What's the difference between Harshal Patel's IPL performance and India's? The wickets, not the sixes
Harshal Patel's reward for risk bowling has unfortunately not worked at the international level consistently yet.
Of all the things, Harshal Patel cannot complain about is the lack of backing from the Indian team management. Captain Rohit Sharma and Rahul Dravid had no qualms in saying that Harshal will "walk into the side" whenever available when he was sidelined from the West Indies tour with a rib injury. His teammate Suryakumar Yadav jumped into his defence when the effectiveness of his slower deliveries was questioned. "No sir, his slower ones are very deceptive. We all find it hard to pick it even in the nets," he said after Harshal conceded 22 runs in the 18th over in the first T20I against Australia in Mohali.
"If you just look at his performances over the last two years, I mean, they've been absolutely phenomenal for, you know, for the franchise, and he plays in, even in international cricket for us. I think he bought some really, really good spells," Dravid said on the eve of the second T20I here in Guwahati.
Dravid is spot on about Harshal's exploits in the IPL. Even his Royal Challengers Bangalore captain Faf du Plessis had unshaken faith in him. "He's a joker in the pack, isn't he? A special card you pull out. More than anything, it's the time that he bowls. He's a high-pressure-time bowler. Every single time I feel the pressure is the most, I go to him," the former South Africa skipper had said after RCB beat LSG in IPL 2022.
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There is, however, a significant difference between RCB's faith and India's backing of Harshal. Du Plessis made the comment after Harshal had won RCB the match by bowling a brilliant 18th over when LSG needed 41 off 18 balls. And that was just one example. He had done that multiple times for RCB in the last two years. But for India, when thrown into a similar situation, the result has been rather disappointing.
In New Delhi against South Africa earlier this year, Harshal leaked 22 runs in the 17th over when 56 were needed off 24 balls. Against Australia in Mohali, he once again went the distance, giving away 22 in the 18th over when 40 were required from the final three.
So what's ailing Harshal Patel? Why can't he contain the batters at the death like he was doing in the IPL for the last two years? Actually, Harshal was never containing the batters, he was just getting them out. Statistically, Harshal has been one of the most expensive bowlers at the death even in the IPL. Since IPL 2021 - Harshal's most productive couple of seasons in the league - no other bowler has conceded more sixes than him (27) in the last five overs of the innings. The next worst is 21 sixes by Shardul Thakur. Harshal's economy rate of 9.13 is also on the higher side among all the death overs specialists.
But while giving away runs at a fair clip, what Harshal was regularly doing was picking wickets. 19 of Harshal's 31 wickets in IPL 2021 came in the last three overs of the innings including 11 in the last over. He took 31 wickets in the last two seasons of IPL in the last five overs of an innings at an average of 14.67. Compare that with his performance for India, he has only 13 wickets to show in 18 innings while bowling in the slog overs while his economy rate goes up to 10.5 compared to 9.13 in the IPL. He continues to be hit for maximums even for India. Harshal Patel has conceded 22 sixes in the last 5 overs in 2022, which is the most by any bowler this year. Overall in 2022, Harshal has conceded 34 sixes in T20Is, most by any bowler so far.
Dravid, however, chose to count the positives. "He's also come off a little bit of an injury. But I thought he bought a phenomenal last year against Australia at Hyderabad. I think he gave just seven runs. And he got David out. In a tight game, that can make a big difference. We're very happy with the way it's progressing," he said.
Even in that last over in Hyderabad which Dravid was talking about, Harshal was hit for a six off his first delivery. But the main reason why he gave away only 1 run in the next five deliveries was that he got David out off the third ball. Wickets have always been Harshal's way of containing the batters. Even in that match against LSG, he had dismissed Marcus Stoinis despite bowling five wides at the start of the over.
Harshal's reward for risk bowling has unfortunately not worked at the international level consistently yet. And there are reasons for that too. Harshal picked up a wicket every 6.67 slower balls he bowled in IPL 2021. 18 of his 30 scalps came through various versions of slower balls, which became an open secret with batters now expecting it. "Knew he would bowl cutters into the pitch so I decided to run down the first ball," said Matthew Wade after getting the better of Harshal in Mohali.
South Africa's Rassie van der Dussen who had meted out similar treatment to Harshal in New Delhi earlier this year, said he knew Harshal would bowl slower ones.