It was a masterstroke from Rohit Sharma to bring in Axar Patel in the third over of New Zealand’s innings. New Zealand were chasing 185, and given the starts the visitors had got off to in the previous two games, Rohit had to be one step ahead this time. Knowing how tough defending is at the Eden Gardens, before dew could dictate terms in the second innings, he brought on his spinners within the Powerplay and reaped rewards for his shrewd thinking. Axar picked up three wickets in ten balls and swung the game in India’s favour, finishing with 3-9 in three overs.
It wasn’t a chance occurrence; Axar has been impressive since returning into the India fold after being relegated from the T20 World Cup squad. Determined to prove his worth, he ended the series with four wickets in 11 overs, averaging 16.50, and conceding just 6 runs an over. In the first two games, he bowled more at the batsmen, cramping them for room. at Eden Gardens, he attempted to turn it a lot more. He was operating under vastly different circumstance too. Having bowled only Powerplay over in the first two games, he was tasked with bowling two tonight. He conceded just 2 runs, bowled 10 dots, and sent back Daryl Mitchell, and the pair of Mark Chapman and Glenn Phillips for ducks. Axar persisted with the third and fourth stump line at a length where the batsmen were caught in two minds.
“Earlier when I got hit, I used to bowl quicker and quicker. Now I try to vary my pace. I try to stay a step ahead of the batter about what he’s trying to do. There was help in this wicket. Ball was stopping. So I just tried hitting good areas because the wicket had some help. Want to take this confidence forward,” he said after his Man of the Match award.
The duo of R Ashwin and Axar – who before this series had last played together in 2015 – dominated the middle overs in the first two games, pulling proceedings back when it looked like New Zealand’s batters were getting ahead in the game.
“We understand how important the middle phase is; it’s where you need to put on the brakes on the scoring rate and the run-rate and try and keep taking wickets. Ashwin provides us with that in the middle along with Axar. Both are wicket-taking options in the middle and when they bowl it’s never about surviving. It’s about getting the batsmen out and how they can put pressure on the batter. That’s how they think and it’s what they come up with all the time. It’s great for a captain to have that option of someone who’s attacking and puts the pressure back on the opposition by picking wickets,” Rohit said.
Yuzvendra Chahal, who was recalled into the XI for the final T20I, didn’t disappoint either. New Zealand had scores of 41 and 64 after the Powerplay in the first two games, and in contrast, finished the powerplay in Kolkata with 37 for 3 with three overs from the spinners collectively costing India just 9 runs. Chahal in his first two overs was drifting down leg, and was taken on by Guptill who scored 16 off the legspinner’s second over. But he made amends, getting his line right when the ball started to gradually grip and bowled on the fourth stump line outside off. It worked as Guptill fell to a fuller delivery for 51 off 36, effectively ending New Zealand’s resistance. Having worked on his googlies for the last six months paid off too, with him foxing the New Zealand batters, who are not the most comfortable against spin.
Rohit was effusive in praise for his bowlers, especially his spinners, not once, but twice after India’s comprehensive series whitewash. “The spinners did the job for us in the entire series. The way Ashwin bowled, Axar. And how Chahal came back. Bowling was our biggest plus. In Jaipur and Ranchi against a batting line-up like New Zealand we restricted them to 160 and seeing how they started off in the Powerplays, the game could’ve gone anywhere but we came back really well and restricted them. That was our biggest plus. Both the spinners bowled really well. Ashwin and Axar, and today and Chahal, who got a chance and performed really well. Mainly our bowling was the biggest plus of the series.”
India ticked all the right boxes in the series. As did their personnel, who not just made the most of the given opportunities, but impressed. For Axar, however, it’s perhaps the shortfall in the batting department that’s the only roadblock between him and a permanent place in the side, but he’s made his case and a rather strong one for contention for a longer run. It’s only happy days for India with all those given a chance redeeming themselves in one way or another with another tick in ticking off the testing of their bench strength.