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'Acting for change’

19 July 2022

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THE DEBATE: The curious case of Ajaz Patel

Tuesday 15 March 2022 | Written by Rahul Patil | Published in Cricket, Sports

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THE DEBATE: The curious case of Ajaz Patel
Ajaz Patel took figures of ten for 119 against India to join Jim Laker and Anil Kumble in the exclusive club. RAFIQ MAQBOOL/AP/22031416

On the 4th of December 2021, New Zealand cricketer Ajaz Patel became only the third bowler in the history of international cricket to get all 10 wickets in an innings. Since then he has been dropped for the test series against Bangladesh and South Africa at home.

Columnist Rahul Patil analyses one of the greatest non selection in cricket ever in the form of a debate.

For Dropping Ajaz (FDA) – To be honest I am not sure why we need to debate this. NZ coach Gary Stead has already explained why Ajaz didn’t find a place in the squad of 13 against Bangladesh. Horses for courses you know. In New Zealand conditions and pitches spinners are a liability. The fast bowlers get all the wickets. Just check New Zealand’s record at home for the last few years. We have a formula and it works so why change it?

Against Dropping Ajaz (ADA) – We need to debate this for various reasons. For starters how about our results at home this summer? Series against Bangladesh drawn 1-1. Series against South Africa drawn 1-1. We are defending champions of the World Test Championship (WTC) and these results are definitely going to hurt us if we want to retain our title. You mentioned a squad of 13. Who in this day and age of Covid-19 and bio secure bubbles picks a squad of 13? Wouldn’t you want to have more players at your disposal just in case. I am fine with the whole horses for courses theory but where was the course? Definitely not at the Bay Oval in the first test against Bangladesh or at the Hagley Oval in the second test against South Africa. The pitch at the Bay Oval was a road. Plus, the scorching weather made sure there was no conventional swing. Agree, New Zealand has a great record at home for the last few years but a 10-wicket haul in an innings and a 14-wicket haul for the match should at least warrant the guy a place in the squad if not in the playing XI.

FDA – Hindsight is a wonderful thing my friend. Talking about who should have been selected after the event is always easier. I might agree for a moment with you about the size of the squad but that still doesn’t mean Ajaz should have been part of it. If the selectors and team management were 100 per cent sure that he wouldn’t feature in the playing 11 then why pick him in the squad? It’s better that they let him play for his domestic team rather than be a tourist with the national team. And how’s this for some stats; Ajaz has played 3 tests in NZ so far, bowled 49 overs and hasn’t picked up a single wicket. In fact, in the last five years NZ spinners have picked up only 13 wickets in test matches at home compared to the 280 wickets picked up by their fast bowlers. When the numbers which are a reflection of our pitches are so highly skewed in favour of the quicks, how do you expect a specialist spinner to be picked in the squad. Previously Mitchell Santner and now Rachin Ravindra are more than capable of fulfilling any spin duties if required. Plus, they offer much more with the bat lower down the order.

ADA – Yes hindsight is a wonderful thing which is why when picking a squad, you should cover all bases. Bangladesh were always going to play a spinner in their team. Wouldn’t our batters have benefitted training against a specialist spinner like Ajaz in the nets. As it turns out the Bangladeshi spinners picked up six wickets in the Bay Oval test and Keshav Maharaj picked up four crucial wickets in the second test at Hagley. A good spinner can also be effective regardless of the pitch. The pitch only dictates what the ball does after landing on it. Apart from turn a good spinner has a number of tricks up their sleeve to trouble a batter. Flight, drift, loop, drop, change in speed, change in trajectory and use of the crease can all bring wickets without the help of the pitch. Australia always picked Shane Warne regardless of the pitch and Sri Lanka did the same with Muralitharan. The reason being they believed in their ability to pick wickets on any surface. You mentioned Ajaz’s record in home tests but 49 overs in 3 tests isn’t a lot at all. The innings wise break up of those 49 overs is 3, 28, 0, 12, 3 and 3. So realistically he has only had a couple of long spells in his debut series at home. Is it fair to write him off after one performance? Ajaz is no mug with the bat either. Remember he recently saved the Kanpur test versus India for the Blackcaps by hanging in with Rachin for almost nine overs. Yes, he doesn’t offer as much as Santner and Rachin do with the bat but his bowling is in a different league compared to the other two. He also has the ability to singlehandedly win a game with his bowling which the other two don’t.

FDA – Oh come on, are you now comparing Ajaz to Warne and Murali. Remember they both picked up 700+ and 800 test wickets respectively. Is he really that good?

ADA – Maybe he’s not but we won’t find out by not playing him. Daniel Vettori with 361 wickets is New Zealand’s all time second highest wicket taker in test matches. This means that spinners can be effective in New Zealand.

FDA – Daniel Vettori played for New Zealand when the fast bowling resources were not as rich as they are now. With Tim Southee, Trent Boult, Neil Wagner, Kyle Jamieson and Matt Henry all delivering time and again at home where is the place or need for a spinner?

ADA – They do deliver time and again but they also take a lot of time to bowl their overs. With no spinner in the playing 11 over rates are abysmal and remember that now as per the WTC rules slow over rates are penalised by negative points. The paying public also deserve to get their money’s worth by watching 90 overs of play a day.

FDA – Why worry about over rates when most test matches finish well within five days?

ADA – That right there is another problem with pitches that are really in favour of the fast bowlers. Test matches finish in less than four days giving strength to promoters of four-day tests. Day five is when spinners really come into their own and we need to make sure test match pitches have something in them for everyone i.e. Batters, fast bowlers and spinners.

FDA – I feel like we are going around in circles so I’d like to end by saying that we can agree to disagree. I agree Ajaz is a great find and what he achieved in Mumbai is extremely special but all said and done I still feel that it’s not a given that he should be playing every home test.

ADA – As the custodians of the game of cricket in the country it is the responsibility of the Blackcaps to ensure that all the different skills in the game get equal opportunity to thrive. Imagine all the young spinners playing school cricket in New Zealand. They must have been so proud of Ajaz after his heroic feat in Mumbai. Then to find out that their hero doesn’t get picked in the squad let alone in the playing XI must be such a disappointment. Who would want to be a spinner in New Zealand when a world record holder is treated this way? Spin bowling requires a big heart but spinners also require support from their captains and selectors. At 33 Ajaz is at the peak of his craft but unlike Benjamin Button he isn’t getting any younger and the Blackcaps need to make the most of his skills while they can or else they might be left ruing the greatest non selection in cricket of all time.