Delhi Capitals’ bowling all-rounder Axar Patel is proving his worth every bit in the ongoing season of the Indian Premier League. The franchise had paid a whopping Rs 5 crore for the tall Gujarati left-arm spinner in 2019 and retained him in 2020. Patel has played a crucial role with both the bat and ball; he has been involved in finishing games for DC―his clean hitting lower down the order has been faultless and key to the team’s successes. His economy rate has been a fine at 5.78 thus far. Bowling a tight line, he has been the perfect foil to off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin―being effective while restraining batsmen and flighting the ball enough to force them to make mistakes.
The 26-year-old has been unlucky to miss the boat when selectors announced the tour squads for the series against Australia on Monday evening. His India career has taken a bit of a hit due to injury and the resurgence of Ravindra Jadeja. He has been part of the India A shadow tours last season though. It hasn’t helped that the last two years or so have seen the Indian team management go with leg-spin options in the shorter formats.
Patel spoke with THE WEEK about his bowling, playing for Delhi Capitals and how he is working towards resurrecting his Team India career. Excerpts:
What has been your approach to the IPL this season, coming as you were from a break?
Cricket is happening after a long time―due to the lockdown and other restrictions. Coming back to the field after a break, the mind and body both were fresh. [I] just kept the thought process normal. I have to bowl according to my strengths. I have been playing the IPL for 6-7 years now, I am aware what is needed. [I] just focussed on my practice and fitness.
I could manage to train a little bit post-lockdown as the reopening happened. I got two weeks post lockdown, where I focussed a lot on fitness training. So once the reopening happened and camp started here in Dubai, I could focus mostly on skill work. Three weeks here in Dubai too I got good chance to train, practice on centre wicket. It went well, there was no issue of lack of confidence or practice.
How tough has it been bowling in these conditions given the dew?
If you are bowling second, there is quite a bit of dew. Sharjah is a good wicket but small ground so there are a lot of challenges. Dubai, Abu Dhabi grounds were bigger than [the ones] in India. So, you could have a slightly bigger margin of error; give more flight to the ball, bowl a bit more slowly, try to get the batsman to play the wrong shot. I knew of the challenges posed by the Sharjah wicket and ground, but the key is to execute your plans well, have a positive mindset. In practice, too, we had prepared accordingly, so it wasn’t difficult to adjust.
Would you say DC has the best bowling unit in IPL?
We have prepared well for all situations. The bowling unit is experienced and has variety which makes a difference and we are able to do well as a bowling unit. The last two years, the bowlers more or less have been the same, we are enjoying each other’s success, backing each other’s plans. That is what I like―we are exchanging suggestions. This has helped us a lot.
As a bowling all-rounder, you have made useful contributions with the bat, too. But there has been a phase where Team India preferred to go with leg-spin over finger-spin. How did you deal with it?
Yes, that phase was their where they preferred leg spin. I, too, was with the team and other spinners but then unfortunately I got injured in the Asia Cup and Ravindra Jadeja got chance to return to the team. If someone is doing well you can’t help it, I just told myself in that phase that I need to give my best. I was in India A meanwhile. This has helped a lot, I got a chance to be in a team environment and experience bowling away from home. I focussed on process. I did feel a bit bad about it but i told myself its not in my control.
How crucial is IPL for you?
There [has been] no domestic cricket, this is the only big tournament so far. Last 2-3 years you see some youngster emerging from the IPL―it is a big competition and you know if you do well here you can come into notice. I took it like that. This year and this competition is very important for me. You won’t get a better platform to prove yourself. But I didn't take it as pressure. Just look to perform well.
Have you enjoyed batting despite coming lower down the order and hitting cleanly?
The number at which I come, there are not many balls left, it’s a pressure situation. So I practice accordingly. I look to watch the ball and hit from the word go. I take it as an opportunity to become a hero. My mindset is to hold the shape of ball, remain calm. Last few years, I have been with the Indian team and the IPL. I spent time with players like M.S. Dhoni and Virat Kohli and other international players. I feel I have learnt from the previous phase and am looking not to repeat the mistakes I made earlier. The key is how to remain calm and handle pressure better.
How have senior spinners in DC like Ravichandran Ashwin and Amit Mishra helped you?
In Kings XI Punjab, too, we were together, we bonded well and discussed bowling. They would tell me how to vary pace, where to pitch, talk to me between overs. The understanding is very good between us. Bowling in tandem feels really good, there is a good partnership between me and Ashwin and I really enjoy it.