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Ind vs Aus, 2nd T20I, 2022

Once the two had finished bowling, Jasprit Bumrah and Axar Patel, born a month apart in Gujarat, began to reminisce about their childhood where they started out as tennis balls in six to eight overs matches.
Axar told Bumrah that the eight-over shootout against Australia in Nagpur reminded him of his childhood: “Full feeling aaya [it felt exactly the same]. They’re death-overs from ball one: batters come and swing without regard for their wicket.”

Add the Pandya brothers to the list and you have four contemporary players who have taken the unconventional route. Sunil Gavaskar has a theory about Gujarat cricket that the Gujarati people have a huge love for the game of cricket, but they are also practical people. For a long time it continued the pursuit of kingship; the common Gujarati only started playing cricket when the parents could see a professional future for their children.

And it trickled all the way to local tournaments where the prize money would be good, and where the talented kids could be rent guns and make decent amounts of money. Once love and business met, the entire state of Gujarat – and not just the cities of Ahmedabad and Jamnagar – became a force to be reckoned with.

At the heart of it for most Gujarati cricket players are these tennis ball games with extreme cracking action.

Not that it matters to Axar what the length of the match is. He’s used to bowling in the power plays, and the clipped match was no different for him. It might be a condescending comment from an outsider, but Axar himself says it’s a simple game with the ball: don’t leave the stumps, stay out of the strike arc, and don’t get too upset when a good ball is hit for a boundary.

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In this match, Axar started in the power play with long-on and midwicket back. Immediately, the batters began to give themselves space, hoping to hit the turn, but Axar threw either armballs or cross-seam, meaning the gymnast would be the alternate throw. His height control was as good as ever.

In his second and final over, Axar even threw four straight dots off lefthanded batter Matthew Wade. Wade tried to move and tried both types of swing, but Axar didn’t waver from his territories: flat and in the stumps.

Axar’s two overs for 13 runs – one of them in the power play – registered just 3.42 smart runs against ESPNcricinfo’s superstats. Adam Zampa trumped Axar on total impact with his one extra wicket and also because the other Australian bowlers around him got karts, but it was Axar’s spell that got the game going.

Axar has been sidelined due to an injury to Ravindra Jadeja, but it has become clear over the past two to three years that he is a significantly better bowler in shortest form than Jadeja. It’s Jadeja’s at bat that kept Axar out; and now that he’s in, Axar also has a job with the bat.

Delhi Capitals gave him the role of finisher this IPL, and in India he is used as the cheap wicket to pinch hits and also to give Dinesh Karthik a more suitable entry point. Axar says he has practiced in the nets before that: short and high-impact innings.

As Gavaskar will tell you, there’s no telling how far they’ll go if you show a cricket-loving Gujarati a payout at the end.

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