While the Indian Premier League has been one of the biggest platforms for young guns to showcase their talent, there are many whose hopes and dreams of taking the next step never see light. In a country of a more than a billion, young cricket enthusiasts start their journey with lofty ambitions, but the failure to live up to their potential can forever cast a shadow of self-doubt among players.
Harshal Patel is one such cricketer, who had been unable to make a mark in the Indian Premier League, until now.
Snubbed by most teams in the 2018 edition of the IPL after picking up just eight wickets in Ranji Trophy in 2017-18, Patel took on the ‘disrespect’ in his stride to work harder on his game. But the lack of consistent opportunities did not do any favour.
After the 2015 edition, where the Haryana player picked up 17 wickets for RCB, the 30-year old featured in only 18 matches in the next five years – not playing more than five games in any season. Though he bowled with an economy rate of 7.48 in 2015, Patel was seen to be leaking runs in crucial stages of the game, with a number of loose deliveries that undid the brilliant work that he had put in. This inconsistency, eventually cost him a place in the playing XI the following year. Since then, the cricketer has been training with the sole purpose of being consistent, which would make him a reliable bowler for any team.
Despite his efforts, Patel could only pick up 23 wickets in the 2018/19 Ranji season for Haryana, a year when he was the team’s skipper for most of the games after regular captain Mohit Sharma had been ruled out due to back injury. The side eventually finished fifth in Group C, which further made him question his skills as a red-ball bowler and a leader.
He missed the following Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy due to a tear in his glute and could only play two matches in the IPL in 2019 as a fractured hand ruled him out.
A Stellar 2020 Domestic Season
Patel came back stronger with an exceptional performance in the 2020 Ranji season, where he picked up 52 wickets in only nine games to break Rajinder Goel’s long-standing record of the most wickets in any first-class season for Haryana.
In List A, he picked up 10 wickets at an economy rate of 5.07 and continued his form in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy as well, where he ended with a bowling average of 15.94 and an economy rate of 7.04 to go with 19 wickets. His batting significantly improved as well and the turnaround was a result of a one-on-one session that he had with Delhi Capitals head coach Ricky Ponting before he had been ruled out in 2019.
“Ricky told me that I was brilliant at preparation but needed to get better at performance,” Patel told ESPNCricinfo. “That sort of cleared things for me because I always felt I was pretty confident in practice but probably 10 percent less confident in the match. On the field, I was getting worried about not being able to execute my plans,” he added.
"He talked about visualising what could happen in the game and going through those scenarios in the head. If you are prepared for all those scenarios, you are more likely to succeed and not succumb to the pressure,” he said.
The RCB Reunion
Despite a brilliant domestic season in 2020, Patel was not given many chances in the IPL last year, with the franchise already having two premier overseas pacers in Anrich Nortje and Kagiso Rabada. With Ishant Sharma already in their ranks, the chances for Patel in the team would have been limited this season and he was traded to Royal Challengers Bangalore, a move that can potentially turn around Patel’s career.
RCB’s Achilles’ heel has been their death overs bowling. Since 2016, when they reached the finals, they have been conceded runs at a rate of 10.55 per over in the last five overs of an innings – the third highest after Rajasthan Royals and Punjab Kings. The fact that two of the most successful teams in this interim – Sunrisers Hyderabad and Mumbai Indians – concede runs at 9.35 and 9.39 per over respectively displays the real reasons why RCB have been struggling.
While the over dependence on Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers with the bat could be a factor for the team’s failures, the death bowling was a larger problem that needed immediate rectification.
Patel, equipped with a handy off-cutter that could wreak havoc against both right-handers and left-handers with the old ball, was brought on board by the franchise for this very reason. The cricketer also has a number of slower deliveries up his arsenal, which has come to his team’s rescue on the sluggish wicket at Chepauk in the two games so far.
Against Mumbai, his three overs at the death ultimately made the difference as he prevented the defending champions to post a total in excess of 170. At 135 for 3 in 15.5 overs, the side were looking well set before Patel troubled the batters by taking pace off. He got the yorkers on the mark and got hints of reverse swing as well, which proved to be the undoing of one of the most formidable middle order in the competition to finish with figures of 5 for 27, which included the wickets of the Pandya brothers, Kieron Pollard and Ishan Kishan. The stellar figures came after he conceded 15 runs in the first over that he bowled.
Against Hyderabad, Kohli got Patel only in the tenth over when the team needed him to send back the dangerous David Warner. The Australian struggled against his change of pace as he was beaten on the inside edge while attempting a flick, while Manish Pandey was just able to jam down his bat against the yorkers. His slower deliveries were tough to read and eventually made the difference in the end as he gave away 14 runs in the last two overs, while scalping two wickets as RCB defended 149 with ease.
In the team’s last match in Chennai, Harshal picked the two big KKR wickets of their skipper Eoin Morgan and Andre Russell.
Now that the team has shifted base to Mumbai, Patel did leak runs in Thursday’s game against Rajasthan Royals but again was among the wickets, sending back Riyan Parag, Chris Morris, Chetan Sakariya for a haul of 3/47.
(Sarah Waris is an English Literature graduate has who taken on the tough task of limiting the mystic world of sports to a few thousand words. A strong believer in the fact that Kohli and Paes are the greatest Indian superstars!)
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