All-rounder or specialist batsman: where is Axar Patel’s bizarre Test career going?

All-rounder or specialist batsman: where is Axar Patel’s bizarre Test career going?

Axar Patel made his Test debut in match two of the series against England in 2021 as a substitute similar to Ravindra Jadeja. His debut series made the world believe that Test cricket was easy.

Since Jadeja made his Test debut he had only missed one home Test series until 2021. In February of that year he would miss his second after picking up an injury while touring Australia just before another Indian summer. At that point nobody knew that this injury was about to kick-start one of the most bizarre Test careers in recent times.

On dusty pitches offering a boxy tack and with a visiting batting lineup low on confidence, Axar took 27 wickets in his first three Test matches with his accurate roundarm darts. His average of those matches was 10.59, with one wicket for every 28.3 balls.

He picked four 5-wicket hauls in his first six innings with the ball, with his worst outing of 2-40 from 20 overs. Surely it had to be beginner’s luck. Surely this was not sustainable. But supporting him did. At least up to a point.

His next five Test matches brought him a further 20 wickets and he stood on 47 wickets after eight matches, with a bowling average of 14.29. Only two players in Test cricket history had taken more wickets than him with a better bowling average at that point in their careers. Those two players had last played international cricket in the 19th century. Axar needed three more wickets in his next match to become India’s fastest bowler along with 50 Test wickets alongside Ravichandran Ashwin. Surely he would get there.

He did not. It took him not one, not two, but four matches to take his next three wickets. Such a dramatic drop has raised questions about his future role in the Indian side. Was Axar Patel finally discovering that Test cricket was difficult? No. He was just going from being excellent with the ball to being excellent with the bat.

He finished this year’s Border-Gavaskar Trophy as the third-leading run-getter overall, with 264 runs in five innings at an average of 88, the most by any hitter in the series. And that came in a series where scoring points was next to impossible in three of the four Test matches.

Axar would regularly get his team into precarious situations and bail them out with an air of confidence and a sense of clarity you wouldn’t expect from him with a bat. His batting has been on a steady upward curve late on and this series has confirmed that.

What direction does your testing career take now?

While you’d think a player who develops his skills and puts in better-than-expected performances for his team would make things easier for them, that’s not exactly the case with Axar. That’s what makes his testing career bizarre, both what it was and what it can be.

If the last two matches of the India-Australia Test series were any indication, it’s that Axar Patel is now too good a batsman to bat at nine, or even eight, for that matter. He has been stranded partnerless at least twice in the series and India would not like to continue doing that going forward.

This leaves them with a choice: play Axar to seven and move KS Bharat to eight. But it will only be for the home tests, which India will play in January next year. Rishabh Pant is likely to recover and return to play for India by then. That means the highest Axar he can reach in the batting order is #8.

As far as travel is concerned, he’s not even in contention for the first XI at the moment. India rarely pick two spinners in Test matches in ‘SENA’ countries, and even if they do, you can’t imagine them looking past Jadeja and Ashwin, with Jadeja as their first choice.

In an ideal world, in his current avatar, Axar would have batted in the top six and played as first-choice left-arm spinner in nearly every Test squad in the world. But like many talented players in the past, he had the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. There are currently no opportunities in the Indian Test team that will allow for proper use of Axar’s skills and career trajectory.

We have seen some players transform completely from bowling all-rounders to batting all-rounders or even pure batsmen. Cameron White, James Franklin, Sanath Jayasuriya, Shoaib Malik and the most extreme transformation of them all: Steve Smith, just to name a few.

It’ll be too soon to tell that Axar is on a similar path based on just one series, but given the lack of potential opportunities and his penchant for the bizarre, don’t be surprised if his name gets added to that list.


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