Lights, camera, action: let the Ashwin-Axar-Jadeja era begin

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24 Nov 2021 | 05:31 AM
authorAnirudh Suresh

Lights, camera, action: let the Ashwin-Axar-Jadeja era begin

Should things go as envisioned, Thursday might prove to be the beginning of a special partnership

Perceptions define the way we view sport, and it’s amusing how quickly perceptions can change.

Cast your mind back to 10 months ago. 

The BCCI, days after team India had done the unthinkable by conquering Gabba, announced the squad for the first two home Tests against England, and the squad saw Axar Patel take Ravindra Jadeja’s place as the left-arm-spinner who can bat. 

The selection excited no one, for, at that point in time, Axar was seen as a white-ball specialist whose inclusion was a bit weird. And the reaction was understandable, given Axar hadn’t broken the door down in first-class cricket.

His injury ahead of the first Test upset many, but only because it meant that Kuldeep Yadav had to sit out owing to team-combination complications. Post the thrashing in the first Test in Chennai, hardly anyone was hyped about Axar’s debut, for no one thought he had the ability to be a difference-maker in red-ball cricket. 

But then everything changed in the span of 21 days. 

Three matches, 27 wickets and a handful of five-wicket hauls later, the only ‘why’ question that people raised was “why was he not picked all this while?”. From a passenger who people couldn’t care less about, Axar turned into the nation’s darling in the span of three weeks. 

And so that brings us to today. 

A day ahead of India’s first Test against New Zealand, the memory of him venturing out into the field donning whites, humiliating batters, winning matches and ending careers is still very vivid. The mere thought of Axar bowling on Indian wickets, owing to what he did ten months ago, is mouth-watering.

But there is a second thought that is even more irresistible. Which is the thought of the February-March 2021 version of Axar pairing up with arguably the greatest spin duo in the history of Indian cricket.

Sounds too good to be true, but it’s not fantasy. We are effectively hours away from this scrumptious thought becoming a reality.

***

For nearly a decade, India have been invincible at home and it goes without saying that the bedrock of this domination has been the spin twins, Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja.

Together, Ashwin and Jadeja have played 33 Tests at home, taking 348 wickets between them, and quite astonishingly India have lost just one of those 33 fixtures - the Pune encounter against Australia in 2017. 

India are yet to lose a bilateral Test series at home in which Ashwin and Jadeja have featured together in two or more Tests, and the mere presence of these two wizards has almost proved to be a cheat code. 

However, across the nine years Ashwin and Jadeja have played together, they’ve missed one thing, which is a long-term third spin-bowling partner. When it comes to the third spinner at home, India have played musical chair, but, to date, nothing has ever stuck.

Jayant Yadav, Amit Mishra, Kuldeep Yadav, Harbhajan Singh, Pragyan Ojha and Shahbaz Nadeem are among the names India have tried as the third spinner to accompany Ashwin and Jadeja, but all these partnerships have been short-lived. 

But now with the introduction of Axar, India finally have the opportunity to do something they’ve not managed to do in the past decade: establish a long-term third spinner who will not just tag with Ashwin and Jadeja for a series or two, but will join hands with them and form a formidable long-term trio. 

It is not an unrealistic expectation. 

Ashwin might be 35, but he has shown over the past 18 months that the fire inside him is burning strong as ever. For a couple of more years at least, he will be paying no heed to the talks of potentially moving on. 

Axar, 27, the youngest of the lot, is starting to peak, while Jadeja is 32 and still has plenty of years left in him as an all-format cricketer. Should these three click, India will be set for the foreseeable future. 

Even if we are to not look ahead too much, India couldn’t have asked for a better time for the the Ashwin-Jadeja-Axar trio to join hands, with series’ against New Zealand (home), Sri Lanka (home), Bangladesh (away) and Australia (home) lined-up in the next six months. 

We know what Ashwin and Jadeja are capable of doing, so the onus, really, is now on Axar to make this paradisiacal scenario come to fruition. 

And by no means will it be easy.

Axar had an outrageous debut series, where everything he touched turned into gold as he averaged 10.59 and took a wicket every 28 balls, but it is worth remembering that he played in three minefields in which even the Indian batters struggled. He was also up against a very green English batting line-up which, outside of Root and Stokes, tapped out at the first sight of turn.

He might never stumble upon such a favorable combination once again, and the challenges will only get progressively tough. 

Certainly, facing him in a day's time will be a far tougher proposition than England. 

New Zealand might still, in many people’s eyes, be ‘home bullies’ who ‘got lucky’ in the first World Test Championship cycle, but they are no pushovers in Asia. 

The Kiwis have not lost a series in Asia in three years, and in 2018 they became only the second ever side to win a series against Pakistan in UAE. For both Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor, the forthcoming series will be their fourth to India, and the two veterans will know exactly what to expect when they set foot on to the field. Going through them will not be easy. 

What does work in Axar’s favour, though, is that even a performance half as good as what he displayed against England might be enough if and when he bowls alongside Ashwin and Jadeja. Ten months ago he stole the show every time he took the ball, but, going forward, starting with the New Zealand series, all he might need to do is chip-in.

Whether he’ll be able to do so consistently, and whether this trio will outlast its predecessors, only time will tell.

But for now, it should be fun to tune in and watch Episode 1 of the Axar-Ashwin-Jadeja diaries. 

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India vs New ZealandNew Zealand tour of India, 2021IndiaNew ZealandRavichandran AshwinRavindra JadejaAxar PatelAmit MishraKuldeep YadavJayant YadavRoss TaylorKane WilliamsonRahul Dravid

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