Ind vs Aus, 2nd T20I, 2022

When the two had finished bowling, Jasprit Bumrah and Axar Patel, born a month apart in Gujarat, started reminiscing their childhood where they started off as tennis-ball bowlers in matches of six to eight overs.
Axar told Bumrah that the eight-over shootout against Australia in Nagpur reminded him of his childhood: “Full feel aaya [it felt exactly the same]. It is death overs from ball one: batters come and swing without regard for their wicket.”

Add the Pandya brothers to the list, and you have four contemporary players who took the unconventional route. Sunil Gavaskar holds a theory about Gujarat cricket that the Gujarati people have an immense love for the game of cricket, but they are also practical people. For long it remained the pursuit of the royalty; the common Gujarati got into cricket only when the parents could see a professional future for their kids.

And it trickled all the way down to local tournaments where the prize money would be good, and where the talented kids could be guns for hire and make decent amounts of money. Once the love and the enterprise met, the whole state of Gujarat – and not just the cities of Ahmedabad and Jamnagar – became a force to be reckoned with.

At the heart of it for most Gujarati cricketers are these tennis-ball games of extremely crunched action.

Not that it matters to Axar what the length of the match is. He is used to bowling in the power plays, and the truncated match was no different for him. It could be a patronizing observation from an outsider, but Axar himself says his is a simple game with the ball: don’t leave the stumps, stay out of the hitting arc, and don’t get too upset if a good ball is hit for a boundary.

In this match, Axar started in the powerplay with long-on and midwicket back. Immediately the batters started to give themselves room, hoping to hit with the turn, but Axar bowled either arm balls or cross seam, which meant the turner would be the change-up delivery. His control of length was as good as ever.

In his second and his last over, Axar even managed to bowl four straight dots at the left-hand batter Matthew Wade. Wade tried to move around, and tried both kinds of sweep, but Axar didn’t waver off his areas: flat and into the stumps.

Axar’s two overs for 13 runs – one of them in the powerplay – registered just 3.42 smart runs conceded on ESPNcricinfo’s superstats. Adam Zampa trumped Axar on total impact with his one extra wicket and also because the other Australian bowlers around him got carted, but it was Axar’s spell that set the game up.

Axar has come into the side because of an injury to Ravindra Jadeja, but it has been apparent over the last two to three years that he is a significantly better bowler in the shortest format than Jadeja. It is Jadeja’s batting that kept Axar out; and now that he is in, Axar has a job to do with the bat too.

Delhi Capitals gave him the finisher’s role this IPL, and in India he is being used as the cheap wicket to pinch-hit and also give Dinesh Karthik a more suitable entry point. Axar says he has been practicing for just that in the nets: brief and high-impact innings.

As Gavaskar will tell you, if you show a cricket-loving Gujarati a payoff at the end of it, there is no telling how far they will go.

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