Axar Patel: cricket's greatest understudy

The man who could do everything Ravi Jadeja can, but not as good, just took 27 wickets in three Tests.

What if we just saw the greatest understudy performance in the history of cricket?

That is recency bias to the max, and in these situations, people forget some backup player coming in and scoring 600 runs when the main opener was busy. But right now, I can't think about anything other than the fact Axar Patel was an understudy who took 27 wickets in a series to help India come back from 0-1 to win 3-1.

A cricketer told me years ago, so many players - no matter their apparent talent level - believe they can be the best cricketer in the world. They just need the breaks to go their way. This is completely different from how I see international players. In my mind, they fill varying roles. Fill-in cricketers, guys in development, role players, or ten-year stars. But after this chat, I realised how many athletes worldwide only see themselves as one break from stardom.

Besides enjoying his play in the IPL, or a few white-ball matches for India, I never had to think about Axar at all. There are over 3000 professional male cricketers in the world, about another 500 top tier women. For someone like me who tries to stay on top of the global game, remembering names is a big deal. If you'd asked me about Axar, I probably could have named him as a Kings XI player, infrequent ODI back up, and told you he could bowl left-arm spin while batting a bit.

At that point, there was no need to know that much more about him. He just wasn't a cricketer I needed a strong narrative on. In three Tests, he's burned the old script up. He will forever be the guy that took the beating heart out of England's batting and stomped on it. Even if he goes on to have a fantastic career from here on in, he may just have written the first line of his obituary.

Before he was picked, people got upset when I referred to Axar as the Walmart Jadeja. But I don't think they understand how good Jadeja has been in the last few years. He's batting like a top seven batsman and striking like one of the best wicket-takers in the world. No one is scoring from him, and he pops in with the odd incredible run out. Being the Walmart LeBron James is a good thing, it means you can do everything LeBron does, just not at that level, and with a lower price tag. Being the Walmart Jadeja is a big deal.

I don't know how well Jadeja would have been on these pitches; perhaps coming from a lower arm he wouldn't have taken as many wickets. As accurate as he is, would be have been Axar levels of accurate? He probably would have batted at seven and pulled off some top five in the world fielding moments. He is the best all-round cricketer in the world, and because of this, probably close to the first player you would draft if we started Test cricket from scratch tomorrow.

And India has a player who can replace him in the XI without them losing massively in any one area. Away from home Axar may not be as good with the ball, and his batting might take a bit longer to come on. Yes, he's tall and slim, but he's probably not a fielding predator, even if he moves ok. But suppose Ben Stokes or Jason Holder stop playing tomorrow. There's no experienced all rounder who their teams can plug and play into the line up who does the basic things they do at a good enough level to star in Tests.

It is hard enough to find one Stokes, Holder or Jadeja, but to find a back up as well, that's disgusting.

And we haven't even got to what Axar Patel has just done. He's only gone and taken 27 wickets at 10.59. People will say, oh, he did it at home on favourable surfaces. That is true, but how many players in the game's history have played their first three Test on friendly pitches and not taken 27 wickets? I'm guessing it's a few. Like I know for a fact only 657 cricketers have 25 wickets in Tests.

And I know of all of them, only one averages under 10.75 - Sub George Lohmann - and that is Axar Patel.

Look at them all here, bloody heaps of them, and there is Axar, right at the front. In the first two Tests he overpitched 0.7% of the time. I don't know what to do with that other than get it tattooed on my body.

One of the weird things is that as good as his bowling looked, for much of the series, he didn't look like someone with a first class batting average of 35.  India didn't need his batting, and they even picked Washington Sundar to strengthen their batting more as Axar slipped down to number nine.  The final innings was the first time he looked like the guy who made 95 for Durham and could bat. And then he ran himself out.  But the overall point still stands, that India somehow found a replacement for an unreplaceable cricketer, and then the understudy went radioactive.

You can point at helpful pitches and friendly English batsmen all you want. But Axar's wickets came from bowling brilliantly. He wasn't lucky, what he did was repeatable. He bowled fast accurate finger spin from height. It's a thing.

Yes, this won't last, we all know that. He averages 28 in first class cricket coming into his first Test. He's not a better bowler than Jadeja, unless picking him for this series has unlocked some hidden talents. He's not about to average 10 for the rest of his career, or probably even for his next series or innings. He may not even play in the next Test, being that it won't be in Asia.

But that doesn't matter. There are times as an analyst where you need to slice and dice, to tell people what has gone on and why, and be the cold cup of coffee on the nonsense. I love all that, but there are times to go; Axar Patel took 27 wickets at fucken 10.59. Sound the bells, alert the villagers, this is crazy, this is not normal.

I don't care if he never takes another wicket, or ends up being dropped after going wicketless in his last two Tests. Axar did this; he created one moment of such bat shit crazy energy that the cricket world all looked over and went, what the fuck. All I have is the sound of his fast slow left-arm balls thudding into pads and stumps. Like the world's slowest ever tracer bullets. From his hand, onto England's stumps and into our hearts.

It is probably not true, and I'll possibly think of someone better later, but right now, to me, as I type, Axar Patel is the greatest understudy ever in cricket.