Axar Patel pins England on the ‘mat’

Handling the glossy new pink ball at the spin-friendly and dusty Motera pitch was akin to a spinner handling the new ball on a matting wicket, something that old Gujarat and Saurashtra spin bowlers have experienced over the years and decades.

A day after Axar Patel darted ball after ball, straight and quick into England batsmen and put them on the mat, former Gujarat left-arm spinner, 77-year-old Ashok Joshi told IANS: “He did well. Hit the ball hard on that pitch. That is what you need to do, bowl quick spinners on that surface. That England spinner, Jack Leach, did not hit the pitch hard enough.”

Joshi, who played 81 first-class games through 1960s and 1970s during a period when competition for left-arm spinners for India team was intense, has played a lot on coir matting surfaces. He says on coir matting the ball turns prodigiously after it gets a bit scuffed up but the new one rushes in straight and often comes quickly into the batsmen.

“The new ball, because of its gloss, goes in straight and often turns in to the right-hander on matting. The turf wicket will usually start assisting turn from Day Three, but on matting it remains the same,” he says. He pointed out that the two surfaces can’t be compared even though Patel’s success with new ball is quite similar to what you would get on the coir matting.

On a wicket that aided big turn, and with the pink ball, which retains its gloss for a much longer period than a red ball, Patel kept darting in ball after ball at some pace and like one would do on a matting surface. He was even called ‘Wasim bhai’ by wicket-keeper Rishabh Pant from behind the stumps, referring to former Pakistan left-arm fast bowler Wasim Akram, who had a sharp incoming delivery in his armoury.

Patel, who was a fast bowler during his under-15 cricket days, bowls more like a pacer. He has the height that helps. He attributed his ability to bowl quick to his pace bowling during under-15 and under-14 cricket.

“When Jaddu [Jadeja] got injured, a lot of people might have been relieved, but this guy [Axar] comes in and bowls faster than Jadeja from that height,” said skipper Virat Kohli after the match.

Patel’s coach in Nadiad from younger days Sanjaybhai Patel says he is quite used to bowling this way and has a fair experience of bowling on matting surface. After Patel had returned from a National Cricket Academy camp when he was around 18 with an advisory to follow on how to give flight, it was on coach Patel’s insistence that he was told to concentrate on bowling the way he was bowling — quick, his natural style, and forget flight.

“We [at Kheda District Cricket Tournament] used to have a two-day tournament on a matting surface till about three years ago. Axar played quite a few times there,” he says. “The new ball goes straight and often comes in fast on matting for a spinner.”

The Gujarat-Saurashtra region has been known for producing spinners, especially left-arm spinners as India skipper Virat Kohli said on Thursday that everyone here attributes to pure coincidence.

Vinoo Mankad, Salim Durrani, Dilip Doshi and Dhiraj Parsana, who played just two Tests, were all left-arm spinners like Jadeja and Patel. There has also been off-spinner Jasu Patel.

“There could have been more. But there was massive competition for India places back then and we were also known as matting spinners, i.e. those who know how to bowl only on mat [on which the old ball turns prodigiously],” says Joshi.

But with pitches such as the one in Chennai and Motera, and more pink ball Tests expected to be played in future, more of such ‘matting spinners’ may be preferred.