Karnataka's tormentor Harshal Patel keen to improve
At the Chinnaswamy Stadium, it was a day that belonged to Haryana's unheralded 21-year-old Harshal Patel. An outswing bowler, Harshal took a bold decision to remain in India to play cricket when his parents moved to New Jersey a few years ago, and today that decision looked to have paid rich dividends. Taking the new ball in Haryana's quarter-final against Karnataka, he rolled the hosts out for 151, bowling with testing outswing and dogged discipline. He finished the day with 8 for 40 - the best figures so far in the 2011-12 Ranji Elite season.
Harshal kept the ball on and around the off stump all through, repeatedly testing the batsmen's technique and patience. He bowled from wide of the crease and got some deliveries to move a tad away, while others held their line, leaving the batsmen in quite a quandary.
His first three wickets were caught by the keeper, Nitin Saini. That early burst was aided by the surface. "The wicket had something in it early on," Harshal said after the day's play. "There was a little movement off the seam, the ball was also stopping a little, it was a bit two-paced. But it was not damp, we [Haryana] would have batted too."
He backed up an incisive opening spell with one that cleaned up Karnataka's tail after lunch. This time he tried something a little different to take 3 for 9 in 4.5 overs. "Bowling over the wicket to the tail, they were leaving the ball. The wicket too had slowed down a bit. So I tried bowling around the wicket against them and it worked." In between he got rid of Amit Verma and Stuart Binny. The in-form Binny had let one of Harshal's deliveries go and it whizzed away, dangerously close to off stump. He shouldered arms to the next ball too, but this time it pitched on off and held its line to rattle the stumps.
Harshal, who played Under-19 cricket for India, made the move from Gujarat to Haryana before the start of the 2011-2012 season, and it was all a natural progression for him. "The year my parents left [India], I had had a very good time in Under-17 cricket - I had taken 32 wickets in five games. So I told my dad to give me some time to keep working on my cricket here in India. He told me he'd give me two years, during which I was to work only on my cricket and see where it took me. Now I'm here.
"I was not getting a chance in first-class cricket in Gujarat. Anirudh Chaudhary, the Haryana Cricket Association head, was our [India Under-19] manager at the Under-19 World Cup [in New Zealand in January 2010]. He later called me and told me I could play for Haryana if I wanted to. Several of their seamers had had to have surgery, so I got an offer."
Harshal's tally puts him behind only Kapil Dev and Joginder Sharma for the best figures in first-class cricket for Haryana. But Harshal seems to know that this is no reason to get carried away. "Whatever format I play, I look to take wickets. There are still flaws in my bowling action that I need to work on. For example, my front knee bends when I deliver and my [body] alignment is a bit on the cross. I'm working on these things."
He has the assistance of former Essex fast bowler Ian Pont to iron out the flaws. Pont, who has a four-year contract working with Haryana, has worked with Harshal since Haryana's preparations for the 2011-12 season began. Pont, now back in England, is constantly in touch with Harshal and the other Harayana seamers. "Harshal's got a good head. I first met him at a training camp in May, he was the bowler who really stood out in that camp," Pont told ESPNcricinfo. "He is very aware of his bowling action. It's important to know what you need to correct in the first place.
"I've left him with a few drills for this, simple ones that you could do in the bedroom even and don't need cricket nets for, and he works on them and gets back to me with updates."
Pont is also working on Harshal's pace. "He swings it, swings it away, which makes him dangerous. He's not express, but I think he can bowl much quicker," he said. "It's something we are working on, to give him more pace and control." And it helps that Harshal, like his team-mates, is a willing learner. "Every Indian bowler [that I've worked with] is very attentive and they tend to listen to what you say. In addition to that, Harshal is very smart. He takes what he thinks will work for him and goes and works on it. His mental approach is very strong."
This performance, Pont said, could be just the trigger Harshal needed to go on to bigger things. "It's tremendous for the young man to be put in the same category, in some way, as Kapil Dev. It's a launching pad.
"Young bowlers need confidence; I've noticed that Ranji cricket tends to favour the batsmen and you get quite a few huge totals. So for a young outswing bowler like Harshal, this is a great confidence boost."
Nikita Bastian is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo