Axar Patel and Shahbaz Nadeem have both played a Test match in the ongoing India – England Test series with the former pipping the latter after a stellar show on debut. What makes the two bowlers different? How effective are they and what makes them a genuine threat as spinner. Vijaya Chaithanya does a deep dive.
Comparing Axar Patel and Shahbaz Nadeem
This is an attempt to understand the bowling of Axar Patel and Shahbaz Nadeem.
Let’s start off with some basic numbers to get some idea of these two bowlers before we go deeper.
|S Nadeem||AR Patel|
|FC Bowling avg||28.9||26.7|
|FC avg since 2018-19 season||24||27.9|
|FC economy since 2018-19 season||2.58||2.4|
|Test bowling avg||34.12||14.28|
Axar has better numbers overall but since the 2018-19 season, excluding this series, Nadeem has a better bowling average. Have a look at the economy. Every single time, even in the period where Nadeem is better, Axar’s economy is better than Nadeem’s. He can give some control to the captain by tying an end up. Why can’t Nadeem do that? To answer that, let’s have a look at the lengthwise splits of both bowlers in the series.
Here are the length-wise splits for both of the bowlers.
|length||AR Patel||S Nadeem|
|back of a length||29.27||27.82|
Axar was more accurate than Nadeem in this series. Both of them bowled a similar portion of their deliveries on “back of a length” but Nadeem bowled more half volleys. As a result of that, Nadeem got driven more. Axar Patel got driven only 5% of the time compared to Nadeem’s 13%.
Cricviz says, in Test cricket [2006 to Apr 20 2020], spinners average 28.3 when they make batsmen come forward, but they average 55.2 if the batsmen go onto the backfoot.
Looking at that, you might say, Nadeem is bringing the batsmen forward more so he might have a better chance of picking wickets. Actually, Axar got the batsmen forward 58.9% of the time compared to Nadeem’s 60.6 %. So he got hit fewer times and also brought the batsmen forward as many times as Nadeem to give himself the best chance of picking a wicket.
Lengthwise splits for these bowlers against right-handers and left-handers is something really interesting to look at as there is a clear decrease in the good length percentage and increase in “back of a length” percentage when they are bowling to left-handers
|Percentage of balls by length|
|Bowler||AR Patel||S Nadeem|
|back of a length||26.9||38.7||26.2||41|
Both of them dragged the lengths back to left-handers and as you would expect, the batsmen were allowed to go on to the backfoot more compared to the right-handers. Let’s see why they did that.
No left-hander in the first Test struck at under a run-a-ball against Nadeem. The left-handers struck at a rate of 147 off the front foot. As such, he had to shorten his length and make them go onto the back foot. Off the back foot, batsmen scored at a strike-rate of just 33.33. That’s possibly why he dragged his length back.
Against Axar Patel, the batsmen struck at a marginally slower rate off the back foot [45 SR] compared to that off the front foot [42 SR]. But the interesting stuff here is the left-handed batsmen’s wickets he took. He got two of them out. On both occasions, the batsmen were on the back foot. Moeen Ali was on the back foot and the ball took the outside edge which was caught at first slip. Leach was also on the back foot and this time, the ball took the inside edge which was caught at leg slip. So, it could well be a tactic.
We have seen where they prefer pitching the ball. Let’s see their stock balls to understand more about their contrasting style.
Nadeem’s stock ball is on the left and Axar Patel’s stock ball is on the right.
Nadeem’s stock ball has a better seam presentation and seam position. It is angled at around 45 degrees and it will get some drift, some dip, and hence more bounce. It also looks like Nadeem puts more revs on the ball compared to Axar. This is how it is taught and this is how a stock ball is expected to be and that’s exactly why looking at Axar Patel’s stock ball would be more interesting than looking at Nadeem’s stock ball.
Axar’s stock ball comes out of the hand like an undercutter. The direction of rotation of the ball is from square leg to point instead of towards the slip. So, there won’t be any topspin on the ball, which means the ball won’t dip.
Dip is important in Test cricket for a spinner. When the ball dips, the ball lands at a steeper angle on the pitch and bounces more. The dip also brings uncertainty in length as the ball will pitch shorter than what the batsman would initially think, which brings close-in catchers into play.
Axar Patel’s stock ball doesn’t have great seam presentation and it wobbles as it comes out of the hand. So, he might not get as much drift in the air as he could’ve if the seam doesn’t wobble. But it also increases the randomness. At times, it will turn sometimes it will go straight on depending on whether it lands on the leather or seam.
Nadeem’s stock ball is better equipped to deceive people in the air whereas Axar’s is better equipped to deceive people off the pitch.
On pitches that provide turn, a ball that goes straight, obviously can be very lethal. Both of these bowlers are capable of bowling that delivery.
Nadeem can bowl two types of straighter balls – shown in these deliveries from the IPL – exhibit 1 and exhibit 2. You can see a screenshot of Nadeem’s stock ball [on the left] and the straighter one [on the right] in the image below.
