If all you need is ten good balls to dismiss a side in Test cricket, Ajaz Patel bowled 1.4 quality overs to become the third Test bowler with a ten-fer in an innings.
However, as with most things in cricket, you’d be doing his achievement a disservice if you didn’t look at the story behind the numbers. Jim Laker and Anil Kumble have gottento the mark before him – but they did so at home, and Kumble could only do it because Javagal Srinath bowled an entire over at the other end while consciously trying not to pick up a wicket.
While it doesn’t negate the significance of Kumble’s achievement, it does paint in contrast to the magnitude of Patel’s own. At most times of the Indian innings over the first two days of this Test, he looked like the only bowler who was capable of taking wickets for New Zealand.
He had two spinners to accompany him – Will Somerville and Rachin Ravindra. Yet, they ended up with figures of 19-0-80-0 and 4-0-20-0 respectively. Was the recordonly possible because he just bowled better than them? There will be people who point out his full tosses, as well as his occasionally volatile line that veered outside off and down the leg side.
But it will hardly matter in the end, because an achievement like his depends on ten good balls. And he bowled all of them when no one else from the bowling line-up could.
While he has spent his initial years in Mumbai, it would be deceptive to say the Wankhede presented home conditions for him. He was all of eight years old when his family shiftedto New Zealand. It took him some time to fall in love with cricket, and some more time to realise his frame of five foot and six inches wouldn’t support his efforts of being a quality pacer.
So, he shifted to spin only in his mid-twenties, immediately taking a liking to it as he spent three consecutive seasons as the leading wicket-taker in New Zealand’s first-class competition, the Plunket Shield. A call-up to the national team was then inevitable. On Test debut, his 5/59 helped them pull off a heist in the UAE against Pakistan. Their four-run victory remains the fifth-closest victory in Test cricket.
He has pulled off tight spells for the team since then, as well as a few erratic ones, but the tour of India was going to be the one where he established himself as New Zealand’s frontline spinner – or not. In that sense, coming to Mumbai for the second Test was indeed a homecoming for him. Plenty of his family members still live in the city. While he hasn’t been allowed to meet them because of the bio-bubble restrictions, they wouldn’t mind after the achievement he’s pulled off in this Test.
For the majority of the first day, it looked like Mayank Agarwal’s century would be the headline of the innings, if not the match. He’d preserved his place in the side only because of Rahane’s injury after a few turbulent months in and out of the Indian line-up. The agility with which he danced down the track was a major reason why every spinner, including Patel, was thrown off their lengths for the majority of the innings. But even if his 150 helps India achieve a big victory margin, and Agarwal retains a spot on the upcoming tour of South Africa, everything else that happens in this match will remain buried under the immensity of Patel’s achievement.
There is a chance he never comes close to grabbing the spotlight with this much authority again. Most Test conditions outside the subcontinent employ bowlers like him as a defensive option rather than an attacking one. But if he can show the consistency he’s gotten his success with in domestic cricket, it will supersede his brilliance with the unplayable balls he has bowled in Mumbai over the past two days to reach his analysis of 47.5-12-119-10.
Moments of immortality do not come often for left-hand orthodox bowlers. But Patel’s ten-fer seems almost pre-destined. Minor debates about Kohli’s bat-pad dismissal will persist, as most controversies tend to do when they revolve around him. But none of that shall take away from the immensity of Patel’s achievement – he has unwittingly secured his legacy in the early stages of his international career with a feat that is likely to eclipse anything else he might do during it.
For a migrant who has shifted from one hemisphere to another, and a cricketer who has shifted from one bowling style to another, Patel knows what the long haul looks like. His journey with the New Zealand cricket team has just begun. And the world’s most resourceful Test team will know better than most that in Patel, they’ve found find a champion that stands tall among his peers.