Axar Patel: The absence of fear makes India a resilient team

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R. Ashwin and Axar Patel were the two sorcerers with the ball against England in India earlier this year. Their magic spectacularly obliterated the visiting team in three out of four races. Ashwin, of course, simply justified his reputation as the best contemporary spinner in test cricket; Axar, on the other hand, reported that he had come of age, three years after showing enough promise to be given a run with the Indian team.

Axar made his second test debut in Chennai and made an impact right away, scoring seven wickets in India’s overall win. He went on to collect 11 wickets at Narendra Modi Stadium in his home state of Gujarat with the pink ball, and then another nine wickets in the same place, in the third test. He had broken the record for most wickets by a bowler (Ajantha Mendis had 26 scalps against India in 2008) in a three-round debut series.

He had arrived here after two good seasons with Delhi Capitals, in 2019 and 2020, having gone a little off the radar in the IPL. It continued to wow in 2021, posting an economic rate of less than 7 for the second consecutive year to help Capitals reach the playoffs.

In an interaction with Sports star, Axar reflects on the eventful year, explains why the Capitals have performed well in recent seasons and looks forward to the next round of tests against New Zealand.

You made your test debut and had a good season with Delhi Capitals. He also had to self-isolate due to COVID-19 in the midst of the IPL in India. Your thoughts on the year so far.

It has been a very good year for me. I made my test debut and played for India and performed consistently well, so this year was one of the best I’ve had. In the IPL, I went back to the same pace I had before contracting the COVID-19 infection and kept playing. Overall, it was eventful and I had a lot of fun this year.

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How was it at the Capitals and Ricky Ponting brings out the best in the players?

I am happy in Delhi Capitals. When I went to the Capitals, I had already played for the Indian team. I was very good friends with Prithvi Shaw, Rishabh Pant and Shikhar Dhawan; we bonded well with each other. We were the same age and they created a nice atmosphere. This was one of the reasons we understood each other well and it was reflected in our performance for the club. If we’re clear about what our roles are, that’s great.

Left to right: Rishabh Pant, Prithvi Shaw, Axar Patel, Avesh Khan and Anrich Nortje in IPL 2021 for Delhi Capitals. – PHOTO / PTI FILE

I enjoyed my three years at the Capitals. Not for a moment did I feel bored. A team only works well if all team members synchronize with each other and enjoy each other’s success. And this is a feature we have in Capitals. We enjoy each other’s success; when we lose, we lose together, and when we win, we win together. If we lose, we stay together; after the game we always meet. We don’t worry about losses, we just discuss what we can improve and be ready for the next day.

This has become our culture, and it has been going on for three years. Nobody talks negatively about other people’s backs. Ricky Ponting gets the credit for this. The way he brings the team with him, he treats everyone equally and manages us well. There is no segregation of players based on categories such as international players, IPL players and national players. The positive atmosphere developed under Ponting at Capitals.

And your thoughts on the other spinners on your team: Amit Mishra and R. Ashwin. Ashwin, like you, twists his fingers. Has your game improved with his presence and advice?

Ashwin and I are different types of bowlers and Mishy bhai it’s also different. We don’t physically compare our bowling alley with each other. Our roles and styles are different. Ashwin gives the ball a little flight, I like to throw it quickly. But when we practice, we discuss strategies and game plans, or basically, sharpen the mindset necessary for success. The bowling mentality is what I learned from them: how to throw in a certain situation, etc.

Axar Patel and Ravichandran Ashwin. – SPORTZPICS / BCCI

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Your thoughts on the overall performance of the Capitals over the past two seasons under Ponting.

The atmosphere and culture that Ponting cultivated and the fact that some of us were peers and well connected contributed to the good performance of the team over a three-year period. Also, there were new players and experienced players on the squad – a good mix of youth and experience – and that helped too. And we also knew each other’s roles, we were united and enjoying each other’s success. All of this has helped us to be successful.

