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IND vs NZ, Day 3: Axar Patel, Ravichandran Ashwin reap rewards of patience, accuracy

10:08 PM Nov 27, 2021 | S. Sudarshanan

Axar Patel’s bowling average in Test cricket stands at 10.87. This is after his fifth five-wicket haul in just seven innings that pegged New Zealand back on Day 3 of the Kanpur Test on Saturday. The left-arm spinner picked up five for 62 as India dismissed New Zealand for 296, and earned his team a reasonably healthy lead of 49 runs.

The track at Green Park wasn’t too spin-friendly like the ones in Chennai and Ahmedabad were in Patel’s first series in whites against England earlier this year. It was not as if Patel turned the ball miles, anyway. It wasn’t even a case of New Zealand batters throwing their wickets away – the openers Will Young and Tom Latham occupied the crease for over 66 overs and 151 runs.

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It was a combination of patience and accuracy that Patel deployed, which earned him just rewards on a track that can still be termed dead with spurts of up-and-down bounce.

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Earlier, a patient Ravichandran Ashwin toiled all morning. He doesn’t generally have to bowl over 20 overs in search of his first wicket in a home Test. And then finally, there was a nick that ended Young’s 89-run stay in the middle and Kiwis’ resistance at the top.

There was no sign of Patel until then. The phase after that till Lunch was attritional to say the least – 46 runs in 19.2 overs. Ashwin tried creating angles – over the wicket, round the wicket, wide of the crease, close to the stumps – heck, almost in line of the stumps! It resulted in an argument with umpire Nitin Menon and no wickets. Oh, an almost wicket – Latham was trapped in front but not given and India didn’t review.

Tom Latham (l) and Will Young during their partnership for New Zealand against India.

With three overs to go before the second new ball was due, Patel was summoned. India did take the second new ball with two overs to go for lunch and it was Patel, who bowled the first over with it. Umesh Yadav then dismissed Kane Williamson at the stroke of the break in the next over. Aided by a nifty Srikar Bharat keeping wickets in place of Wriddhiman Saha, who was out with a stiff neck, Patel and Ashwin went on to inflict misery on New Zealand in the next one and a half sessions.

Assessing the difference in his bowling on the second and third days, Patel said, “I used the crease much more today and I didn't use the crease a lot in the 10 overs that I bowled yesterday.”

"I was using the crease by going wide and coming near the stumps, creating various angles, and that helped me get a lot of purchase.”

Post Lunch, Patel slowly started showing his wares – going wider of the crease, slowing it up at times, going round-arm, firing it quicker, varying his lengths.

Result?

An arm ball from wide of the crease had Ross Taylor caught behind. A tossed up ball had Henry Nicholls missing his sweep to be out LBW. A couple of quick darts with some aid from the low bounce of the surface saw Tom Blundell and Tim Southee being castled.

But Latham’s wicket should perhaps be something Patel cherishes. The left-handed New Zealand batter is a good player in the sub-continent – he averages close to 43 in 12 Tests in Asia; 41.28 in India alone. He was happy to play the waiting game, judging his shots to perfection and looking set for a ton.

But Patel lured him down with a flighted ball, only for Latham to be deceived in flight and get stumped for 95. That perhaps was the end of a major road-block for India.

At home, India going in with Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja as their two spinners is almost a given. For Patel to outshine even one of them says a lot about what he brings to the table.

“When I have ball in my hand, I just try and see to it that I am enjoying my bowling, trying to read the wicket and understand what's happening, how it's behaving and plan accordingly," he said. "I don't think about whether my role is a lead one or whether there are senior bowlers around me. I only think about my bowling and what is required to be done in that particular spell.”

Just like that, over-by-over, spell-by-spell, without thinking too much, Patel has 33 Test wickets in just four Tests. With New Zealand expected to bat last, he can expect to be a few wickets richer by the time the teams land in Mumbai.

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