India all-rounder Axar Patel lit up the Arun Jaitley Stadium on Saturday with some lusty hits in the evening off both the spinners as well as the lone pacer in Pat Cummins. The innings of 74 (115b, 9x4, 3x6) was his second consecutive half-century after his 84 in Nagpur in the only innings that India played in the first Test.
Axar revealed that he sped up towards the end of his innings because he knew he was in company of lower-order batters and hence wanted to score as many runs as possible before the team was bowled out. As it turned out, he fell trying to go for a belligerent hit, caught by Pat Cummins at mid-on, and the entire innings folded not long after.
Speaking to journalists at the end of the second day’s play, Axar said bowling Australia out for a target that can be chased down may not be easy.
“The quicker we bowl them out, the better it is. I think a total of 220-250 is chaseable on this pitch. For that, we need to bowl well. The more the wicket is being used up, the slower it is becoming. We need to work hard to get the wickets. It’s not easy to get wickets quickly, and we have to bowl at one spot continuously,” he said.
Elaborating on why the task may get tougher for bowlers as the Test moves into the third day, Axar said: “The new ball is skidding through and is difficult to play. But when the ball gets older and the wicket slows down, the ball is not coming through fast. So it gets easier to play. Then the bowler has to vary his speeds.”
Change in mindset
Axar’s assessment seems valid as top-order batters did struggle against Nathan Lyon, Matt Kuhnemann and Todd Murphy for two-thirds of the day. But it was one-way traffic for a considerable part in the third session of the day, when Axar and R. Ashwin added 114 runs for the seventh wicket. The two were able to milk singles regularly, and Axar entertained with some big hits.
Asked to weigh in on his mindset as he went in to bat, Axar said nowadays he had started to be determined to ‘finish the job’ with the bat, that is, to make as many runs as possible if set and not to become complacent. He said this change in mindset was the biggest change he had seen in his game in the last few months.
“When I was with Delhi Capitals, I used to speak with Ricky Ponting, the coach, on what more I can do on the field. And when I came into the Indian team also, I used to be speaking with the players and I realised that I was leaving the job half done (sic) – scoring 30 or 40. I couldn’t finish the job. It had to do with the mindset to an extent, sometimes you may become casual as an all-rounder. So whenever I go out to bat, I try to ensure that if I’m set, I finish the job and bat for as long as possible. This has been a difference in my game in the last half a year or so,” Axar explained.
Australia spinner Nathan Lyon, who claimed five wickets in an innings for the 22nd time in his career, refused to classify Axar and R. Ashwin as “lower-order batters,” saying the two players would be suitable in the top six in quite a few teams. “[India has] got a very long top-order, let’s just say that,” Lyon quipped.
Lyon took just one wicket in the 49 overs he bowled in Nagpur, but he was more menacing here. Repeatedly fooling India’s batters with his variations, he reduced India to 66 for 4 in the 26th over. He indicated that the reason he found success here is because he obtained much more bounce from the pitch than in Nagpur.
“There’s a little bit of bounce here and that’s something that I obviously like to try and exploit. So, it’s no secret. I do like playing cricket here. I love playing cricket in the subcontinent. Quite a challenge. Yet again I had an amazing (time) challenging with some world-class superstars. Just happy with the way they come out, and my role that I was able to play today,” Lyon said.
One of his five wickets was that of Pujara, who fell lbw for a seven-ball duck in the 100th Test of his career.
“All I can give Pujara is praise. I think the way he’s gone about it – I’ve had some unbelievable battles with Pujara throughout my whole career. I’d like to congratulate him on a pretty amazing milestone. I’ve been able to tick that one off and play 100 Tests. I had my dream shattered too when India chased down 300 or what not at the Gabba (2020-21). Fairy tales don’t always come the way you like, but Pujara and I have got an unbelievable battle. From my end, there’s a lot of respect for that gentleman, I think the way he’s gone about it…hats off to him. He’s scored runs all around the world, and I think he can be very proud,” Lyon said.
Commenting on the recovery of David Warner, who was replaced by Matt Renshaw in the match because of concussion, Lyon said, “He’s going okay. If you get injured – concussed, or fracturing the arm, it’s never going to be pleasant. Your spirits, dare I say, go down a little bit. We love having [Davy] around the team. I was talking to the medical staff… I think it’s one of those you could potentially play the next couple of days (sic). He’s got a decent break in this Test match. If he’s recovered if well, I won’t be surprised if we see him out there.”
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