Regarding the test series against England in India. You’ve taken a bucket of wicket in every match, but the 11 wicket-hauls in front of your home crowd in the day-night test would have particularly pleased you. Your thoughts on that test match and ranking as the highlight of your cricket career?

The best time would have been the test cap I got on February 13th. The pink ball test would come second – in front of my home crowd, I got the most wickets. And I got wicket on the first ball in both innings. There are many memorable moments from that game, even a few small details. For three years I didn’t play for the team, but I trained well to be able to do well when I had the opportunity. The pink ball was helping me too, I thought; it was a bit slick, so it swerved after launch. Many things were working in my favor.

What do you think of India’s chances in the next round of tests against New Zealand?

I will try to do as I did during the test series at home against England. It will be a good series against New Zealand. They perform better in seam conditions than spin-promoting shots. It will be a challenge for them; we have the house advantage. At the same time, they are playing very well in both red ball and white ball formats – they defeated us in the World Test Championship final – and so we can’t take them lightly. We need to be ready with our plans.

Do you think the Indian Test Team is going through a golden phase right now?

I think this Indian team is quite bold. Whenever a decision is made, the team does not hold back in an attempt to fully implement it. There was a perception that they didn’t do well on green courts and they did better at home on spinning tracks, but this Indian team changed those perceptions. The team now has the confidence to do well in all conditions and if we lose we will offer no excuses. A culture has developed within this Indian team in recent years. It is important that a team continues to be aggressive throughout the 90 overs of the day.

New players offer no excuses and always try to come forward in whatever situation they find themselves. Nobody is discouraged, everyone is confident. And it also shows: there’s a new hero emerging in every series we play and it’s not like a single player is doing well for a period of time. It is thanks to teamwork in each series that we are doing well.

What was the message from the captain and the coach after India lost to England in Chennai in the first test?

I was about to play the first test, but I developed a little problem and didn’t play as advised by the physiotherapist. When we lost, we didn’t dwell on that loss, as we didn’t when we lost the first test in Australia (Adelaide Test, 2020-21). We have to support our cricket; we lost because we did not execute our plans well. Just go ahead and start over. We will see whatever happens, but if we start mulling over our defeat, we will feel more pressured for the next match. So the idea is to play normally and take whatever we get.

In modern cricket, how easy or difficult is it to switch between formats and from red ball cricket to white ball cricket? Is it more a change of mentality or is it also about physical preparation and refinement of the technique?

All three play a role. T20 cricket is less technical than other formats; sometimes you barely play seven to eight deliveries and the ball doesn’t swing much either. But if you go to red cricket, you know you’ll have to finish the day; if your technique is invalid, you may chase a wide delivery or lead and lose the wicket. So, there you have to hone your technique.

Mental alertness, however, is a requirement for all formats.

For all three formats, you need to be physically, mentally and technically ready. But maybe there is more room to hide in white ball cricket if you are technically weak. But even so, without experience, it is not possible to continue performing consistently for a certain number of matches.

It is quite difficult for a player to go from red ball cricket to white ball cricket and vice versa. It is more difficult to enter red ball mode after playing white ball cricket. It’s hard, but the better you can train your mind to accept the challenge rather than fear what lies ahead, the better it is for you.

Finally, you have been on the national circuit for several years. Can you reflect on the legacy left by Parthiv Patel, under which Gujarat won the Ranji Trophy in 2016-17 and finished in the top four last time, in 2019-20?

In the old days, Gujarat was the punching bag in the West Zone; any team could win against Gujarat. Since Parthiv arrived and managed the team, the team has changed. A new culture was created by him. When we got in, we were already developing the confidence and mentality to fight. It took many years to develop the culture and mindset to be successful, and now we have a strong and hungry team for success; Parthiv was the one who helped bring us here. I don’t think anyone will be able to do what he did for the Gujarat team. Our task is to create a team that matches the one Parthiv gave us.

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