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No Jadeja, no problem; Axar Patel has India's back on turning tracks

Axar Patel celebrates a wicket
Axar Patel celebrates a wicket

Left-arm spinner, round the wicket angle to right-handers, one comes in with the arm, another prodigiously spins away after pitching, undercut on the ball, an exploding surface, chirping fielders all around the bat and a buzzing crowd.

This proved to be the perfect recipe of disaster for the England batsmen in the third test match of the four-match series at the recently refurbished stadium at Motera.

What India lacked in series opener

Given the brilliant batting conditions on offer for the better part of the first two days in the first Test, the Indian bowling unit did not fare badly. You don't often say that when a team has conceded 578 runs in the first innings, but it was that type of pitch at the MA Chidambaram Stadium.

Ishant Sharma was the most economical of the Indian bowlers, conceding runs at less than 2 RPO. Jasprit Bumrah and Ravichandran Ashwin pocketed three wickets each while bowling at under 3 RPO.

The other two Indian spinners though were the root cause of India's troubles against the double centurion Root. Shahbaz Nadeem and Washington Sundar combined to bowl 70 overs in the first innings, going at an aggregate of 3.80 RPO. Hence, while India were successful in somewhat controlling the game at one end, as soon as either Nadeem or Sundar came into the attack, the pressure was instantly released.

What wouldn't they have given to have Jadeja back at that point, who was unable to recover in time for the test series after a thumb surgery, following an injury in Australia.

No Jadeja, no problem

Even for a cricketing nation like India, not considered short on spin bowling riches, it was understandable for Kohli to miss his trump card at home. Apart from doing what he does with the bat at No. 7 or 8, and in the field, Ravindra Jadeja has been sensational with the ball at home.

Initially picked to bolster the batting, on the back of his much talked about three triple centuries in First-Class cricket, Jadeja has been almost unplayable at home and averages an eye-watering 21.60 in the 1470 overs he has bowled in Tests in India, which includes 157 wickets and seven 5-wicket hauls.

He came, he saw, he conquered

After recovering from a niggle which he suffered on the eve of the first test match, Axar Patel made his debut in the second test match at the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai. The spinner made an instant impact, righting the wrongs of the first test match in the first innings itself.

He bowled 20 overs and conceded just 40 runs at an economy rate of 2.00 while picking up two wickets. He not only kept things tight but enabled Ravichandran Ashwin to bowl attacking lines and pick up 5 wickets.

Axar reaped rich dividends in the second innings and bagged a 5-wicket haul in his maiden test match. Playing in front of his home crowd in the third test in Gujarat, Axar went a step further bagging a wicket off his very first delivery in the match.

That was in fact a sign of things to come as he picked up 6 wickets while conceding just 38 runs in first innings and bagged with another 5-wicket haul in the second innings, becoming only the fourth bowler in tests to pick up 5-wicket hauls in three consecutive innings.

"Basically it's my usual style, but because it was skidding so much, I was undercutting it even more, and trying to bowl a little quicker than usual too," Axar explained his modus operandi at Ahmedabad. "I tried to exploit [the skiddiness] as much as possible [when I came on], because the ball was new, and there was more shine. The older the ball became, the less it was skidding."

While the English batsmen could have done a little better, there wasn't really much room for them given that Patel generally bowls around 90 kph. His accuracy, round-arm variation, undercut and the pace of the surface made it very difficult for the batsmen to judge the line, the length, the spin and the trajectory of every delivery, and hence the unprecedented success.

Once Jadeja returns, having Jadeja, Ashwin and Axar in the same team on a turning track is too enticing a prospect for the Indian fans.

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