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Wednesday, January 26, 2022

View, Review: Watching Ajaz Patel’s 10-for at the Wankhede

Ajaz Patel became only the third bowler in the history of men's Test cricket to take all 10 wickets in an innings earlier this month against India at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai.

Written by Abhishek Purohit |
Updated: December 12, 2021 10:17:38 pm
New Zealand's Ajaz Patel finished with 10/119 in 47.5 overs in the second Test against India.

Until lunch on Day One of the Mumbai Test last week, machines were drying out the bowlers’ run-up area and groundsmen were pouring sawdust on big, red wet patches on the adjacent practice pitches. The start of a Test match in Mumbai was delayed by December rain — rain from the previous evening at that. That was the only bit of history, trivial or otherwise, being made that Friday morning.

When play finally started, it had felt like an afterthought; so stretched and surreal had the mop-up been — most of it under a bright sun – it had almost become the main event of the day.

Then happened what usually happens when India win the toss in a home Test. A chunky opening partnership. Eighty for no loss. Opposition fast bowlers, one great, one possibly on the way to greatness, rendered ineffective. Second spinner played instead of a menacing fast bowler – even more ineffective. Here we go again, one thought up in the Wankhede press box. Massive total coming up.

Against the tide though, one Ajaz Patel was making something happen. But what’s the point if you beat the advancing batter with all your flight and turn and the keeper fails to collect the ball? Or so one felt, until Ajaz had Shubman Gill caught at slip the very next ball. Now that’s another start you haven’t converted, young Shubman, was probably the strongest of reactions at that stage.

Third umpire Virender Sharma seemed to take almost as long as the groundstaff had in clearing up the water to rule that he could not rule Virat Kohli not out. Even as the captain walked off, thudding his bat into the boundary rope, one thought, wait, this guy’s actually got Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli for ducks in the same over. Wow!

India are not where they are in Test cricket just like that though. And in no time, 80/3 was to become 160/3. And even after it became 160/4, Mayank Agarwal and Wriddhiman Saha were soon locked in emotional embrace for the former’s century, and India ended the day on 221/4, looking set for an imposing score on a turning pitch. Yes, yes, Ajaz had four out of four, and not only the numerically minded had noticed that. Good for him.

On-time start on Day Two. Reporters trickle into the press box. Commute routes and times and what could have been done to optimise them are mentioned over breakfast. Outstation reporters staying in south Mumbai on company expense stare blankly as if Greek is being spoken. Rest assured, gents, you haven’t missed anything at all.

So the seats haven’t even been properly warmed yet when Ajaz takes two in two in his first over of the day. Whoa, we just might be onto something here, folks. Or could be a false alarm; Agarwal is still around, Axar Patel is pretty competent, and they bat all the way to lunch.

Lunch is served, but who eats ‘lunch’ at 11.30am? The counter gets busy around noon, not because you have lunch at noon as well but play is about to resume soon. But he doesn’t care at all for reporters finishing their dessert, this Ajaz. In his first over after the break, he removes Agarwal.

The last big fish is gone. And now, it begins. Seven out of seven. Could it be? It could. Best figures by a visiting bowler at Wankhede? Best figures by a visiting bowler in India? Best figures by any bowler against India? The stats nuts are just getting warmed up.

But there is a Test centurion in the middle. Jayant Yadav and Axar go through another eight overs. Then Axar pads up to one. New Zealand refer. Has to be doing a lot from where it hit him to go on to hit the stumps. Ball tracker says it is indeed doing a lot.

It would take all of two overs for eight out of eight to become ten out of ten. One actually, for the intervening over was bowled by Will Somerville and absolutely nothing was coming from his end.

Those few minutes could have been the longest of your life, if you were Ajaz Patel. Or the shortest, if you were a reporter in the Wankhede press box.

Could it be now, finally? Of course, it could. In fact, it should. There is no good reason right now why it should not.

Nobody sets out to take ten wickets in an innings, let alone watch ten wickets being taken. Jim Laker wouldn’t have, nor did Anil Kumble. Even if you do not believe in destiny, it is hard to argue against the feeling that you cannot take all ten wickets unless you are meant to take all ten.

Sections of the crowd had gone from imploring Kohli to declare the innings to stop the perfect ten, to going delirious at an impending Indian wicket as Mohammed Siraj skied the ball. When you have been carried all the way to the doorstep of history, whether you wanted to or not, you now do not want the door to shut in your face. The roar as the catch was taken was not unlike those reserved for an Indian win.

Inside the press box, you had one eye on the game, one on the laptop. Editors were calling for instant copies and reactions. Okay Google, it was in the 1950s probably, but in exactly which year did Laker take his ten? It is night already in New Zealand (why are they so far ahead of everyone?). Will someone be available to talk about Ajaz? Okay wait, the crowd’s actually giving Ajaz a standing ovation. He is at his ‘home’ ground after all.

It is, well, complicated to see this happen right in front of your eyes. You’re certainly not prepared for it. How on earth can you be prepared for something that is about to happen for only the third time in international cricket?

A part of you certainly wants it to happen. Who doesn’t like to be a witness to history? But you also know it will set off its own chain of work demands, and will pull you away from the remainder of the day’s action.

Even as Ajaz’s deeds were being glorified in ink, the New Zealand innings started and ended in a flash. Every time one looked up from the laptop, a wicket seemed to fall. Sixteen for the day, but only the first six would be etched forever in the record books.

At 1.02pm on Saturday, December 4, 2021, Ajaz Patel had made history at Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai. And I had been among the few fortunate ones to have witnessed it.

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