Just four days shy of his 31st birthday is no time for any player to make an international cricket debut for his nation. To do that in India, where the talent pool is so huge and vast, and where selectors are always after grooming the next generation of cricketers –aka ‘youngsters’, is extremely tough.
Yet what was most exceptional about Harshal Patel’s debut yesterday, is that right in the first match, he had commentators with legends likes Sunil Gavaskar, smacking their lips at the mouth-watering prospect of this debutant bowling the death overs alongside Jasprit Bumrah in next year’s World Cup.
But that is the ballad of Harshal Patel, with its many twists and turns, its ‘late blooms’ and some sensational bowling through a career that has seen some uncanny improvement in his bowling. He is, despite being a debutant in international cricket, one of the smartest bowlers in the T20 format in the world and a must-have egg in India’s T20 World Cup campaign basket.
In the domestic circuit, Harshal has been one of the most consistent performers with many records under his belt. He has been exceptional in the IPL as well and with 32 wickets this year became the highest wicket-taking Indian in a single IPL season and the joint highest with Dwayne Bravo. If his team RCB had moved to the last stages of the tournament, he’d surely have broken the record.
Hence, the team management's move to feature him in the Playing XI, sadly due to Mohammed Siraj’s injury, was a smart call by coach Rahul Dravid and skipper Rohit Sharma, whose Mumbai Indians were decimated this IPL, thanks to Harshal who got a fifer and a hat-trick against MI in the same season.
Yet, getting the call is one thing, and rising up to the occasion is another. Just this year, 10 players made their T20 debut for India, the highest in a year since, well, the first-ever T20 game India played. Seems like before the year ends, an entire team of debutantes would be waiting in the wings.
Competition in the India squad is thus extreme. And he debuted on one of the wettest days where both the teams exhausted dozens of towels in trying to keep the ball dry and where balls often skidded off the hands of the bowlers, especially the faster ones.
But Harshal, in the next ball after taking his first-ever international wicket for India, almost set himself up for a brace but the catch fell a few agonising inches before a diving Rohit Sharma. By the end of play, he bowled well enough – especially after the visitors got off to a flying start in the power play, for the commentators to praise him to the sky and invite him for a talk after the innings.
How does this lad, who isn’t a lad anymore, and who almost migrated to the US with his family over a decade ago, do it? Less than two months ago, when asked about his exclusion from the Indian World Cup side, he had said, “There is one goal for me: whichever team I play, be it a club or IPL team, or when I play for the country or when I play for Haryana, I try to put a positive impact in the game from whichever situation with ball or bat. That is my goal and it will remain my goal until I play cricket.”
This is visible when he plays. He is in the moment, enjoying the game. His formula for the game is simple: play the game for the love of it. It is something every young player out there can learn from and the reason why terms like ‘late bloomer’ or ‘right guy in the wrong team’ or ‘regret’ don’t mean anything to him. He was given the Indian cap and he seized the day: carpe diem.
And now, Indian fans and commentators can rest assured, that though this Gujjubhai may have deliberately missed his flight to America over a decade ago, he is not missing the flight to Australia for the T20 World Cup next year.
(Satyen K. Bordoloi is a scriptwriter, journalist based in Mumbai. He loves to let his pen roam the intersection of artificial intelligence, consciousness, and quantum mechanics. He is also a regular contributor for The-Yuan and his written words have appeared in many Indian and foreign publications.)
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