“Signed, sealed and delivered by Axar Patel.” Former West Indies fast bowler-turned commentator Ian Bishop couldn’t have chosen better words, soon after Axar smashed a full toss from Kyle Mayers down the ground – when six was needed off three balls – to pull off a thrilling two-wicket win for India in the second ODI against West Indies at Port-of-Spain.
The left-arm spinning allrounder’s match-winning effort with the bat – 64 not out (35b, 4×4, 5×6) – which came on the top of an economical spell with the ball (1-40 in 9 overs in a high-scoring game) – helped India clinched the series 2-0. The third ODI at the same venue on Wednesday is now a dead rubber.
For those who aren’t following this series due to lack of star power in the Indian side and a weak West Indies line-up, Axar’s knock merits attention and will count amongst the better ones in a chase for India. When he walked in at No. 7, India, chasing 312, were 205 in the 39th over, needing 107 off 68 balls. With Shubhman Gill (43), Shreyas Iyer (63), Sanju Samson (54) all having failed to carry on for a big one, the visitors looked in danger of losing this one. Soon, they needed 100 in the final 10 overs.
Conscious of the rising run rate, Axar began his assault by pulling left-arm spinner Akeal Hosein over fine leg for six. The left-hander then hit Romario Shepherd for another maximum over the bowler’s head to show his intentions. Even as he kept losing partners at the other end – Deepak Hooda (33), Shardul Thakur (3) and debutant Avesh Khan (10) – the Gujarat man kept clearing the boundary easily. A straight six over long on, off a slower Alazzari Joseph ball, stood out.
Smashing the second-fastest ODI fifty, off 27 balls, by an Indian batsman against West Indies, Axar snatched triumph for India from the jaws of defeat, and without much fuss. Those who know him say this ability to not get bogged down by pressure comes easily to this small-town cricketer from Nadiad, Gujarat.
“I think this is a special one. It came at a crucial time and also helped the team to win the series. We have done the same in the IPL. We just needed to remain calm and keep the intensity up,” said Axar. “I was playing an ODI after close to five years. I would want to continue performing like this for my team.”
Axar’s close confidante Vijay Patel, who was the coach when the latter made his debut for Gujarat, said: “Axar is a typical Nadiad boy. He never feels pressure. Small-town kids are tough, fearless people.”
Describing Axar’s simple personality, Patel says, “I have known him since his under-16 days for Gujarat. He’s very focused and mentally relaxed. Success or the India cap hasn’t changed him. He’s still very humble. We spoke today. He was really happy. Sometimes when he comes to meet me, he’ll sit on the floor with me. ‘Arey tu India player hai (you’re an India player),’ I tell him. He’s enjoying his life and cricket. He’s such a jovial character that the dressing room atmosphere is different when he’s around. He makes other players enjoy with him.”
For someone who always gets his chance only if Ravindra Jadeja, who offers a similar skill set, isn’t available, Axar has utilized his chances. That can’t be easy, especially when you consider that he has played sporadically for India, at times going through tours without getting a game. Again, it’s a situation that doesn’t deter him.
“Sometime back, there was a phase when Jadeja was doing so well that Axar almost seemed forgotten. However, he seemed completely relaxed about it. ‘Don’t worry sir. Aage dekh lenge (we’ll see in the future)’ he told me. He wasn’t feeling any pressure,” says Patel. “It doesn’t make a difference to him if Jadeja is around or not. He’s only focused on his own performance. As I said earlier, he’s just relaxed and enjoying his game. It’s this attitude which helps him keep performing well.”