The entirety of 2022 saw Axar Patel face 67 deliveries in T20Is. In that 67 deliveries, he had scored 93 runs, averaging 11.63, and a strike-rate of 138.8. In 2023, Axar has faced 51 deliveries and yet he has already bettered the 2022 tally by three runs, scoring 96.
Prior to this day, only three Indian batters at No.6 or below had scored a fifty – Manish Pandey, MS Dhoni and Dinesh Karthik. But now the list has extended to four, with Axar topping the record, with 65 off 31 balls.
But Axar’s batting hasn’t transformed overnight. And very seldom will any batter transform overnight in modern-day cricket. But it leaves India with a very big headache, one that surrounds Ravindra Jadeja, where does he feature in the bigger scheme of things?
In Jadeja’s prolonged absence, the 28-year-old all-rounder has well established himself. Even then India went an entire competition, the T20 World Cup with the left-hander only facing nine deliveries. But in this series against Sri Lanka, he has gone the extra yard to prove himself a bit more.
To prove to the last living souls that he is indeed more than a capable all-rounder, Axar stepped out once again but with a situation that demanded a lot. A lot. At the half-way stage in this clash, Dasun Shanaka had already proved a point; he showed the world what his batting pyrotechnics are but that came with a condition: only against pace.
What Axar did transcended that. Axar hit pacers and spinners alike. Both were hit in areas that you would normally associate a renaissance batter to access – the V and the square – unlike Suryakumar Yadav.
Suryakumar is perhaps one of the most attacking and confident batters in world cricket but to see a day where Axar instilled faith and confidence in the Mumbaikar, is definitely one to be written in the history books. So, what made Axar stand-out on a night where India lost and won?
Modern day T20 cricket has often been reduced to match-ups, with the word having its significance, sometimes even bigger than the two teams that are battling it out in the middle. If this game had a similar match-up, Axar has not just aced all of it but also has almost put spanner on the works for some new ones.
57/5, India were more than in a spot of bother. Sri Lanka were finding the right lengths, the right pace and with Wanindu Hasaranga only starting out, it looked like lights out. But that’s where the biggest light, Axar, worked his way like magic. Against the spinners, in 18 deliveries, the left-hander smacked 41 runs, including 25 runs off Hasaranga’s over, which literally took him out of the attack.
Hasaranga’s worst over in any T20Is was last year against Marcus Stoinis, where he was left tamed by a brute of an innings. History suggests that these kinds of freakshows are once in a lifetime. Unfortunately for Hasaranga, history repeated itself twice in two years. If Stoinis was brute force, Axar was more calculated.
Knowing that the boundaries aren’t the biggest in Pune, the left-hander was more menacing with his sweep shots, clearing the ropes with ease. Against Maheesh Theekshana, he wasn’t afraid to use his feet, with 16 runs off nine deliveries. That’s just half the tale.
In this series, the left-handed Axar has struck at 178.9 against pacers whilst he has bludgeoned the spinners at 200, showing that he isn’t a one-trick pony. While the wagon-wheel from the series will definitely show that the 28-year-old is more dominant on the leg-side, it is fair to see how the bowlers have tried to bowl to him.
Axar’s abilities outside off-stump isn’t short of stocks but the predominant bowling against him has been on his pads, which he has dismissed with relative ease. 21 runs were still needed off the final over, and the hopes from the masses was still that the all-rounder can canter India home.
It is on days like these that Axar ends up as a hero irrespective of the result, carrying the weight of the shoulder. Jadeja has done more than enough to walk straight back into the setup. The question though remains, should it come at the expense of Axar? And, in which world should two players of the same ilk not play together in the playing XI?
In the first T20I at Wankhede, India had a tall task for Axar, needing his contributions at the death both with the bat and the ball. India were miles away from any sort of total in Mumbai, on 94/5 but that’s where the partnership between Axar and Hooda changed the fortune. Over the next six overs, the pair churned out 68 runs, with the left-hander ending with a score of 31 off just 20 deliveries.
If that wasn’t enough, Hardik once again came up with a demand; a demand of executing the final over. And, Axar nailed that with perfection, defending a low score in the final over against the fighting Chamika Karunaratne.
On Thursday, first he picked up the crucial wickets of Pathum Nissanaka and Dhananjaya de Silva to end with figures of 2/24. He almost then took India home from 57/5. Had he done that, we would have all sealed the debate.
But irrespective, Axar has done more than enough to stand toe-to-toe alongside Jadeja. What’s the actual meaning of renaissance? Re-birth. Or it refers to a period of European civilization that was marked by a revival of Classical learning and wisdom.
Indian cricket in the shortest format has been marked by a revival of some classical learning with some wisdom from the 28-year-old Axar Rajeshbhai Patel. It is only fitting that one of the leading men in this renaissance is nicknamed, Bapu.