He doesn’t bowl the straighter one as often in Test cricket. You can spot the variation by looking at the direction of the seam position. His stock ball’s seam position is pointed towards the slips and is not quite the case with his straighter one. Apart from the direction of the seam, it is also tilted such that the ball lands on the leather, making it more likely to skid on.
Nadeem’s stock ball will have more turn and bounce, whereas his straighter one will drift more, skid on, and go straight without as much bounce.
For Axar, there is no discernible difference between his stock ball and his straighter one. Let’s have a look.
The first one turned and bounced and the second went straight on. There’s not much difference in the way he released the ball. Both have a bit of an undercut and in both cases, he didn’t give the ball a real rip. Natural variation variation is his biggest weapon. That’s what makes him dangerous on pitches like the one in Chennai.
The only thing, if anything you can use to pick his straighter one, is his speed and the length he bowls when he’s trying to make it go straight. He goes wider, bowls it quicker and shorter when he’s bowling a straighter one. You can see the average speed of his back-of-a-length deliveries being higher than his overall average speed: 91.3 kph for the back of a length deliveries compared to 90.7 kph for length balls and 89 kph for half volleys.
You can see how his stock ball and the undercutter behave in this video from the IPL between 11.1 and 11.2 overs in the first innings. The ball tracking image for the delivery is shown below. Look at how the white one started wider, landed shorter, went straighter, and bounced less.
Release point and its impact
In the image below, there is a line starting from their front foot and goes perpendicular to the ground.
Both bowlers stood almost at the same spot on the bowling crease. But, we can see Axar Patel’s release being much wider. His arm not being at 12 o’clock, allows him to release it from a much wider point. If both bowlers land the ball on the same spot, say, on a length and on a line of keeper’s gloves, the batsman is more likely to leave the ball from Nadeem but more likely to play Axar Patel due to the wider release.
Having a wider release point also helps the bowler to drift the ball more – Here is a video to back up this notion – which further forces the batsmen to play.
That is the advantage of bowling with a slightly wider release. The proportion of Nadeem’s deliveries that were left is 3.4 times more than the proportion of Axar Patel’s deliveries that were left. This, despite Axar bowling a higher percentage of his balls outside off stump than Nadeem, who attacked the stumps a lot more.
Here is a video where Murali Kartik and Maninder Singh talk about high arm and low arm actions and explain why having a slightly round-arm action is better (from 15:35 to 17:00)
Speeds and its impact
Axar Patel is quicker than Nadeem. He bowled at an average speed of 91.1 kph compared to 84 kph of Nadeem. Standard Deviation, a value that measures variations within a dataset shows that both of them varied their speeds by about 3.4 kph. Ashwin in comparison, varied it by 4.28 in the two tests.
|S Nadeem||AR Patel|
|Average Sped||84 kph||91.1 kph|
|Slowest||75 kph||78 kph|
|Fastest||91.8 kph||100.4 kph|
|Standard Deviation||3.47 kph||3.49 kph|
Now, what about the impact of their respective speeds?
When a batsman comes down the track to either get to the pitch of the ball and smother the spin as Pujara does or to hit the ball out of the stadium as Pant does, there will be some kind of premeditation involved.
Depending on the speed of the bowler, the batsman will decide when to start moving. If the bowler is slow he can start moving at the release point. If the bowler is quick, he has to start moving that much earlier. This can give the bowler a chance to change his line or length to create a stumping opportunity. Hence the batsmen will be wary of coming down the track if the bowler is quick.
Here is a GIF of Axar Patel making it tough for Lawrence to come down the pitch. Observe Lawrence’s feet. They started moving and sent a message that he’s gonna come down the track, well before the ball is released.
“He might’ve seen him coming and just fired it more down leg side.” says Nick Knight from the commentary box.
Now Nadeem isn’t that slow. 84 kph isn’t slow. But he is slower than Axar Patel. Batsmen will be less keen to come down the track against Axar Patel compared to Shahbaz Nadeem. You can see the stats back it up as well. Keeping the match situations and the pitches in both the matches in mind, let’s see how many times batsmen came down the track. The proportion of “down the track” shots against Shahbaz Nadeem is 62.7 percent more than that of Axar Patel. Batsmen came down the track to Nadeem a lot more compared to Axar Patel.
Axar was more accurate, reducing the scoring options against him, a lot more quicker, making it difficult for batsmen to come down the track as often, has a wider release point, hence forcing the batsmen to play more, and has a seam position that brings deception into his game.
Shahbaz Nadeem was less accurate, allowing batsmen more opportunities to score, slower, giving batsmen time to come down the track more often, and had a release point not as wide, helping batsmen leave more balls, and goes more over the ball compared to Axar, creating more dip and deception in length.
Nadeem is better equipped to deceive batsmen in the air, whereas Axar is better equipped to deceive batsmen off the pitch.
NOTE: The speed data available on the internet is incomplete. So the stats given here regarding speeds are only for the deliveries that have that data available.
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