India’s captain Virat Kohli hands Axar Patel his cap ahead of the Spinner’s Test debut against England on February 13th
Three Tests, three consecutive heavy losses in England and four five-wicket moves for Axar Patel.
It was perhaps fitting that England’s ultimate collapse on a caning tour of India was again caused by India’s latest spin sensation.
Never before has an Indian weirdo had such a productive debut streak as Patel against England.
Since receiving his test cap from India’s captain Virat Kohli on February 13, he has tormented England’s batsmen, collecting 27 wickets with an average of just 10.59.
So who exactly is this almost overnight sensation? From the mystery of his name to a brief but formidable stint in county cricket, BBC Sport delves deeper into the 27-year-old’s journey to international fame.
Axar or Akshar? The rise of Patel
Patel has made four five-wicket moves in just six innings since making his Test debut
Patel was born in Anand District, Gujarat State and, like many boys and girls in India, grew up loving cricket, but professional gaming was not on the radar.
However, by the age of 15, his talents as a gifted batsman and seam bowler were noticed by his peers, friends, and especially his father, who encouraged Patel to take the sport more seriously.
Just three years later, in just his second top-notch game, Patel gave us a glimpse of his future when he beat Delhi 6-55 for Gujarat.
Followers of his social media – he has more than 750,000 on Instagram alone – may notice that his name is Akshar, and there have been conflicting reports about the correct spelling and pronunciation of his name.
Some suggest that a school principal misspelled it on an official form, while others say it was due to a clinical mistake made by a nurse when he was born.
Regardless, Patel made a name for himself on the cricket field in 2013 when he was drafted into the Indian Premier League by Mumbai Indians at the age of 19.
While not playing a game for the franchise, Patel rubbed his shoulders with the very best cricket it had to offer on a team led by Australian batsman Ricky Ponting and which included Indian greats Sachin Tendulkar and spinner Harbhajan Singh .
BBC Test Match Specialist and former Indian cricketer Abhishek Jhunjhunwala says Patel’s introduction to IPL cricket was invaluable.
“When you play in such a big tournament you can have great cricketers and coaching staff, some of the greatest in the world. It’s been great for Axar,” said Jhunjhunwala.
Patel’s promise was discovered by Kings XI Punjab, who designed it for the 2014 season, when he took 17 wickets.
His performances caught the attention of national selection and Patel made his debut in a one-day international against Bangladesh in the summer of 2014, followed by his T20 debut the following year.
Test cricket “a breeze”
Patel became a mainstay on the Punjab team, collecting 61 wickets in five seasons before moving to Delhi in 2018.
He has played 38 one-day internationals and 11 T20s for India, but waited almost seven years for his foray into the longer format.
Patel, who was selected to replace the injured Ravindra Jadeja, missed the first game against England due to an injury.
In the second Test, however, he made an immediate impression, taking seven wickets in the match, including 5-60 in the second innings.
It was the third game – a pink ball test in his hometown of Ahmedabad – in which he really shone with numbers 6-38 and 5-42 as India raged to another comfortable win.
Jhunjhunwala says test cricket “immediately seemed like a no-brainer” for Patel.
“He was a decent player in domestic cricket, but nobody could have predicted that to do it on the big stage in test cricket,” he said.
Axar developed an impressive partnership with teammate Ravichandran Ashwin. Former England captain Michael Vaughan said they had “put on a master class in spin bowling”.
But what exactly is it that makes such a patel such a threat to the ball?
“The largest ammunition is its line and length,” says Jhunjhunwala.
“He’s adamant about his length, which makes it difficult for batsmen to get any runs off him.”
Jhunjhunwala, who played domestic cricket in India until 2012, also praised Patel’s Armball – a more straight forward delivery that deceived and confused several English batsmen on the series.
“He bowls fast, often over 100 km / h, and when one ball is spinning and one is not, it is really difficult for any batsman,” he said.
For Patel, there is a secret behind the success of his bracelet.
“I was a fast bowler in the early days of my career so my bowling style is a little faster,” he said after the third test.
“I think my experience as a fast bowler also helps me throw armballs.”
Bring Bollywood to Durham
Patel is likely to be part of the Indian squad for their England tour this summer, but it won’t be his first taste of playing in English conditions.
In 2018, he had a brief stint at Durham – playing four top-rated games in the County Championship – where he forged friends with Irish international Barry McCarthy.
“We came from different backgrounds, but we just gelled,” says the Dublin-born bowler.
“I play international cricket, but nobody in Ireland has any idea who I am. While he was already playing international cricket in India and couldn’t leave the house.”
Patel is very active on social media these days – so much so that even his dog has an Instagram account – but, according to McCarthy, he was a “quiet character” when he first arrived on Chester-le-Street.
It didn’t take long, however, for Patel’s personality to shine through.
“We had the culture of speaking your mind and laughing at Durham, and he just seemed very calm on a bus ride to Glamorgan. I wasn’t sure how he would go with that,” says McCarthy.
“But when we were on the return trip, everything changed.
“The team had a couple of beers as it was a long drive back. Axar didn’t drink, but he was really committed.
“He made Bollywood music and showed us all of his dance moves.”
“Red ball cricket is not for me”
Patel averaged 17 out of seven innings in T20 cricket for India with a hit rate of 125.92
McCarthy isn’t surprised by Patel’s early success in Test cricket, but wasn’t sure what to expect when they first met.
“We saw an England vs India Test on TV in the locker room and I said to him ‘this could be you’ and he said ‘no, I’m not sure if red ball cricket for me is it is very long, “McCarthy recalls.
Patel, who has a top career batting average of 33.54, including 14 half centuries and a century, scored an unbeaten 95 against Glamorgan and 7-54 a few weeks later against Warwickshire.
“His blow against Glamorgan showed us that he is a real all-rounder and I expect him to perform with the bat in test cricket as well,” said McCarthy.
“And that bowling spell in Birmingham was just phenomenal, it wasn’t a turning point. He just knew his own game so well.”