Updated: November 21, 2021 9:02:52 am
Anxiety writ large on Harshal Patel’s face. He had just claimed his maiden international wicket, but the umpires asked New Zealand opener Daryl Mitchell to wait, as they were checking for a no-ball.
Harshal had delivered a well-disguised cutter from wide of the crease, so wide that he ran the risk of cutting the return crease. The TV umpire concluded that Harshal didn’t transgress. Mitchell was done in by the angle, and also the lack of pace.
Figures of 2/25 from four overs on debut had been an achievement to savour. It also earned Harshal the Man of the Match award in the second T20I in Ranchi. One of the standout features of his bowling was how he used the crease – bowling away-goers from wide of it and bringing the ball into the batsmen from close to the stumps. Taking the pace off the ball served him well.
Harshal is not a 140kph bowler. To make up for that, he needed to load his bowling with variations to graduate to the international level. Slower bouncers, variations in yorkers and cutters became his staple. Using the crease to optimum effect came naturally to him.
“Angles have always been a big part of my game and I use them to good effect. I think that’s another thing I realised that I can add to my repertoire without trying too many different things,” the medium pacer said at the post-match presser.
Even as a teenager, he was ‘playing’ with the angles – bowling outswingers on the fourth stump line from wide of the crease. When he went close to the stumps, despite having his front toe pointing towards first slip, he brought the ball into the batsmen. Back then, Harshal was too young to understand the dynamics or physics of the whole thing. But the trained eye of Ashwani Kumar, director coaching of Haryana Cricket, spotted the speciality.
“He wasn’t aware of it and at that age, you actually don’t care. But there’s something special in his bowling that he can bowl late outswing from wide of the crease and inswing from close to the stumps despite not having the perfect alignment at the time of loading and release. The alignment of his left shoulder and front ankle is not what you would call a copybook and it makes his action a tad injury-prone as well. But the ability to use the crease is natural and all I did was a bit of fine-tuning,” Kumar, who also runs the Shri Ramnarayan Cricket Club in Rohtak, said.
Harshal’s journey hasn’t been linear. He played for India U-19 from Gujarat, but wasn’t considered good enough to represent the state team at first-class level and eventually migrated to Haryana after 2009. Kumar readily spotted the potential.
Training sessions are specific at the Ramnarayan Cricket Club where Harshal honed his skills. Morning sessions are reserved for fitness, strength and endurance training. In the afternoon/evening, trainees hit the nets.
“Harshal was unorthodox from the outset. He wasn’t side-on, the ideal action to bowl outswing. But he made the ball swing away with an openish action. He wasn’t quick. The challenge was to turn his weaknesses into his strengths, which he has done,” Kumar said before elaborating on his slower deliveries.
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