Eight years ago, in 2013, the Mumbai Indians grabbed a 19-year-old Axar Patel, but released the spinner with his left arm the next season without cutting it once. Axar would then have a breakthrough season with Kings XI Punjab, but what if the Gujarat boy from Mumbai had been kept?
We know that Kings XI Punjab bought Axar in the 2014 auction for 75 lakh, and we also know that he had a breakthrough season with the Lions representing India in cricket with limited overruns. But what if the move never happened? What if Mumbai decided to keep Axar’s services?
Axar Patel runs through the entire 2013 season and warms the bank. He is also only used as a substitute for much of the 2014 season by Mumbai. After not playing a single game in the group stage, the 20-year-old is unlikely to make it into the playoffs. After the throw against Chennai Super Kings in the playoffs, skipper Rohit Sharma drops a bomb. Rohit reveals that the young crank with the left arm, Axar, will make his debut with the Mumbai Indians in The Eliminator, but it’s the one he’s replacing that is causing a stir. Axar is replacing Aditya Tare, who scored a last six goal in the previous game to promote MI to the playoffs, and so his pick is not well received by the loyalists.
However, the 20-year-old only needs three balls to win the hearts of fans as he strikes twice and removes both CSK openers – Dwayne Smith and Faf du Plessis – with snorting arm balls. With CSK having four right-handers in the top five, negating Axar’s sliders on a slippery Brabourne wicket becomes an impossible task, and thus the rookie left-hander becomes the star of the night and ends with numbers 3/9 his 4 overs. The triple blow to the top crushed CSK, who eventually collapsed to a 37-run loss.
The win against CSK leads to a clash of Qualifier 2 for Mumbai against Kings XI Punjab in Wankhede, but on a horror night for Axar the Blues drop out of the competition. The 20-year-old ended up taking 68 runs from his 4 overs and was taken apart by David Miller, who ended up hitting 7 sixes in a row from the poor left to drive KXIP to a daunting 226. The chase turns out to be too big a question for Mumbai, which, despite Corey Anderson’s best efforts, will have to fold for 198 to withdraw from the tournament.
Axar’s morale and self-confidence are shaken after the night of horror in Wankhede, but six months later the 20-year-old receives the biggest shock of his life, albeit a good one. Indian selectors choose the roster for the Australian tour, announcing they have chosen the left, who had a dominant 2013-14 Ranji Trophy season averaging 46 with the bat and 23 with the ball.
The bigger shock, however, is reserved for the morning of the first test in Adelaide, as replacement skipper Virat Kohli reveals that India has opted for the left-arm spin from Axar versus the off-spin from Ravichandran Ashwin. As with his IPL debut, Axar’s selection is met with outrage, but again, the youngster only needs two overs to defend himself. After Varun sacked Aaron Watson, Axar caught Australian skipper Michael Clarke on top with just his 14th ball in Test Cricket.
But it would be his next Steve Smith layoff that would set a trend in the series – and in turn change both men’s careers. Axar bowls Smith with a nasty arm ball, and this turns out to be the first of many layoffs in the series. In 8 innings in 4 Tests, Smith kills Axar’s left arm six times – bowling four times – and remarkably ends the series with an average of just 18.75. Despite the taming of Smith and Axar’s graduation as the series’ top wicket taker, India could only get away with a draw.
The man solely responsible for denying India a victory? Shaun Marsh. Marsh, who was hired by Michael Clarke to replace the last three tests in the series, is redeeming himself after a five-year wait and is living up to his potential. 1-0 in the series, he beats a match-winning 189 at the Gabba to help Australia level the series and finishes the series with a remarkable 450 runs over 6 innings averaging 75 to help the hosts gain their pride save and avoid a series defeat.
Marsh’s resurgence is good news for Australia, but it turns out to be a curse on Steve Smith. After the selection was also impressed in the one-day Ryobi Cup 2013/14 with an average of 76.00, they choose a form-strong Marsh for the Tri-Series against India and England before the World Cup at Smith’s expense. And it is almost inevitable that the Western Australian will seize the opportunity with both hands. With 2 tons and 321 runs in 4 games, Marsh finishes the tri-series as the highest run-getter and almost eliminates his place in the starting XI for the home world championship.
Australia are confident that Marsh’s form can resolve their medium-order issues but while their roster is all but resolved, India is not, who are still looking for a third weirdo. After much thought, the selectors surprise and decide on the leg spin from Karn Sharma. Karn, a spinner already covered with a cap, experienced a successful IPL 2014 with the Sunrisers and the aggression with the ball, which he brings to the table – in contrast to Ashwin and Jadeja – attracts the selectors.
At the World Cup, both India and Australia make it through to the round of 16 with ease, but while India makes it to the semi-finals without breaking a sweat, Australia is taking a shock exit from Pakistan in the quarters. Australia chasing a paltry 214 is reduced to 59/3 in the blink of an eye, but it’s fourth wicket, six runs later, which turns out to be the deciding blow. A Wahab Riaz set on fire collides with Australia’s trump card Shaun Marsh, whom the kangaroos crumble and fold for 148, only to suffer an embarrassing exit in front of their home fans.
Australia’s shock result prepares a semi-final between India and Pakistan and India’s tactics leave fans stunned. The Men in Blue drop Ravindra Jadeja amazingly and draw in Karn Sharma, and it’s another decision that doesn’t go over too well with the public. The general perception matters little, however, as a dhoni master sees Karn pushing India into the final of the world championship. In the hunt for 285, with Shahid Afridi hitting 37 *, Pakistan is 12 runs away from victory, but a brave – borderline ridiculous – move by Dhoni to throw the ball to Karn leaves Pakistan literally at a loss. When Afridi sees the ball thrown, his eyes light up, but he is fooled by the leggie in the air who dismisses the all-rounder to secure India a place in the finals.
India meets New Zealand in the final at the Mighty G, but chases after 240 disasters and is reduced to 5/3 by the duo of Boult and Henry. After both Kohli and Rohit are released, there does not seem to be any light for India at the end of the tunnel, but despite all odds, the men in blue are being rescued by Dhawan – except here it is not Shikhar. Rishi Dhawan, who made the Final Cut for an outstanding Vijay Hazare Trophy, was controversially selected in the finals at Ashwin’s expense, but he repays the selectors’ trust by hitting an impeccable 58. Dhawan combined with Raina who strikes an unbeaten 85 * for a match-defining stand with 128 runs and the duo’s good performance form the platform for skipper Dhoni, who brings Boult to the stands to help India win its second consecutive World Cup title hand over.
The Indian team is cheering, but next April that’s not quite the emotion Axar Patel is feeling, who is being released by the Mumbai Indians. Instead, after the contract with Axar has ended, the Blues sign the all-rounder Hardik Pandya, which they pocket for his basic price of 10 lakh. Axar is depressed by his release, but little does he know that there are bigger and better things to come.
The date is February 22, 2017, and the whole world is waiting for the battle between India and Australia, which will begin in just over 12 hours. This isn’t the only fight the cricket brotherhood is looking forward to, however, as the series will see Axar Patel, who became the fastest bowler for 100 Test wickets two months ago, head to toe with the Australian captain and number One of the world’s test batsmen, Shaun Marsh.
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