wickets in four games at an average of 19.28, with his best being three for 32. Axar, on the other hand, has taken six wickets in four games at an average of 22.00, at a superb economy rate of 6.87. In conditions where 200-plus totals have been par for the course, these figures are gold dust.
With wickets in the West Indies likely to be slow and dry for the T20 World Cup, both Bishnoi and Axar could be India’s trumpcards in that tournament, though they have dropped Axar to make way for Ravindra Jadeja in the upcoming T20I series in South Africa.
“Their spinners bowled really, really well. (They) Got us tied down. We really couldn’t break away through that middle period. That was probably the biggest difference in the game. Bishnoi has obviously been great throughout the four games. He’s been hard to get hold of. Some of the guys with less experience will learn a lot facing him today. Patel has been a class bowler for a very long time,” praised Australian captain Matthew Wade.
After his heroics here, Axar termed Bishnoi as the ‘X factor’ of India’s bowling attack in T20Is, considering the pace of his deliveries and the damage his googlies can cause. He felt that he formed an ideal pair with the young leg-spinner.
“I think he has bowled well throughout the series. His speed (is difficult to negotiate for batsmen) ..he’s an ‘X’ factor (in our bowling). He was troubling the Australian batters with his googlies. He’s working on his leg-spin too. We formed a very good partnership/combination in this match and series. Both of us were bowling in the Powerplay overs,” he praised.
For someone who doesn’t turn the ball a great deal, Axar relies on a nagging stump-to-stump line and variation of speed to keep the batsmen guessing in T20 cricket. On Friday night, two of the Aussies lost their stumps to him as they went for wild heaves, while Head mistimed his slog-sweep.
“I keep varying my speed, line and length. In the last three matches, I’ve been varying my speeds-some of my deliveries are slow, and some are fast. In T20 cricket, you’ve to do all this,” he said.
Did the snub for the South Africa T20I series fire Axar up? Using the word ‘naraz’ (disappointed) repeatedly, the man from Nadiad denied that being ignored had affected him in any way.
“See, what’s in not my hands…because I wasn’t picked for the South Africa T20Is, so I’ll get disappointed…this could’ve backfired too. If I had been hammered, you would’ve said that I was disappointed. So, it can work both ways. There was nothing like this in my mind. I was normal. Obviously, if Jaddu bhai (Ravindra Jadeja) is coming back, I wouldn’t have been in the (T20) side. So, I wasn’t thinking that because I haven’t been picked in that team, I need to perform well tonight,” said the left-arm spinner.
“I’ve been performing well so far (in my career). I was following the same things in my bowing that I did in the first three games. It’s good that I got wickets today.”
Missing out on playing in the recently-held 2023 ODI World Cup, in which India reached the final, though, has left Axar ‘naraz.’
“Obviously, in the initial days after the injury, I was naraz (feeling disappointed) that I missed out on playing in a World Cup in India due to my injury. The team was also doing well. When you miss out on a tournament like that, you do feel bad for the first 5-10 days, as you can’t do anything because of the injury. However, after 5-10 days, when I got back to training, things became fine. Injuries, basically, are a part and parcel of (a sportsperson’s) life. No one can do anything about it,” said the 29-year-old.
Coming back from an injury isn’t easy for any cricketer.
“It takes one or two matches to find your rhythm after coming back into international cricket. You are also careful about your body. You want to prove yourself, but you want to be careful with your body. It took me one match to find my groove, because when you are coming back after an injury, you tend to protect that body part which got injured. You aren’t able to give your full effort, as at the back of your mind, you fear that the injury may recur. Although the trainer assures you that nothing will happen, you fear sprinting on the ground, lest you hurt your quadricep (muscle). However, after one or two matches, I was feeling fine.” said Axar.
“I’ve worked on my bowling in the last one-and-a-half months, trying to bowl slower, and I’m reaping the rewards of that,” he added.
Explaining how the lack of dew factor here worked to his and Bishnoi’s advantage, Axar said, “I didn’t change much in my bowling. I bowled just like I did in the first three games. In the first three matches, there was dew, so I was bowling back of length deliveries. In this match, there wasn’t that much dew. We (he and Bishnoi) were bowling in the Powerplay overs with the new ball. The ball was dry. That enabled us to flight the ball a bit, because the seam (of the ball) wasn’t that wet. That was a plus point for us. Due to this factor, we could rotate the ball.
“There was grass on the wicket, which meant that some balls were skidding off the surface, while others were stopping a bit. I think that made things difficult for them.”
Both the spinners seem to be revelling under the captaincy of Suryakumar Yadav, who doesn’t believe in taking a step back.
“I’m enjoying playing under SKY’s captaincy. Since he’s closer to me in age, I’m slightly more friendlier with him. He’s a fearless cricketer. He told us at the beginning of the series to play fearless cricket. There’s no pressure on anyone, and we’ve been told that if we’re doing something for the benefit of the team, we’ll be backed,” said Axar.
In such conditions where 200-plus total are regularly being made, you need to back your bowlers, and the captain has done that. He’s fine with us conceding runs, as long as the batsman hits a good shot off a good ball, but he doesn’t want us to think about dew or other factors,” he added.
“So, in this match too, when the Aussies were smashing fours and sixes, we kept our body language calm, and focused on what we needed to do. We knew that if we take one o two wickets, we’ll get momentum back from them,” Axar said.