Axar, the local boy, was India’s hero in the third Test in Ahmedabad with incredible match figures of 11/70. The pace at which he spins the ball has even prompted his India teammates Rishbh Pant and Ajinkya Rahane to nickname him ‘Wasim bhai’ after the Pakistan left-arm pace great Wasim Akram.
“When I bowl a fast arm ball, he (Pant) calls me Wasim bhai. Rahane used to call me that, and now Rishabh too,” Axar said after the match.
“In November 2013, we were about to play a Ranji Trophy game in Surat against a star-studded Delhi team that had the likes of Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Ashish Nehra. After seeing the red-soil pitch at the Lalbhai Contractor Stadium, we decided to call Axar, who was originally supposed to play for the Gujarat under-23 team, from Ahmedabad,” recalls Vijay.
“The decision didn’t go down well with some people. However, he vindicated our call by taking 6/55 in Delhi’s first innings and chipping in with 38 and 29. He then told me: ‘I will now make it difficult for you to drop me.’ And since that day, he has been marching forward in his career,” Vijay tells TOI.
The tall left-arm spinner hails from Nadiad, a town situated 50 kilometres off Ahmedabad. It is basically a mid-point between Ahmedabad and Baroda.
Naturally, Nadiad is being googled more after Axar’s exploits in this series.
“Yahan khushi ka mahaul hai (the atmosphere here is one of happiness). Entire Nadiad is proud of Axar. We’re waiting for him to come back. Banners and posters have been put up for him here,” said Moiz Kadri, chief coach at the Kheda District Association.
“When he comes to Nadiad, he practises at our ground. He’s a very simple, down-to-earth boy who loves to hang out with his friends. Even after he played for India and became a regular in the IPL, he would mix with youngsters here and help them,” says Kadri.
“This is a quality of his that I noticed in the Gujarat dressing room too. He’s a lively character, a simple lad, who loves to mix with the team. I’m sure this success won’t change him one bit. Sometimes you have to remind him, ‘Axar, you are an India player now,’” reveals Vijay.
A personal crisis has perhaps made Axar’s resolve to succeed firmer.
“He belongs to a modest family. His father met with a serious accident two-three years back. It badly damaged his brain. Axar is very attached to his father, whose dream it was to see him play for India. Axar tries to be with him as much as possible,” says Kadri.
Vijay says, “I took John Wright to watch him and Jassi at the ‘B’ ground in Motera, and the Mumbai Indians took him for one year. Then Sanjay Bangar liked him and took him to (Punjab) Kings. Now he seems to be learning a lot under Ricky Ponting (coach at the Delhi Capitals).
“Rubbing shoulders with top players in the IPL has made these guys much better cricketers.”