A small bungalow in the small town of Nadiad, some 60 kilometres from Ahmedabad, tells everything that needs to be told about Axar Patel. An ailing father whom he helped “defeat death”, a mother who never wanted him to play cricket as she feared he would get hurt, and a joint family – Patel’s story is best told by the inhabitants of this home.
It’s not hard to find Patel’s residence ‘Rajkiran’. One just needs to stop a passer-by; they will show the road which snakes up to the home of the left-arm spinner, who starred on Test debut with a five-wicket haul in Chennai. In this quiet colony, Patel’s SUV’s is the only hint of affluence.
As big-time cricket returns to Ahmedabad, at the world’s largest cricket stadium, it’s only apt if two local lads – Patel and Jasprit Bumrah –feature in the Indian playing XI.
Happier times now From Akshar to Axar, it has been a smooth ride for the 28-year-old Gujarat all-rounder. The name-change, as the story goes, was a typo from the school principal on a certificate. Akshar decided to remain Axar.
The family is happy with their son making headlines around the globe. However, two years ago, they had to face harsher realities of life. Axar’s father Rajeshbhai had gone for a midnight stroll for tea with friends when he met with an accident that damaged the left side of his skull. Sitting on his sofa, watching the highlight reel of his son’s five-for, Rajeshbhai says he just defeated death.
“I don’t remember much, they (his family) recalled the whole incident for me. Axar was in shock but in those tense moments, showed tremendous maturity. It was with his support that I managed to pull back,” he says.
Patel’s cousin Sanship adds how Rajeshbhai’s head was completely damaged and how it took four months for a miraculous recovery. There was a fear of coma and total memory loss. Patel did what any offspring would have done. He poured all his resources into his father’s treatment and was ready to fly him abroad. Even in that tense situation, Patel didn’t lose hope, the family says. His father doesn’t talk much these days. When he is away from home, Patel calls every evening, enquiring about his father’s health.
“Luckily, there was no cricket happening when uncle met with the accident. One month later, Axar went to London to play cricket, and was constantly in touch with home. He just wanted his father to be back home,” Sanship recalls.
The family has overcome the trauma and is enjoying the present phase. They know that when Ravindra Jadeja returns to the Test side, Patel might have to make way. But they don’t want this moment to end soon.
Nadiad ka Jayasuriya
The stump mikes at Chepauk revealed shouts of “Jayasuriya, left mey ja” from wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant. Patel’s nickname dates back to his childhood days.
Rajeshbhai, a cricket-lover, had asked his only son, who was just 12 then, about his aspiration in life. “I gave him two options – cricket or studies. He chose to play. Next day I took him to a friend who was running a cricket academy in Kheda. Since then he hasn’t looked back,” his father says.
The mornings would be spent training and the evenings would be filled with tennis-ball cricket under lights. This is where he picked up the moniker ‘Nadiad ka Jayasuriya” from his teammates.
“He used to hit the ball very hard. Pura Jayasuriya ke tarah (Just like Jayasuriya). Everyone wanted him to play for their team but as he got selected for the district and later for Gujarat age-group teams, he realised that he would have to give up tennis-ball cricket,” says his cousin, who used to play with him.
Such was his passion that Patel used to borrow money from his father and enroll his team in local tournaments.
His mother says she never wanted him to take up cricket for the fear of him getting hit.
“He was too small, even his grandmother objected to him playing cricket, but Axar was stubborn to play. Now I feel it was a good decision not to stop him,” mother Preity says.
Bowler not by choice
Patel never wanted to be a bowler. However, when he went to the National Cricket Academy during his under-19 days, the coaches there felt that he could become a decent spinner. He did try to learn the nuances of spin bowling from M Venkatramana and Sunil Joshi but when he tried to give some loop to the ball, control eluded him and he ended up bowling full-tosses. Patel quickly realised what his strengths and weaknesses were.
“People still feel that I am a bit quick, but I can vary my pace. In Gujarat, there are no four-day games. Matches are played on matting pitches. There are T20 games and one-dayers. There, if you give too many runs, matlab bowler achha nahi hai (The bowler is not good). So it all came down to containing. Pads pe maro yaar, toe pe, (fire it on the pads, or toes). That’s how cricket is played at small centres,” Patel had one said.
Nadiad will remain home
Despite the money from the Indian Premier League and now international appearances, Patel won’t be moving to any other place. His mother says his heart is still in his old room. A sensitive boy, who loves his mobile games, Patel has remained the same Jayasuriya of Nadiad. The family recently got a part of Nadiad’s Shree Santram Temple renovated as an act of thanksgiving.
The family won’t be travelling to Ahmedabad to watch the Day-Night third Test due to Covid -19 concerns, but back at home, they are hoping for more celebratory moments.
Patel’s success has thrown up another challenge, He has been getting calls from relatives in India and abroad, urging him to marry their daughters.
“I have just well-left them all,” the mother quips. “Let Axar enjoy his cricket.”