India’s defeat to Australia has raised a lot of questions.
While some of these are related to the whether India should prepare spin-conducive pitches, another are related to Axar Patel.
Axar is in the team, primarily as an all-rounder.
Though he has shown his prowess with the bat throughout the series, it’s clear that he hasn’t really shown his mettle with the ball.
This is surprising as Axar has a phenomenal Test record. In 11 matches, he has scalped 48 batters at an astounding average of 16.14.
He has taken 5 wickets in an innings 5 times and 10 wickets in a match once. England in 2021
In fact, during his debut series versus, Axar was India’s man of the Series with 27 wickets in just three matches!
Now comes the real surprise. In the current series giants Australia, he has bowled just 39 overs in 3 matches and taken one wicket.
What is the reason for this discrepancy?
When you play three spinners, one of the challenges is to get that balance correctly.
It’s easy to under-bowl one of them.
Unfortunately for Sharma, Axar Patel, the bowler has been under-utilised in this series.
In Indore, Axar’s bowling contribution touched new lows as he bowled only 13 overs across two innings.
Worse was that 13 overs came across three spells sandwiched by stumps on Day 1.
We all know that spinners like bowling long spells. It allows them to identify the area to bowl on, work the batter, build up a rhythm and keep going.
However, it’s clear that Rohit Sharma doesn’t trust Axar’s ability with the ball as much as with the bat.
To be fair to Sharma, he did agree that he had under bowled Patel in this series.
Rohit said, “Look (Ravichandran) Ashwin and (Ravindra) Jadeja have bowled really well so I have to continue to make them bowl as much as possible,”
“If you have three spinners, you know that the third spinner is always under bowled. This time it has been Axar in these two Test matches, you never know who that guy will be in the next two Test matches.”
“Because if guys are getting wickets from one side, both sides rather, you have to continue to bowl them, as simple as that. That’s how it is.”
“When Axar, Ash and Washington (Sundar) played in Ahmedabad against England, Washi was the one who was under bowled. Probably didn’t even bowl too many overs. That’s how it is.”
“When you have guys taking wickets and are in good rhythm, you can sense that they need to bowl longer spells. Like fast bowlers, they take a little bit of time to get into a rhythm.”
“You need those fingers to come good for you. So you need at least 3-4 overs to get into that rhythm.”
That’s a fair point but there’s something about Rohit’s actions that are puzzling.
There have been spells across this series where Ashwin and Jadeja have erred in line and length but have been kept on for longer.
Both Usman Khawaja and Marnus Labuschagne, after surviving a tricky period, were rotating the strike against both of them.
In fact, Ashwin was constantly searching for the right length all through the innings before finding it on the second morning. Despite this, Rohit kept him on.
Compare it to how Steve Smith decided to juggle his three principal spinners at Holkar Stadium.
Smith told his spinners, “We have got three of you. If I take you off, it doesn’t mean you are bowling badly. It’s just that someone else may be able to do a better job at that point of time.”
“When you have got three spinners, you have to work them that way and keep them as fresh as possible. I was pleased with the way I handled the three spinners.”
In the past, especially in the seventies, India used to play with three spinners – Chandrasekhar, Prasanna and Bedi and they were used expertly by legendary captains such as Wadekar and Pataudi.
Maybe Rohit can take some learnings from the past.
It’s natural for a new captain to have teething problems.
However, it’s important for Rohit to get this balance right in the fourth Test at Ahmedabad.
Remember, this is the place where Axar Patel announced himself as a world-class bowler against England in his debut series.