At just 20, Axar Patel’s entry into national cricket has been nothing short of stellar. His dive into serious cricket was not more than five years ago. In fact, his first game with a “leather ball” took place when Axar, still in high school, offered to be part of the team just to make sure it had enough players for a national-level cricket match. That match was just five years ago. But in that short while, Axar has gone on to play for Gujarat, the Ranji, showed incredible talent in his T20 matches and is now, one of Team India’s top spinners. And to think he never wanted to become a cricketer.
The 20-year-old started off as an all-rounder in class, scoring top marks in almost every test. He actually wanted to become an engineer — just like his idol Anil Kumble. But Axar’s first coach, Vijay Patel, remembers the boy’s skills on the pitch.
“Last year, the Gujarat team was scheduled to play a Ranji Trophy game against Delhi at Surat. Delhi had stalwarts such as Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, Ashish Nehra etc. But as soon as Gujarat’s captain Parthiv Patel saw the pitch, he sent an SOS to Axar because he knew the youngster could do much damage. Axar meanwhile, was set to play an under-25 match in Rajkot. He left that, arrived in Surat that morning and ended up taking all 10 wickets at the Ranji game,” says Patel who believes Axar is a natural.
“We had another spinner (Rakesh Dhruv) in the team but Axar performed exceedingly well. He downed 10 wickets and scored 40 odd runs in the match. He’s indeed a natural and comes from a very humble family. It was only after this Ranji match, that he decided to move out of his under-25 category. He has not looked back since,” says his coach.
Axar was born in Gujarat’s Anand and that strange ‘X’ in his name was the work of an uneducated ward boy who spelt ‘Akshar’ wrong. Father Rajesh Bhai and Mother Preeti Ben remember spending years trying to fix the problem.
“The birth certificate had this name — Axar. I tried very hard to change this to Akshar but could not succeed as the hospital was not willing to change and that’s how it stuck. Also, the school-leaving certificate was based on this birth certificate and all resulting documents — passport, drivers’ licence had Axar Patel. But, my son still keeps his ‘original name’ in bank documents and his Facebook account too reads Akshar,” reveals his father Rajesh Bhai. Now, with that out of the way.
The father explains how brilliant his son was in school. “He passed the board scoring more that 87 per cent. He was good in school and yes, cricket was always around. He wanted to become an engineer. He would always ask, if Anil Kumble and K. Srikkanth were engineers who also played for the nation, why couldn’t he,” says his father.
Serious cricket, however, had its share of troubles at the start. The teen needed a bit of work with the body first, before taking up the game. Rajesh adds: “When he was in the ninth standard, Axar was picked for Gujarat’s Under-16 team. But he was extremely thin and was promptly sent to ‘health class’ (Vyayamshala). The ‘body-building instructor’ there was simply asked to make Axar run around the school- more than the other students. And I paid him `100 ever month, as he stayed at the Vyayamshala.”
The shy boy who will hit big
But the family still credits Axar’s grandmother for the final push into cricket. They believe her constant nagging is why they even considered sending the boy into next-level coaching. Axar’s father says: “Sadly, she could never see him play. My mother passed away in 2012, even as Axar was playing a cricket match, in some part of India. It was her dream to see him play in India’s colours.
Being the youngest in the family, he of course was her favourite. Her death left him in tears but he’s become very strong too. He is punctual and never repeats his mistakes and he’s not arrogant at all. He doesn’t talk much but if you get close to him, he will be your best friend.” And as Axar appears on national television, rubbing shoulder’s with some of Indian cricket’s most famous, this family sit on their couch with a sense of both anxiety and pride. “We really hope he continues this form — we are very proud. As for us, I am retired now and I don’t need to work. We just want to watch our son’s game,” concludes Rajesh Bhai.