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Harshal Patel and the successful homecoming at RCB

Last updated on 11 Oct 2021 | 04:53 AM
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Harshal Patel and the successful homecoming at RCB

Harshal Patel didn't cause a social media meltdown when he moved to RCB but now 30 wickets later, he has

Having picked up just 46 wickets in his entire IPL career, with just five in the last two years for Delhi Capitals, his move to Bangalore wasn’t viewed as revolutionary. Especially considering how RCB, in their own bold way, had made a statement not retaining Chris Morris, who provided them with the edge at the death. 

Since the inception of the tournament, RCB’s Achilles’ heels has been their death bowling. Despite picking up 457 wickets, they have conceded runs at 10.1, third-worst in the tournament’s history. Now that we have swept the facts aside, did the sudden move solve an age-old problem for RCB?

Harshal Patel isn’t a new name in Bangalore’s setup, he was previously part of the squad for five straight years, from 2012-17, where he picked up 34 wickets for the franchise. But his move to Delhi, where he was behind the pecking line, thanks to the franchise’s newly formed pace duo, came in as a step back for him with just 13 wickets in three seasons. 

Especially the 2020 season, even though the games were in the Middle East, his performances left a rather bitter after-taste in the Delhi management’s mouth. So, the decision from Delhi made total sense, they had to let go of the all-rounder and the all-rounder, too had to resurrect his career. RCB came as a blessing in disguise at the right time for the Haryana all-rounder. 

It was a franchise which gave him initial success, it was a franchise that knew how to use him well but remember, second home-comings in the league hasn’t been always successful. Several stars, who left as heroes couldn’t quite replicate their form in the second tenure. And to join a franchise, which has one of the fiercest fan-bases, there was questions already flying around. 

“Why do we even need Harshal?”


The Haryana all-rounder is quite a rare breed amongst the bowlers, he doesn’t possess raw pace, he doesn’t possess a mean bouncer, he doesn’t even quite fit in the bill of a pace bowler. Yet he has in the past been heavily successful, mostly relying on his slower deliveries and always relying on his instincts and skills. Several captains wouldn’t trust him at the death but Virat Kohli and RCB’s plans were clear as daylight. 

For once, the franchise had a clear vision, a goal for the all-rounder, who was expected to play a role similar to Dwayne Bravo. The need is quite straightforward: bowl the hard overs or in cricketing terms, do the job at the death. While it might seem musical to the ears, for a bowler, especially in the shortest format, it is nothing short of a death knell.

"When I was traded from Delhi Capitals, I was told what role I will play for the franchise. There were clear instructions that I will be bowling in the last two overs (he bowled 18th and 20th). That gave me a lot of clarity. It helped me prepare certain plans against batters and kept my preparations concise," Patel had said earlier in the first half of the tournament.  

But it wasn’t as easy as the passing bell and neither was it as tough as the lych bell. It is the clarity that turned to become a fortune for Royal Challengers Bangalore. In the IPL opener, Harshal with his new role not just picked up five wickets but showed that he is ready to marshal his role to the next level. 

Until then, no other bowler in the last 13 years of the tournament had picked up a fifer against Mumbai. To add further context, they also walked into the tournament opener as being the champions for consecutive seasons. It doesn’t end there, Mumbai were one side, who looked unbeatable in the 2020 edition. For Harshal to do that against them in the opener, it was criminal. 

“How on earth could he do that against Mumbai Indians?”


Method to Madness

Bowling in death overs isn’t any less than putting your hands in fire. Both of it could leave you burnt, and more importantly, it could end your life. But to take that task with both hands and to stay out of fire, it takes more than just guts: it takes method, practice and hours of training. T20 cricket has developed in such a way that every single delivery has become predictable. 

When Bravo steps up with the ball, not just the batsmen but even the fans, the neutrals know that a barrage of slower balls are going to be bowled. Yet when asked about Bravo’s madness, MS Dhoni explained “But I told him that now everyone knows he bowls slower balls, so I told him to bowl six different balls in one over. Whenever he can, he takes up responsibilities”. 

In a format as fast paced as T20s, it is only ironical that the slower deliveries have been a death-bowler’s best friend. And in the case of Harshal, his most-trusted ally. Acing the variation this year, the 30-year-old has worked his way to an all-time glory but it too came with its share of struggles. 

25 April 2021 – CSK vs RCB at the Wankhede Stadium. First three overs for the all-rounder read 14-3 and there was an eerie silence in the middle. There was Ravindra Jadeja at the other end and here was Harshal, who made a living with his cutters. 6, 6, no-ball 6, 6, 2, 6, 4 – 37 runs off the over, the most conceded by any bowler in IPL history. 

And suddenly, the entirety of social media was sure that it was the end of the Haryana all-rounder. "Poor guy Harshal. Bowling so well this season. Now even if he wins the purple cap, he will always be known as the guy who conceded 37 in an over,” comments came flying in. 

Even if he wins the purple cap, he will be known as the guy who conceded 37 runs in an over. 


The Silence after the storm

It wasn’t the first time that Harshal’s effectiveness or cricketing abilities were questioned. In fact, it was questioned almost as many times as RCB’s title chances have been in the IPL. But unlike RCB, he has responded to that question every single time with sublime answers. 

30 wickets already in the season, Harshal Patel is inches, two wickets away from breaking an all-time IPL record. There was even a possibility of him featuring in the Indian setup.

Yet, for unknown reasons, there seems to be this popular notion that his wickets are all luck. While it is inconsequential to even attempt to answer that question, what has the Haryana seamer done differently to attain this result?

Familiarity with the role, the hard yards before the start of the tournament: two key ground rules for his success. It is only ironical that when you play RCB’s ‘Know your Challengers’ video about Harshal, there is Chris Morris talking about how practicing yorkers with consistency is his training mojo.

“Return of the familiar figure,” the video exclaims, “fits in the bill of a perfect Indian all-rounder” and yet with RCB’s past with talents, all the prior comments had to be taken with a pinch of salt. Harshal had seen multiple transitions during his time, from Daredevils to Capitals with Delhi and from 'another all-rounder' to most wickets by an Indian in a single edition of the tournament. 

It was only fitting that the team which trusted him with his debut only offered him a second chance in the tournament. And it is equally fitting that Harshal obliged to his responsibilities and showed the world that every second chance should be taken with a point to prove. 

30 wickets, an average of 14.7 and a strike-rate of 10.5, is it Jasprit Bumrah, you may wonder? And you wouldn’t be wrong on nine out of ten occasions but it is Harshal’s returns in his comeback season for RCB. 21 of those 30 wickets have come at the death. And the next best is Bumrah with 12 wickets. Similarly, 21 of his wickets have also come of the off-cutter, with just one from the yorker.

That has been the sea of difference between the RCB star and the others. It is quite like an IPL of Harshal and others. It isn’t all, the Haryana pacer also three plus wickets haul in any IPL season, with six in 2021, including a hattrick against Mumbai Indians. He also has the most wickets at the death by any Indian bowler in a single season of the IPL. 

"I don't have any regret (of not featuring in India’s squad) anytime. The decisions I have taken in life have been taken as per my best ability at that time. And when it comes to selection, that is completely out of my hand," he said.

"There is only one goal for me, whichever team I play, be it a club or IPL team, or when I will play for the country or when I play for Haryana, I try to put a positive impact in the game from whichever situation with ball or bat," he stressed, showing how he has indeed turned a new page of his own career. 

“There is no doubt that he should now play for India,” is how the voices have now turned, in his favour. 

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