Updated: October 13, 2021 2:58:11 pm
It cannot be sheer fluke or happenstance that Harshal Patel continues his merry wicket-taking ways–he snared two at the backend in the game against CSK, briefly igniting a comeback. More than half the season into this edition, he leads the charts 19 wickets, five more than second-placed Avesh Khan, and eight more than Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami in the same number of games (11). No one has picked more wickets than him in the last five overs either (12) in this edition.
This is not to say that he’s better than India’s first-choice pace-pair across formats, but just that this season, there’s something that’s clicking in his methods.
Why has his prolific season surprised many?
Tried, tested and flopped—if not for this season, his IPL career could have been summed up thus. In the previous eight seasons, wherein his appearances were sporadic than sustained but for the 2015 edition in which he sparred in 15 games, he had just featured in 48 games, in which he had wheedled out only 48 wickets, conceding close to 10 runs an over. There was nothing standout, forget eye-catching about him. He had none of the T20 staple, neither the pace, he rarely nudged the speed-gun beyond 135kph, nor the variations for someone without express pace. He did swing the ball, has a sumptuous out-swinger, but swing is seldom a fast-moving currency in this format. He is reputed for his lusty blows down the order in the domestic, but at this level hasn’t replicated it. At 30, he is not quite either for franchises to furnish him an extended run. But an uncapped, local bowler is handy as a back-up or emergency option, and all his outings in the last five editions have arrived thus. Had he not picked a five-for in his first game this season—against the mighty Mumbai Indians—he would have continued to be one.
What have been his key weapons?
Apart from enhanced precision, he has sharpened his yorkers and added a highly effective off-cutter. He uses them cleverly. His yorkers seldom stray beyond the off-stump, in which case it could be fodder for ramp and the pick-up shot. He lands them mostly between the tramline and fifth stump. At his pace, rather lack of pace, his wide yorkers are incredibly difficult to hit. The batsman has to generate all the impetus for his strokes while having to reach for the ball and impart power into the strokes. It’s a reason a lot of wickets are from mistimed shots, batsmen caught in the inner ring.
But a bigger weapon has been his off-cutter, bowled without any decipherable change in the action, wrist position or release point. It grips the surface, bounces, and stops at batsmen. The reduction of pace is not dramatic (from an average of 132kph to 115kph), but the over-spin-induced extra bounce surprises the batsman. As many as nine of his 19 wickets were bargained through the off-cutter, and according to CricViz, he picks one wicket off every six off-cutters. It’s his most economical ball too, batsman managing only 6.71 runs, as compared to his overall economy rate of 8.89. He also, occasionally, slips in the low, slow wide full toss, which again is difficult to hit out the park.
But why then is he on the expensive side?
Two reasons. Primarily, he bowls at the death over, when the batsman is looking to hit every ball out of the park. As he is not a bowler who looks to contain the batsman, he has to trade a few boundaries for his wickets. Even if he strays slightly off-length, he becomes easy meat and drinks for the batsmen. Secondly, he mostly toggles between good and fuller lengths, and is hence prone to blows down the ground and the leg-side. Most of the runs, he concedes are in the arc between long-off and mid-wicket. It’s the price he usually pays for his length. Then, even Bumrah concedes around 8.40 runs an over in the final four. In fact, RCB has a better economy rate in the last five (10.09) than Mumbai Indians (10.28) and Delhi Capitals (10.63), two teams with the most destructive fast-bowling ammo. So, Patel might leak some runs but would produce game-altering wickets, and thus, has been RCB’s most influential bowler.
Who has been amongst his wickets?
It’s not like he has been getting cheap wickets, but rather the prized scalps of renowned big-hitters. His wickets include, among others, Hardik Pandya, Kieron Pollard, Eoin Morgan, Andre Russell, Chris Morris, Faf du Plessis, Suresh Raina, Prithvi Shaw, and Marcus Stoinis. All those that are capable of unleashing fury at the death. There have been games he has got the stick, like against Punjab Kings (0/53) or 37 runs Ravindra Jadeja looted in an over, but he has been RCB’s chief wicket-taker at the death, picking up two or more wickets on six instances in the league. He will have his off-days, or rather off-overs, but he compensates those with wickets. And those that have underestimated him have returned to the pavilion with a burned ego.
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