New Zealand's Ajaz Patel in action during the second day of the second Test against India at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai on December 4, 2021. The left-arm spinner became the third bowler after Jim Laker and Anil Kumble to take 10 wickets in an innings. Image Credit: ANI

There have been only three 10-wicket hauls in the 144-year history of cricket: English off-spinner Jim Laker in 1956, Indian leg-spinner Anil Kumble in 1999, and now the New Zealand left-arm spinner Ajaz Patel. So it’s a spinner’s club.

Why is a 10-wicket haul special? Well, there will be at least four frontline bowlers in every team. Wickets tend to be shared among them. Always. That’s why a five-wicket haul is a cause for celebration. And that’s exactly why there have been only three instances of a bowler claiming all 10 wickets in an innings.

Ajaz Patel will be on cloud nine after the 10-wicket burst. Have a heart: think of the other bowlers, especially the spinners. None of them managed a single wicket. Which doesn’t speak much of their skill on a spinning wicket.

Patel's impressive arsenal

Well, the wicket may be a turner. But that doesn’t mean seam bowlers can’t take wickets. The new ball swings, and the pronounced seam on a new ball helps bowling cutters. Not a single Kiwi seamer could get a wicket. And they would be wondering how India’s Mohammed Siraj grabbed three of the first five New Zealand wickets.

What about the other Kiwi spinners: William Somerville and Rachin Ravindra? Okay, Ravindra was unwell, and the left-arm spinner bowled only four overs. But off-spinner Somerville has 15 wickets in five Tests; that makes him a frontline bowler. He went wicketless. Ouch.

That shows how good Patel was. His arsenal is impressive, and his craft is superb. Unafraid to flight the ball, Patel’s deliveries drifted, dipped, turned and bounced. He created all sorts of problems for Indian batsmen, who hone their batting skills on turning tracks. Theoretically, Indians shouldn’t have much trouble playing spin. But if they do, the bowlers have to be really good.

Remember how Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann spun England to a series win over India in 2012? That must have hurt. Because it’s rare that spinners come to India and bowl the home side out. Not even the Australian leg-spin great Shane Warne could do that. That makes Ajaz Patel’s feat all the more remarkable.

Indian opener Mayank Agarwal, who struck a century (150), admitted that he tried to target Patel. That’s because Patel was so good and was troubling the Indians. So Agarwal looked to attack Patel whenever the left-arm spinner erred in length or line. That in itself is a huge accolade for the New Zealander.

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Patel was head and shoulders above the rest of the Kiwi spin pack. The 10-wicket feat is just reward for his skill and tenacity. It’s undoubtedly a dream homecoming for a man born and raised in Mumbai before his parents emigrated to New Zealand. Now, he’s one of the Black Caps, and the fantastic spell at the Wankhede Stadium must have been beyond his wildest dreams.

When Laker took 19 wickets in the fourth Test against Australia in 1956, his spin twin Tony Lock claimed the other wicket. The question often asked is why the left-armer managed only one, although he bowled as many overs as Laker. Similarly, you could ask why the other Kiwi bowlers didn’t take a wicket in Mumbai. That’s one of the enduring mysteries of cricket.

For now, let’s celebrate Ajaz Patel’s perfect 10.