Two outstanding performances were seen from Indian players as the Kanpur Test between India and New Zealand ended in a nail biting finish. Quite often a hard fought draw is better than a one sided victory and today’s match proved why Test cricket has its own charm even now when the slam-bang T20 version of cricket is ruling the roost.
Moreover, Ravichandran Ashwin reaffirmed his place among the top rung bowlers in India and perhaps also the entire world with his superb control over line and length and ability to outsmart rival batsmen. He became the third highest wicket taker for India in Test matches by taking his 418th scalp to overtake Harbhajan Singh (417). Now ahead of him is the second placed Kapil Dev with 434. The fact that Ashwin has done it in only 80 Tests speaks volumes for his wicket taking ability.
But to get back to the two comparative newcomers who emerged as the stars of this Test, both Shreyas Iyer as well as Axar Patel earned plaudits from all the cricket experts of India. For Shreyas it was a very auspicious beginning to his Test cricket career. The 26-year-old batsman from Mumbai became the 16th Indian batsman to score a century on his debut after being capped by the legendary Sunil Gavaskar.
Perhaps Gavaskar’s blessings helped Shreyas to reach the coveted century in the first innings and then he also came up with a sound knock of 65 in the second innings when India was looking shaky. Thereby he became the first Indian player to score a century as well as a half century on debut. For a starter in Test cricket, he displayed a remarkably cool head and steady nerves. It was the 64 run partnership between Shreyas and Wriddhiman Saha that took India to safety.
The way Shreyas handled the bowling of Tim Southee and Kyle Jamieson should be a lesson for the batsmen who had preceded him in the batting order. At Kanpur he merely fulfilled the potential that he had shown in his early career. Playing in the Ranji trophy in 2015-16 he had scored 1321 runs with four centuries and seven 50s at an average of 73.39. He was the top scorer that season.
In his international career, Shreyas has already represented India in T20 and ODI formats with commendable success. He has an ODI century to his credit which was scored against New Zealand in 2020. Thus he has great potential in all three formats and his rise in Test cricket is a welcome sign for India.
As for Axar Patel he is rapidly emerging as a top class spinner who has shown enough talent to impress the greats of the game. After playing in the T20 and ODI formats, he made his Test debut against England in February of 2021 and took seven wickets. What a splendid run he has had since then. The tall and lanky spinner who plays for Gujarat in domestic tournaments goes by two nicknames, one being Bapu and the other being Ax.
At Kanpur he picked up five for 62 in the New Zealand first innings thus taking his fifth five-wicket haul in Test cricket. He bowled perfectly, pitched in the right spot and varied his flight to make the going difficult for the visiting team’s batters. His five wickets helped India to get the vital first innings lead of 49 runs.
The emergence of Shreyas and Axar is an encouraging omen for India. If the two continue to perform as well as they have done, then India’s stature and position in world cricket will be secure in the years to come.
Abhijit Sen Gupta is a seasoned journalist who writes on Sports and various other subjects