Axar Patel – From Support Cast to Star Turn

Axar Patel in India vs England, T20 World Cup 2024 Semifinal, Guyana (Image: BCCI)

We hardly speak about him. In fact, when we do, we question his spot in the team and ask if someone else like Yuzvendra Chahal is a better bet. We speak of Jasprit Bumrah and we speak of Kuldeep Yadav. In fact, we even speak of Arshdeep Singh, but very rarely is Axar Patel spoken of as a match-winner. And yet, consistently through this T20 World Cup, Axar has stepped up for India. There was the match against Pakistan where he played a very useful hand at No. 4 and then, when the chips were down and Pakistan looked to be in control, came on to bowl the 11th over and picked up Usman Khan to open things up. 

And on Thursday, he was brilliant from the word go. Jos Buttler had started to exert himself when Rohit Sharma turned to Axar in the fourth over. England had already raced to 26-0 and India badly needed a wicket. Axar tempted Buttler to play the reverse-sweep, and it was the easiest of takes for Pant. The moment the shot was played, memories of Mike Gatting in the 1987 World Cup final came to mind. Perhaps the two most problematic reverse-sweeps in English cricket history.

Just to add, Axar had also got Marcus Stoinis out to a reverse-sweep, and it was a pivotal moment in the 24-run win against Australia. Once the Buttler wicket was down and Bumrah cleaned up Phil Salt, England were visibly on the back foot. And Jonny Bairstow had no idea about the arm ball which came in, and looked hapless when the off stump was pegged back. Axar had not only got India back into the game, but given them the upper hand. 

Axar Patel celebrating with Rohit Sharma (Image: BCCI)

Very much the equivalent of Roger Binny from the 1983 side, Axar just flies under the radar. May be because he doesn’t have too many brands or the PR machinery that others do, there is not as much talk about him. But in this World Cup, his all-round contributions have been second to none and he has been one of the X-factor players for India. With Kuldeep, who has bowled like a dream, Axar was the perfect duet. And with the bat as well, he has played important knocks including the cameo against England. 

For him too, this is redemption. People have forever questioned playing him ahead of Chahal, who is an out-and-out match-winner. And yet, the team management preferred Axar because of his all-round abilities. Just like the Shivam Dube call will go down as a blunder, the Axar decision will partly redeem Rohit and Rahul Dravid. The World Cup is always won by a collective and, may I say, Axar is as important a member of that as anyone else at the moment. 

With one match to go, India know the job isn’t done yet. The Ahmedabad wounds are still fresh, and no one wants to jump the gun. But what we also know is that with multiple right-hand batters in South Africa’s top order, Axar will be quite a handful. And against Keshav Maharaj and Tabraiz Shamsi, India will know who to promote up the order if needed.

His contributions will be required one final time on June 29, and if he does stand up, he could well play a stellar role in finally ending an 11-year-long curse. If Rohit gets his hands on the trophy, it will confirm that Axar was an inspired selection, and all of India will finally be forced to celebrate ‘Bapu’ not just as part of the support cast, but as a star. The man with the golden arm who did as much as Kuldeep or Bumrah when it mattered for India.