On a pitch where only the odd ball turned on the first day, the key for India’s spinners was to target the stumps. Left-arm spinner Axar Patel said the ploy worked to perfection.
“Since the ball was skidding, you prefer bowling wicket-to-wicket because if the batsman tends to play on the back foot, you have a good chance of getting an lbw or bowled. I was discussing the same with Ash [Ashwin] that the ball wasn’t turning a lot so we planned to bowl wicket-to-wicket,” Axar said after the opening day’s play.
Axar is known for deceiving batsmen with his arm-ball in domestic cricket. Over the last two weeks, he has repeated the trick on a bigger stage, flummoxing England. Crediting former India off-spinner M. Venkataramana’s influence on his skills during his time at the National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru, Axar added that his early days as a seamer had also helped in mastering the arm-ball.
“When I went to NCA early on, I learnt a lot from Venkat sir. Since I used to bowl fast as a kid, I tend to bowl slightly quicker. I turned into a spin bowler once I had a bit of a knee problem. I think that’s what has helped me bowl arm-balls better,” he said.
Axar, who had played only a solitary First Class game at Motera coming into the match, had no qualms in admitting he didn’t enjoy any advantage on the pitch.
“There wasn’t really any home advantage in that respect because it’s a new stadium, new pitch and we were playing a match here after more than five years,” he said. “But the fact that the Gujarati crowd was cheering us in the local language made me feel the home advantage. Otherwise it was equal for both teams.”