Harshal Patel: 'I'm always thinking about how I can offer my team more value'

The Royal Challengers Bangalore seamer talks about how to bowl at the team's home ground, and to Suryakumar Yadav

Harshal Patel on bowling at the Chinnaswamy Stadium: "I will try to be as aggressive as I can, because the only way you can stop runs is by getting batters out"  •  BCCI

Harshal Patel on bowling at the Chinnaswamy Stadium: "I will try to be as aggressive as I can, because the only way you can stop runs is by getting batters out"  •  BCCI

India fast bowler Harshal Patel did not play a single match in the 2022 T20 World Cup last year in Australia. In the absence of Jasprit Bumrah, Harshal expected he would play a key role, especially in the second phase of India's bowling innings, where he has made an impact in recent years in the IPL, especially at the death. An honest conversation with India head coach Rahul Dravid allowed Harshal to understand why he was not the preferred choice.
In this interview Harshal talks about how he overcame that disappointment, and how he has looked to add new skills to his bowling and batting repertoire, which he thinks will come handy this IPL season, where he is a strike bowler for Royal Challengers Bangalore.
You went into the T20 World Cup in Australia confident you would be a key bowler, especially in Jasprit Bumrah's absence. But you did not get the opportunity. That must have been difficult.
Yeah, it took me about a week to be okay with the fact that I might not play a single game in the tournament. It was sort of hard to digest. You are in the middle of a very important tournament and you are still hoping you might get a game. [For the] first three-four days, there's a bit of disbelief and you are thinking of a number of things which are out of your control. The first human reaction is: how could this happen?
But as your rational self takes over, you realise this is outside your control. I can't do anything about selection. All I can do is keep pushing my case, and if I still don't play a single game after that, then I have to be okay with the fact and do whatever I can to contribute in the team. So I picked up the bat, started working on a few things with Vikram Rathour [India's batting coach]. It became a little easier as time went on.
When you are part of a World Cup team, the coaches are presumably busy. Did you find the opportunity to have a word with someone like the head coach, Rahul Dravid?
I had a chat with him after the second game. He said [not selecting me] was a tactical move. He said you were in contention almost till the day of the first game [against Pakistan] and then we decided to go with [Mohammed] Shami.
The coach and the captain's job is to pick the best possible XI. I may or may not agree with it, but I have to accept it. I absolutely hate people who don't get picked and then sit on the sidelines and sulk. I didn't want to be that person, so I just kept saying to myself: "Keep thinking about how you can add value and try and do that, as hard as it might be."
Before the World Cup, you said, "There is nothing wrong in bowling 24 slower balls in a T20 spell". Are you rethinking that now?
I'm not, because I can only do what I feel is right and what I feel is going to get me results. People are going to have different opinions and different tactics, but I know what has worked for me in the last couple of years and I'm not going to go away from that. Of course, that doesn't mean I'm not going to develop any other skills. I have tried to work on my new-ball skills in the last six to eight months. I've gotten better bowling with a new ball in the Ranji Trophy. Bowling a new ball in the IPL is a completely different challenge. So adding that skill to my game was a challenge I wanted to take on. That makes me a more multi-dimensional bowler.
If I could give them [my team] an over or two in the top half of the game, in the top six [overs], then that makes me more valuable. I was always thinking about how I can add one more thing to what I already have.
Whether I get the new ball in the IPL is dependent on the combination of the team and what the team requires of me in the middle and death overs. All I want to do is show them that I'm ready to bowl with the new ball if they need me.
It's the first time you are going to bowl at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in the IPL since 2018. In 45 overs at the ground, you have taken 11 wickets at an economy of 9.08. It's known as a graveyard for bowlers. How do you protect yourself from that?
I will try to be as aggressive as I can, because the only way you can stop runs is by getting batters out. So more deliveries to force errors.
The other thing is bluffing. It's going to play a huge part, especially when you are playing in high-scoring venues: how you use it and when you use it is important. You can't always bowl to your field. If you do that, it's not very difficult to clear a 63-metre boundary on a flat wicket with the white Kookaburra.
