"You have to be willing to fail spectacularly"
In the last game he played before the 2021 Indian Premier League, pace bowler Harshal Patel was brought into the attack almost as an afterthought by the Delhi Capitals captain, in the ninth over, against Mumbai Indians last season. Going for eight runs, his services were restricted to those six balls.
That had been the story of his career—a journeyman who would be used for a few matches by his IPL side—season after season. In 2020, his eighth year in IPL, he played five games for Delhi; in 2019 two. Only in 2015 did he get a full run of 15 games, also finishing with 17 scalps.
When 2021 IPL began, Patel, who had been traded to Royal Challengers Bangalore, was not a name anyone noticed. Yet, when IPL was halted at the half-way stage, he lead the bowling chart with 17 scalps, ahead of even Jasprit Bumrah and Kagiso Rabada.
It is yet another inspiring story of a domestic player who has finally turned things around in IPL. At 30, the Haryana all-rounder has gone from an unknown back-up option to first choice bowler.
“To get exceptional results, you have to be willing to fail spectacularly,” Patel said in a telephonic interview as he waited at the Mumbai airport on May 5 to board a flight to the US to join his family members.
Patel began this IPL in spectacular fashion—a five-wicket haul against champions Mumbai Indians. He was also taken for 37 runs by Chennai Super Kings’ Ravindra Jadeja—joint most expensive IPL over—but the positives stood out in a difficult season for all.
Excerpts from the interview:
How do you rate your IPL season?
For me, these things are internal. I have my own standards. If I have performed to those standards, I have done well in my head. I don’t look for validation outside that. In my opinion, I have done well so far but there was still room for improvement and I was determined to continue the sort of performance I had in the first half of IPL; unfortunately this happened (suspension).
Must have been great to see your name atop the wicket-takers’ list?
Yes! Again, I am not comparing (myself) with anybody on that list because they are all great bowlers. At the same time I know my skills are in the same region. I am not very far behind them. They have been very consistent over the years. This is the first year when I have been put into these pressure situations and done well. So, my goal is to keep this mindset, keep improving, keep polishing whatever skills I have, adding a few things here and there, probably have more impact with the bat whenever I get an opportunity. These are the things I am looking at if we end up finishing the second half of IPL in September.
It is a boost for domestic cricketers to see what you and Avesh Khan (second in the wicket-takers’ list) have done.
The gap (between domestic and international cricketers) has been closing because of IPL. Whatever pressure you are exposed to in (international) cricket, it is pretty much the same in IPL as well. I have heard people who have played international T20 say that IPL is a tougher place to bowl. I haven’t had that experience so I can’t speak for myself…. If you get used to these kinds of situations, and if you get used to keeping a cool head in these tournaments, then all that experience will help you graduate to the highest level.
What has changed? Are you picking up new skills? Are facilities at domestic level now better?
Skill is just one aspect. Whoever is playing IPL for a little bit of time all have pretty much the same skill level; they are not completely different from each other. The difference is whether you can execute those skills in pressure situations where you can be humiliated in front of millions of people. So, you have to be willing to put yourself in a situation where you can get humiliated but at the same time if you do well it gives you tremendous confidence. It is like a pendulum, it will keep swinging; you will have good and bad days. At the end of the day, if you have a solid mindset and process of analysing your success and failure, more often than not you will be able to keep it steady. That is what I have learnt in the last couple of years. If I talk about the last IPL, I had lot of anxiety before the games; that was probably why I was not completely expressing myself in terms of the skills I had, like not bowling yorkers at all. Then I realised: “I have these skills, if I can do it in the nets, I can do it in the competition”. It was just a mindset tweak that made the difference.
The success in this IPL is because of how you handle pressure differently?
It is all individual work, right? It is your journey, people will come and lend you a hand or give you a few words of confidence but at the end of the day, you have to put in the work, be willing to fail spectacularly. If you are brave enough to do that, then only you will get exceptional success. That is what I realised after the last season. In 2018 also, not getting a bid other than Delhi was a kick in the stomach. I realised whatever I was offering the market wasn’t interested. I needed to put myself in a position to win games for the team, which I was doing consistently at the domestic level. I just needed to have that change in mindset. That is what has happened probably in the last year-and-a-half.
Credit also goes to the team management (RCB). They recognised my talent; even though I was not bowling the death overs in Delhi, they brought me in. From day one they gave me tremendous confidence. “This is what we want you to do, this is what we want to get out of you, this is your role and if you fail doing things that you know how to do, we will back you through and through”. Which they did, even after going for 50 runs in a couple of games, they stuck with me.
How has it been playing under Virat Kohli?
The moment I was traded, Virat sent me a message, “welcome back, you are going to play here”. That made a big impact in my confidence and I realised this is a team where I can finally showcase all my skills. He gives you the space to do your thing. Even if you don’t execute at times he understands better than anybody that on a batter’s day, if they get hold of a bowler, you are going to go for runs. Whenever we are unable to execute, or we stray from our plans, when we sit for the review the only talk is about what do we do to stay on the path, how do we stay in the mindset to execute more often than not. We don’t let any other noise come into that environment.
How is it having AB de Villiers as your keeper?
Who better to tell you about what’s going on than AB? He doesn’t talk a lot, he will let you do your own thing but if he finds you are out of depth or struggling, he will come up to chat. Before I come into bowl, he has probably seen seven or eight overs; he will give small pointers on what the wicket is doing, what the batters are trying to do, what are the deliveries that will work. It is always short and concise chat.
Is there sign language?
If I am bowling in the death overs, we always talk about bowling different lines—either you go very wide or go at the heel. So, in the heat of the moment, he will just give you a subtle reminder—you can go this way or that, he will tell you with his hands.
You started with a match-winning 5/27 versus MI.
It was massive. Like I said, I knew I could execute those skills at this level. But once these things are validated, it gives you a lot of confidence, and that too doing it against these guys, Hardik, Pollard, Ishan; a team like MI is super power-packed, their middle and lower middle-order. The way I bowled in that game, I had done that in practice matches. The way I brought all that confidence into the first match, Virat told me “the clarity you have now of what you want to do, I can leave you alone as a captain and you will be able to deliver.”
The bowler is under most pressure when the captain says he wants you to bowl a particular ball next.
At the end of the day, you are in charge, no matter who your captain is. I know what I can execute, I know what I can’t, and obviously, the captain has a say in that process. Sometimes you go with the captain, sometimes you don’t see the game the way a batter sees it. Some days you feel “yes, this a good idea”, and some days you feel “what I am thinking is right, let me back myself”. You communicate clearly with the captain and Virat has always been one of those captains who will give you that freedom.