Bowling all-rounder Axar Patel has been around the international and domestic scene for quite a few years now.

Bowling all-rounder Axar Patel has been around the international and domestic scene for quite a few years now. He made his one-day debut for India back in June 2014 and his T20I debut a little over a year later. After a long wait, the left-arm spinner was handed his Test debut in 2021 and made a spectacular beginning on spin-friendly pitches against hapless Englishmen. Although he has grabbed 39 scalps in six Tests, these are still early days for him in the format. That cannot be said about his white ball game. In a stop-start career, he has played 40 ODIs and 23 T20Is, in which he has claimed 46 and 16 wickets, respectively.

Till recently, he was viewed as a backup bowler to Ravindra Jadeja, the senior all-rounder in the team with much more talent and ability in all departments. It is not surprising then that opportunities for Axar have been limited in international cricket. However, over the last few months, he has been consistently part of the Indian team in limited-overs matches, with Jadeja unavailable due to injury and quite a few seniors being rested as well. Heading into the second one-dayer against West Indies, there were question marks over Axar’s place in the team. However, he came up with an exceptional batting effort under pressure to lead India to victory with the bat.

Untapped batting potential?

Axar’s fabulous innings of 64 not out in 35 balls has brought to the fore his relatively unexploited batting potential. The 28-year-old has always been viewed as a left-arm spinner who can bat a bit. Yes, the West Indies do not have the strongest bowling attacks, but that should not take away from the fact that Axar played a brilliant knock under pressure. The game was on a razor’s edge when he came into bat. His dismissal at that stage would have undoubtedly tilted the scales in West Indies’ favor. However, the left-handed batter did not give any opportunity to the opposition and held his nerves in commendable fashion to lift the Men in Blue over the line.

What stood out during Axar’s innings in the second ODI in Trinidad was that he did not resort to slogging. Barring a top-edge that went to the boundary behind the wickets, the southpaw played proper cricket strokes, picking the gaps with some smart wrist work. Even when hitting the sixes, he was making a conscious effort to ensure that he wasn’t playing across the line. And when he connected well, the ball went over the ropes by quite some distance. The match-winning knock Axar played against West Indies cannot be attributed to someone who can “bat a bit.” It was a well-planned and controlled innings expected of specialist finishers.

While this was the first time he made an impact in international white-ball cricket, Axar is no stranger to such situations. He has pulled off some impressive wins during the IPL with the willow on a couple of occasions. In fact, in the very first match of IPL 2022, the all-rounder smacked an unbeaten 38 off 17 to stun the Mumbai Indians (MI) in a chase of 178. MI had dominated the innings for the most part, but Axar stole the game in the end. He clearly has some potential as a finisher which India must tap into.

Can Axar and Jadeja both fit into the playing XI?

As mentioned earlier, Axar mostly comes into the white ball playing XI only when the first-choice left-arm spinning all-rounder, Jadeja, is unavailable. However, with his splendid act in Trinidad, the former has put the Indian selectors and think tank in a fix. It is next to impossible to play both Axar and Jadeja in the same playing XI in limited-overs cricket. Both perform similar roles, but the latter has a proven track over an extended period and is a brilliant fielder to boot.

Jadeja will deservedly get the preference over Axar when fit. However, Team India will do well to keep the latter’s confidence intact and make him feel wanted. And whenever the opportunity arises, as it has done in recent games, they must look to fit Axar into the playing XI. He may not be a special talent, but he is a team man who can lift the side out of adversity with his tenacity.

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