Harshal Patel improves his T20 skills with new bowling balls and length variations

Training without fear of competition has been liberating for Harshal Patel.

After recovering from a rib injury that ruled him out of the just-concluded Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates, Harshal is looking forward to getting back to life on the road, which will soon include a first appearance in the World Cup. But he must first face the T20I against Australia from Tuesday in Mohali.

Harshal has spent the last four weeks undergoing rehabilitation at the National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru. The first two weeks were spent working on his physical condition, before returning to bowling. One of his main areas of interest has been to be ahead of the curve and continue as the X-factor bowling teams want.

“I want to be tighter with my execution,” Harshal told ESPNcricinfo in August. “And I did more or less the last IPL [19 wickets in 15 matches]. I will continue to fight for this. If I play one or two bad balls out of 24, [I want to see] if I can eliminate that completely.

“You won’t be able to do it in every game, but if I can do it in two out of five games, or three out of five games, it will be a goal worth pursuing.”

Almost a year later, it has become a key member of India’s T20I arsenal. The time off from injury, he thinks, has helped him explore different facets of his craft in addition to working on their execution, which is “the hardest part”. Two of those areas are his new ball game and his length variations.

“I explored a bit about the lengths I can play with the slowest ball,” he explained. “Usually when I throw the slower balls it’s mostly fuller or the right length. But now I’ve started playing shorter, slower balls which work really well for me. It’s a obviously thing.

“I also worked on my new ball skills for a while. I started doing that in the middle of the IPL. Just because in the IPL what I was supposed to do [mainly middle-overs and death bowling]all my skills were great so I didn’t need to work on them.

“So every time I went to practice I would pick up a new ball and start playing with it because it’s good to have a skill and not need it just the other way around. is just something i have been working on and if i have an opportunity, for India or for RCB [Royal Challengers Bangalore]I would love to do that.”

Harshal is deeply analytical and challenges himself to keep improving. The fact that the team’s management was clear about what they expect of him also helped.

In the 30 T20s this year, he threw 54 overs in the middle for 19 wickets at a save rate of 6.61 and 41.1 overs at the death for 18 wickets at 10.17. In comparison, in the 11 innings he has entered the top six, he has averaged just one per game.

“They [India coach Rahul Dravid and captain Rohit Sharma] were just supportive,” Harshal said. “Whatever the philosophy of the team, they took precedence over the individuals, which is a good thing.

“They told me exactly my role. They said, ‘we want you to be able to play all three phases, not just middle and death.’ They played me once at the end of the power play at every game just to get used to it.”

It’s not just his bowling that Harshal has been working on. He is also very proud of his shots. “My ability to hit No. 8 is something they [team management] really value,” he said.

“I haven’t worked on my bat a lot because of time constraints, because you’re constantly competing. But during rehabilitation, I was lucky to hit 500 to 700 balls in two or three weeks. is something that I’ve wanted to work on for quite a while because I also really want to contribute to that title.”

What helped along the way was the clarity of roles and support from the captain and coach. Harshal thinks this is essential for individuals from a mental standpoint as it helps in better decision-making, especially when players are coming back from injuries.

“It takes a bit of the pressure off you,” he said. “Because sometimes people make crazy decisions when they go back to playing. They either try to do too much or try to push too hard because they feel their place is in jeopardy or for whatever reason.

“But if you know for a fact that the management of the team will remember what you did before you were injured, and that those performances and contributions are not forgotten, it gives you a sense of calm or comfort that a time back in the team – obviously you’ll have to play again and again and that goes for every cricketer – you know you’ll hold that place in the team.”

As Harshal looks ahead, the mention of the “World Cup” makes him smile. He grew up like any other kid dreaming of playing in one, and in about a month it will all come true.

“Obviously I’m super excited,” he said. “I’m going to get nervous at some point, but then I’m just excited. The two World Cups India won in 2007 and 2011, I remember very well where I was and what I was doing.

“After winning the World Cup, like all kids, we took our scooters and hit the roads dancing, jumping and shouting. It would be great if I could play and if we ended up winning the World Cup, having this circle completed would be a great feeling. But [right now] it’s going to be a lot of excitement and nervous energy.”

Shashank Kishore is Senior Deputy Editor at ESPNcricinfo


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