India’s MVP in the Border Gavaskar Trophy

Four matches, five innings, 264 runs at a staggering average of 88.0.

These numbers can put any top-order batter to shame, especially in a series where the first three Tests haven’t gone beyond three days and the ongoing fourth fixture is being played on a surface where batting isn’t difficult but run-making is.

All this, however, has had no bearing on India’s MVP (Most Valuable Player) Axar Patel as he dished out crucial performances from No.9 (Nagpur), No.8 (Delhi), No.9 (Indore) and No.7 (Ahmedabad) positions.

Had it not been for Axar, Nagpur (84) wouldn’t have been that dominating, Delhi (74) could have gone the other way and Indore (12* and 15*) could have been much worse.

Had it not been for Axar, alarm bells would have rung in the Indian dressing room as they were a batter short (Shreyas Iyer didn’t come out to bat due to a back injury) in Ahmedabad (79).

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On surfaces where the likes of Steve Smith, Marnus Labuschagne, KL Rahul and David Warner struggled to go past fifty, Axar went thrice. He was well within the reach of the three-figure mark on all three occasions and could well have had three centuries in a series where only five were hit across both teams, and four of those came in the Ahmedabad Test.

Unreal numbers from the all-rounder picked for his bowling skills and someone who probably retained his spot in the side for his consistency with the bat. With the ball, it was more of a filler job for him as he only bowled 67 overs in six innings and picked up just two wickets.

What if Axar wouldn’t have done what he did with the bat?

Firstly, he would have probably lost his spot on the side, and secondly, India would have surely lost the series.

Lower down the order, mostly with the tail, the left-hander showed exemplary composure in testing conditions and made an impact. In both Nagpur and Delhi, Axar batted with the lower order and the tailenders and scored two solid fifties.

Even after his heroics in the first two Tests, which helped India take an unassailable 2-0 lead, he wasn’t trusted on Indore’s raging turner and was sent in at No.9. In both innings, he remained unbeaten and faced the second-most number of deliveries by an Indian batter.

‘Bade run karne the… ‘

The knocks of 84, 74 and 79 were as good as they can get. These were crucial runs scored at a very difficult period in the game. He was gutted to miss converting the first two half-centuries but there weren’t many options for him since he was batting mostly with the tail during those knocks.

Today, however, could have been his day to finally get the helmet off. The left-hander had Virat Kohli, who scored a brilliant 186, for company and the two had put on a 162-run stand before Axar played a Mitchell Starc delivery back onto his stumps.

Three solid knocks where he was in complete control but just couldn’t reach the magic number.

“You have rubbed salt to wounds (laughs). The way I was batting and I know the chances I have missed don’t come often. Bade run karne the,” the 29-year-old said.

“Positive is that I batted the way I wanted to and we had a good partnership when the team needed it. I am thinking about what you said, but not thinking too much about it right now. I feel it more when I get back to the room,” he said after Day 4.

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Nagpur camp, Ponting pep-talk

For Axar, the preparations for the batting grind got underway during the team’s camp in Nagpur ahead of the series and he was mentally hardened by the various conversations he had with former Australia captain, now head coach of the Delhi Capitals in the IPL, Ricky Ponting.

Batting-wise, there was a change in guard for the spinning surfaces and a cautious effort to not step out to the off-spinners.

“When we started with the camp in Nagpur. We knew we will be playing on turning tracks. I didn’t prepare or plan much but did my own study for playing on spinning tracks,” he elaborated.

“I just prepared myself to stand on the leg stump to keep a check on the possible LBWs and stumpings since they can happen on turning tracks. I also planned to not step out much against off-spinners. I was getting myself ready for these things before the series started,” said Axar.

After intense action in the middle, Axar’s pressers are like a breath of fresh air and he carries a lot of infectious energy and remains very outspoken. The all-rounder delivered probably one of the most candid pressers of the series after his heroics with the bat in Delhi where he had rescued India from 139/7 to 262 in the first innings.

After the crucial hand, he touched upon the change in mindset and how conversations with Ricky Ponting helped.

“At Delhi Capitals, I talked a lot with Ricky about how I can get better with my batting. Even in the Indian team, I was talking to the batters. I felt I was not realising my potential with my 30s and 40s. I was not able to finish the game,” he said.

“So, it was a lot about the mindset. Sometimes you can relax as an all-rounder if you have taken wickets, you could get casual. So I thought I could improve on that and convert my 30s and 40s into match-winning scores. That is how I think now and that has made a big difference,” Axar had said.

Happy headache

The dream run with the bat is now set to pose a happy headache to the management. Axar will continue to be the second left-arm option, behind Ravindra Jadeja, on more sporting surfaces but his exploits with the bat in the ongoing series has certainly pushed him up the pecking order. Is he fancying a spot in the Playing XI for the potential WTC final?

“It’s not in my hands and I can’t do anything about it. I am performing in the chances I am getting and focus on what’s in my hands. Coach and captain decide the XI and my job is to perform consistently and earn that place in the XI,” said Axar before he vacated the press conference room with an infectious smile.

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