Pressure on Axar the bowler to come good
The spinner was India's go-to bowler the last time he played in Ahmedabad but has struggled to pick up wickets in this series.
The last time a Test match was held at Ahmedabad’s Narendra Modi Stadium, Axar Patel was the India captain’s go-to bowler.
In the two back-to-back Tests against England in 2021, the left-arm spinner bagged 20 wickets in four innings with three five-wicket hauls and one four-for.
However, after two years, the left-arm spinner is having a tough time at his home ground this time around. The pitch rolled out for the ongoing Test against Australia is in stark contrast to the spinning tracks that he played on in 2021. Also, with Ravindra Jadeja back in action, his role has changed from strike to support bowler.
After hardly getting to bowl in the first three Tests, he had another average outing on the opening day of the fourth Test. On a day of toil under the scorching sun for India's bowlers, captain Rohit Sharma banked on R Ashwin and Jadeja to do the bulk of the bowling, 25 and 20 overs each. In comparison, Axar had a limited role of 12 overs. He kept a tight line but failed to take a wicket. In four Tests now, Axar the batter has done very well but Axar, the bowler, has just one wicket to show for in the series.
In the first three Tests, he had limited role to play because Ashwin and Jadeja ran through the opposition line-up, but Ahmedabad is a slow, flat pitch. Bowling is hard work and Australia are well placed at 255 for four.
Bowling coach Paras Mhambrey, however, didn't agree that Axar’s rhythm could have been affected due to limited opportunities in the series. “He has played enough cricket to know his role in the team and that won’t affect his rhythm," said Mhambrey.
He felt Axar should get a lengthy bowl on Friday.
“Well, on spinner-friendly tracks, two bowlers will get a longer run than the third seamer and that will happen, but on a wicket like this, you expect him to bowl longer spells. Today he didn’t get long spells but tomorrow he might get a long spell in the opening session. Sometimes when two spinners are in rhythm and as a captain, when the left-hander is batting, Ashwin will get longer run but tomorrow in the first spell, you will see Axar,” said Mhambrey.
While the Gujarat bowler came up with a disciplined spell, he didn’t look like picking wickets in this crunch game that India has to win to confirm their place in the World Test Championship final.
Axar provides India the batting depth that they need on rank turners but in this game, Inda would have been better off playing a strike bowler than a defensive option. There was certainly a case for wrist spinner Kuldeep Yadav because of his ability to turn the ball on any surface. Recently, he has done well in all the games he has played. In his last Test, against Bangladesh, he was the man of the match for his eight-wicket match haul.
Looking back on the day’s play, Mhambrey felt the final session of play, post tea, when Usman Khawaja (104*) and Cameron Green (49*) came together, saw the momentum drift towards the visitors. “We conceded 56 in last 10 overs and I thought the game slightly drifted there from us. End of day, if it was 220/4, it would have been a good day for us. Yes, we gave slightly more runs in last session.”
With Khawaja and Green well set, the pressure is on the Indian bowlers to make early inroads on Day 2.