India wins the Test but opponent Ajaz Patel steals hearts

The second Test match between India and New Zealand may have ended in a huge victory for India but the individual who cornered the major portion of the glory in the match was New Zealand’s spinner Ajaz Yunus Patel. The attention of the cricket world was arrested by the stunning bowling of Ajaz who took 14 wickets for 225 runs thereby obliterating a 41 year old record set by Ian Botham in 1980. This included his astonishing ten wickets in the first innings which made him only the third bowler in cricket history to accomplish this feat.

Till now Botham’s 13 for 106 was the best performance by any bowler against India. With an incredible bowling performance the New Zealand spinner born in Mumbai, scripted his name forever in cricket’s record books. His family members, consisting of his wife Nilofer, his parents Yunus and Shahnaz, and younger sisters Sanaa and Tanzeel had a special celebration back at their family home in Auckland.

For Ajaz it was a dream come true. A year ago, in an interview, he had said that he always wanted to do well in India and now his best performance has come on Indian soil. Ajaz is a late bloomer and he attributes this to the fact that on New Zealand’s green pitches the new ball bowlers tend to do well. “When they start taking wickets, spin bowlers get very little chance to show their skills,” said Ajaz.

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There was also another interesting trivia. On the way to taking ten wickets, when Ajaz Patel trapped India’s Axar Patel leg before for 52, the scoreboard read: A. Patel lbw A. Patel 52. This was the first time that such a thing had been seen in the history of Test cricket. Both batter and bowler with the same family name of Patel and with the same first initial too !!! Even more coincidentally, both of them are left arm spinners.

Social media also came alive when Ajaz snapped up ten wickets. All the well known names of cricket heaped praise and congratulations on Ajaz. One of the first to congratulate him was Anil Kumble, former leg spinner who had himself taken 10 wickets against Pakistan in 1999.

Kumble wrote on Twitter: “Welcome to the club Ajaz Patel, perfect 10.  Well bowled! A special effort to achieve it on Day 1 and 2 of a Test match.”

Sachin Tendulkar posted: “Congratulations Ajaz Patel on picking 10 wickets in an innings in Test cricket. Achieving this rare feat at home away from home is truly special.”

The Master Blaster was referring to the fact that Ajaz Patel had been born in Mumbai and had taken his 10 wickets also at Mumbai but on behalf of New Zealand.

His family had moved to New Zealand from Mumbai in 1996. He is the fifth player of Indian origin to represent New Zealand.

When he began playing cricket, Ajaz wanted to be a fast bowler. But as he grew to his full height of 5 feet 6 inches, he realised that his lack of height would not allow him to bowl too fast. So he switched to spin bowling and it has had a devastating effect. “I recall a game at Suburbs where I opened the bowling then came back to bowl spin. With my spin I ended up taking more wickets. It was something different but I loved it and it took off from there,” explained Ajaz to the New Zealand media.

Moreover, he had the right person to coach him. His coach was Dipak Patel, former New Zealand off spinner who had earlier been given the task of opening the bowling for New Zealand in the 1992 ICC World Cup thus setting off an interesting new trend.

It was Dipak who guided Ajaz and helped him to develop more variety and deception in his bowling. Ajaz’s rise in cricket was due to the extremely hard work that he put in for many years in New Zealand. He was the top wicket taker there for three years before he got a call up for the national squad in July 2018 for the Test series against Pakistan.

Ajaz also credits South African coach Heinrich Malan who used to coach Ajaz’s team Central Districts Stags from 2013 to 2019. Malan helped Ajaz to form a game plan and tactics to fox the rival batters. The key to his improvement lay in keeping it simple and bowling a lot in every practice session and in matches.

“When you bowl so many overs you tend to learn on the job. That’s where my biggest improvements have come, figuring out what my game is and how I’m looking to dismiss different individual batters. And thinking on your feet and being able to work out a few different plans,” said Ajaz to a journalist two years ago.

Incidentally, Ajaz Patel’s 10 for 119 was the best haul for any New Zealand bowler. The great Richard Hadlee, a legend all over the world, had taken 9 for 52 in one match and 7 for 23 in another match. Chris Cairns and Neil Wagner had taken seven wickets too. Now, at the age of 33, Ajaz may still have a few years of cricket left in him. Some spinners mature late so the cricket world may see some more record breaking feats from this short and stocky spinner from New Zealand.

Abhijit Sen Gupta is a seasoned journalist who writes on Sports and various other subjects

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