“Iss baar mere mind mein tha ke bindass khelna hai, jo hoga dekha jaayega”. [I wanted to play carefree cricket this time and not worry about fate]
This was in complete contrast to what Harpreet Brar felt when he made his IPL debut in 2019. “There is excitement but I am nervous as well”, admitted Brar when he heard he was in the XI against the Delhi Capitals in 2019. Picked as an unknown commodity in the auction ahead of that season, that was also his debut across any format at the domestic level.
As he walked out to bat, at number eight, he had the then captain Ravichandran Ashwin at the other end. Doing his bit, the skipper asked him to smile to ease his nerves. But, gestures alone are fruitless without results. A bigger confidence booster was a four he hit off the second ball he faced. Set by the time he faced the last bowl of the innings, he was able to preempt a hard length from Kagiso Rabada, since he beat him with one a ball before. Prepared to pull, he timed the shot well enough to send the ball over the square-leg fence. A 12-ball 20* at number eight was a decent start to his career.
However, when it was his turn to bowl, Brar delivered two expensive overs as Delhi crossed the line with ease. In the next two outings, both against Chennai in 2019 and 2020, he had combined figures of 0/65 in his seven overs. He did not get a chance to bat in either of them.
Punjab have been struggling to find a settled XI this year. A glaring void in their makeup was the absence of an Indian all-rounder. Even then, they did not give Brar a chance in Chennai, where a spinner could have had more purchase. But, whatever their performance be against other teams, the side with a handful of Karnataka players have always been a notch ahead tactically while playing the Bangalore franchise. Last year, they included both their leggies against them to contain AB de Villiers and Virat Kohli. This year, they added Brar to counter Glenn Maxwell against his least favourite bowling type.
Having played three games in the past two seasons, Brar finally made his presence felt. First by playing a cameo, targeting the short leg-side boundary against an out of sorts Harshal Patel. But, his real impact came in the second innings with the ball in hand. In his first two overs, Kohli had already hit him for a six and a four. “Agar koi accha shot lagta hai to koi dikkat waali baat nahi hai” [If a good shot is played off me, no worries] is what Brar told himself.
The other thing he had asked himself was to pull the length back if the batsman charges down the track. This is exactly what he did when a frustrated Kohli danced down on the first ball of the 11th over as the asking rate touched 12. Good became better when Brar bamboozled Maxwell on the next ball. A peach of a delivery, it drifted in a fraction and straightened after pitching to miss the bat and take the bails along the way. In the over that turned the game, Brar finished with four dot balls to AB de Villiers.
In the next over Brar had a slip in place for de Villiers. "My plan against de Villiers was to bowl a touch wide outside off-stump and to make him reach for the ball since it was gripping a bit. That's why I brought in a slip and had the cover fielder slightly up.” Reaching for it as planned, de Villiers failed to get enough elevation to clear KL Rahul at extra cover. “I got a wicket while trying to bowl a dot ball. I am blessed." It speaks volume of the dearth of all-rounders in Punjab Kings that the last time an Indian player scored 25+ runs and took three or more wickets in a match for them was in 2015. Coincidentally, it was another left-arm spinner: Axar Patel.
Assuming a Punjabi to be larger than life character is stereotypical. But, Harpreet moulds seamlessly into the stereotype. The best of mental conditioning coaches agree that the bubble life is tougher for players not part of the XI. In times like these, Brar comes out as a light-hearted person, hanging around with his ‘japps gang’. He might get teary-eyed while reading a book and hence he keeps away from games like scrabble and chess. But as a part of an ice-breaking session, while others around him found it tough to balance a stick on their index finger, he did so while entertaining himself with a step or two of bhangra.
“Pressure leke bhi pehle khel chukka hun, par agar aapse accha nahi hota to aapke upar dobara pressure aata hai. [I have played under pressure in the past. When you don't perform under pressure, you tend to be overburdened with more pressure]. Spending two years with the big boys, Brar has finally decoded the mantra of not letting the pressure get in the way of performance.
A tattoo on his right arm reads “Addicted to Success”. Now when he has finally tasted success, his team will hope that the addiction follows.