England have no answer to the incisive skiddy spin of Axar Patel

The Ax falls for England! Tourists have no answer to the incisive skiddy spin of Axar Patel as India spinner’s hold over Joe Root and Co continues with four-wicket haul on day one of fourth Test

  • India bowled England out for 205 on day one of the fourth Test on Thursday
  • Axar Patel led India’s charge finishing with bowling figures of four wickets for 68
  • During this series with England, Patel has dismissed 13 of them at least once
  • Eight of his 22 victims have been lbw, and five bowled. Only three have scored more than 20 against the 27-year-old spinner

If any bowler in Test cricket right now might feel disappointed with first-innings figures of four for 68, it is probably Axar Patel.

So heady has been the start to his career, and so hapless have been England’s batsmen against his left-arm spin, that his failure to take a five-for on the first day of the fourth Test, or to keep the tourists below 200, almost felt like an anti-climax.

Nonsense, of course. Yet this series has played havoc with familiar narratives. After all, the previous game was won by 10 wickets by a team scoring 145, despite a part-time off-spinner taking five for eight. Conventional wisdom has gone out of the window.

India’s Axar Patel continued his torment of England’s batsmen on day one of the fourth Test

Patel took four wickets as India bowled out England for 205 in the first innings at Ahmedabad

In Patel’s case, it was tempting to wonder whether the 18 wickets he harvested in the second and third Tests said more about the helpful surfaces than his prospects of becoming India’s next match-winning spinner. To put it another way: could he do it on a flat pitch with the red ball in a largely empty stadium on a Thursday morning in Ahmedabad?

Thursday provided an instant answer, and it will encourage India to believe that Patel really can form a lethal partnership with Ravichandran Ashwin over the next few years.

Brought on by Virat Kohli for the day’s sixth over, Patel seemed to have a clear brief: reopen the wounds of the pink-ball Test, when he kept skidding the ball into England’s pads and took 11 for 70. This time the pitch looked decent, certainly by the standards applied by most English observers. The issue, as Kohli knew, would mainly be in the tourists’ minds.

Patel needed only two deliveries to prove his captain right, spearing his trademark arm-ball through the defences of Dom Sibley: 10 for one, and the inevitable vibe of ‘here we go again’.

Zak Crawley decided valour was the better part of discretion, which at least suggested a gameplan, and skipped out to drill the first delivery of Patel’s second over down the ground. But he skipped out to the next few balls too. Suitably forewarned, Patel held back the over’s fifth delivery a touch, and Crawley knew immediately he had been done in the flight. Waiting at mid-off was Mohammed Siraj.

Dom Sibley (centre) watches on as he is bowled by Patel after just two deliveries from him

The dismissal looked grim, but it was product of the hold Patel has exerted on England – a hold from which they are desperate to wriggle free.

It was his 20th Test wicket, and they had come at a cost of 8.6 – the kind of bowling average you might expect in the Gujarat Under-13s, but less so at this level.

As the day developed, England refused to gift him their wickets, and a string of middle-order partnerships in the forties reflected the quality of the pitch. But Patel returned at the end to hasten their demise, inducing a rash charge from Dan Lawrence, seeking a boundary for his half-century.

He then reprised the trick that worked so well in the previous game, hurrying a straight one into the pads of Dom Bess. He barely celebrated: this sort of dismissal is now de rigueur.

Patel has exerted a hold on England – something from which they are desperate to wriggle free

The upshot was that Patel ended up confirming a hunch formed over the past few weeks. Other than the first Test, when India selected the ineffective slow left-armer Shahbaz Nadeem, the hosts have not missed the bowling of the injured Ravindra Jadeja. That they have made good his absence has in all likelihood won them the series.

In only five innings, the 27-year-old Patel has cast a spell on virtually every England batsman he has faced. He has dismissed 13 of them at least once, including Sibley, Crawley and Joe Root three times apiece, and Jonny Bairstow and Ben Foakes twice. Only Rory Burns, who was dropped after the second Test, and No 11 James Anderson have escaped his clutches.

Eight of his 22 victims have been lbw, and five bowled. And only three of them have scored more than 20: starting your innings against Patel, with his hard-to-decipher mix of skid and spin, has usually been bad news for batsmen.

There is more bad news, too: England’s cross-examination by Patel has an innings to go. The trial will resume shortly.

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