What do you mean by bluffing?
You set a field for a wide yorker and the moment the batter moves to reach for the ball, you bowl at the heel. Or you get your third man or fine leg up and bowl a couple of yorkers and then a bouncer, which is something batters don't usually expect.
How do you plan for a venue where there is a shorter boundary on one side and a longer one on the other?
Last year we played quite a bit at the DY Patil Stadium [in Mumbai], where one side was probably seven to ten metres longer than the other side. Whenever you are under the pump, you want the batter to hit you to the longer side.
There have been instances where I'm bowling to a right-hander with a shorter leg side, so I just come around the stumps and bowl wide [outside off] at him or come over the stumps and bowl wide with my square leg and fine leg up. Even if he gets inside the line, he can still pull the ball, but he will be able to pull it in front of square, not behind.
And for a batter to drag a wide-line delivery [from outside off] to fine leg or square leg, they will either need to sweep me or get inside the line. There are very few batters who can sweep, and if they try and get inside the line and move, they will have to move quite a bit early. That allows me the opportunity to aim at the stumps - that's a bluff.
A perfect example would be how I got [Kieron] Pollard out in Dubai [in 2021] . I had a wide field set up for him and he almost threw his front foot across in order to reach a bit early and then had a blind spot on the leg stump. So you basically play around with what the batter will try and do if you set a particular field and bowl a particular delivery. Then you react to what he is actually trying to do.
How do you counter someone like Suryakumar Yadav, who seems to have a stroke for every sort of delivery?
Look, man, someone of his calibre, who's in the kind of form that he is in, all you can bank on is your planning and execution. What he does after that is up to him. This is not the first time I have encountered this problem. AB [de Villiers] was one step better than Surya, in the sense that he would make you bowl where he wanted. He was that good.
Surya will sweep you from almost outside the pitch on off stump. Remember the Zimbabwe game [in the 2022 T20 World Cup]? He was sweeping bowlers to fine leg from like three feet outside the off stump.
Another ability he has is to take the ball on his body all the time. It's one thing to take the ball on your body and play in front of square, because you still have a lot of time to adjust if the ball comes out slower or faster. But if you are trying to play behind square and take the ball on your body - if it comes out a little slower or a little faster, it's going to hit you. And you have to be okay with that. I don't think many players are. That's why you don't see a lot of players playing the shots he plays.
You are the only bowler to have taken 50 wickets or more across the last two IPL seasons. You won the purple cap in 2021. Dwayne Bravo and Bhuvneshwar Kumar are the only bowlers to have won the purple cap twice. Is that on your mind?
I'm certainly not going into the IPL thinking I want to win a purple cap. It's a bit of a draw of luck. I bowled better in the last season than I bowled in 2021, but I still ended up with 13 wickets less. But if I do get a purple cap, that'll be fantastic.
You played the last two IPLs in the lead up to the T20 World Cups. How will you approach this season in terms of your aims?
Even in the World Cup years, I was not thinking that I have to do well in this IPL or I won't get picked in the World Cup squad. I've never thought like that. A lot of people say that that thought does creep into their mind. It has never crept into my mind. My only aim is to try and add dimensions to my game and try to get better every year and add value to whatever responsibilities I have. I'm not going take it easy just because there's no [T20] World Cup. I can't think like that. There's always a cascading effect of good performances, whether you can foresee it or not. So focusing on what you can do is most important.
What do Royal Challengers Bangalore need to do to win the IPL?
If I had the answer to that question, I would take Mike Hesson's job (chuckles). I'm being very, very honest when I say in my last couple of years with RCB, I have never seen a team management that is more process-oriented and more focused on taking care of the players so that they will take care of what needs to be taken care of on the field. Consistency in these philosophies and these practices will eventually lead to outcomes, which we have been desiring for 15 years.
There is no magic pill. But yeah, if you follow the trend, we should be able to finish number two this year and next year we'll go on to win the trophy (laughs). We've been coming one step closer every single time. I would love it if we can skip a step.

Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo