With his quiet confident demeanor, Axar Patel has impressed a lot of senior player in the Indian team including Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina. The 21-year-old left-arm spinner made his first-class debut only a year ago and is already in the scheme of things for the national team.
After playing 18 ODIs, Axar made his debut in the T20 internationals with the first T20 against Zimbabwe. He returned impressive figures of 4-0-17-3 and was declared the man of the match. After bowling India to a 54-run win, Axar spoke to bcci.tv about his long-term goal of being part of the Indian team for the 2016 World Twenty20.
This was your first T20 for India. It is a format you have the most experience in. Did that add to your confidence?
It was good and I was pretty confident going into the match. With the IPL back home we youngsters gain a lot and learn so much. It really helps us when we graduate to the international level because we know what the standard is going to be like. One of the advantages I have gained from the IPL is that when I bowl at the international level, I am not afraid of going for runs. I know that as a spinner there are all chances that batsmen will go hard at me. But it doesn’t make me nervous and I bowl to my own strengths. I back myself.
What is the one major change you bring in your bowling from the ODIs to the T20s?
In ODIs I try to bowl more dot balls while in T20s I don’t want to give away four and sixes. I am okay if I concede six singles in an over because that is a good over in a T20 match. I mix it up more. Today, for instance, since the wicket was on the slower side, I was bowling two slower balls per over. On a flat wicket I bowl back of a length and slower through the air so the batsman doesn’t get room to hit. In the ODIs I flight the ball more – say four out of six times – and sneak in two skidders.
Hamilton Masakadza was sweeping well during his innings of 28. Then you beat him in pace and got him out. Was that the plan?
That was the plan all along. Even when I came in to bowl in the first six overs, I had a square leg back for him. I saw him hit Sandeep (Sharma) over there and told Ajinkya that he will try to hit there often. I knew it will not be easy for him to play that shot against a spinner because the wicket was slow. So, I thought if I get the pace off the ball, I could get him out there. And it worked.
Was there any chink in the armour of the Zimbabwe batsmen against the spinners that you guys exploited?
We knew that they tend to stop and play against spin bowling. Even in the ODIs Bhajji pa and I got a lot of dot balls against them. That was the reason we brought on the spinners in the first six overs today. We chalked out a plan with (Bharat) Arun sir and it worked to our advantage.
How has it been bowling with Harbhajan Singh? Do you talk a lot of spin with him?
Off the field we have more fun than cricket talks. But during the match he comes up and gives me many handy tips. When I try to do a bit too much, he comes up and tells me to clear my head. For instance, during the ODI series I was looking to bowl back of a length. He came and told me to bowl a fuller length because I was getting more bounce off the pitch. He said that would increase my chances of getting a dot ball. He doesn’t get too technical but gives me a lot of such useful advice.
This is Ajinkya’s first series as India’s captain. What kind of captain is he?
Ajinkya is very similar to Mahi bhai in certain ways. He gives the bowler a free hand as to what he wants to bowl and what field he wants. Also, if you go for runs, he puts his hand around you and takes the pressure off you. When your captain comes and backs you during tough time, it does help you in the long term. He has captained the team very well on this tour.
What does this series mean to you in terms of your career?
There is a lot of cricket coming up in this season – we have the Sri Lanka series, South Africa are coming home and then we have the World Twenty20 next year. I really want to be part of the World Twenty squad and every match I play I take it as an opportunity to strengthen my case for that tournament. If I do well in one game, I will get a chance in the next. And if I keep doing that over the next year, I will be part of the World Twenty20. That is the long-term goal for now.