Harshal has spent the past four weeks in rehabilitation at the National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru. He worked on his physical condition for the first two weeks before returning to bowling. One of his main areas of focus was to lead the way and continue what the X Factor bowler teams long for.
“You won’t be able to do that every game, but if I can do that in two out of five or three out of five, that’s a goal worth pursuing.”
Nearly a year later, he has emerged as a key member of the Indian T20I arsenal. The free time from injury, he believes, has helped him explore different facets of his craft, apart from working on its execution, which is the “tougher part.” Two of those areas are his new ball bowling and variations in lengths.
“I did a little research on how long I can bowl with the slower ball,” he explained. “Usually it’s when I’m bowling the slower balls, especially fuller or of good length. But now I’ve started bowling more shorter slower balls, which work really well for me. That’s one thing, of course.
“I also worked on my new ball skills for a while. I started doing that halfway through the IPL. Just because in the IPL, what I had to do [mainly middle-overs and death bowling]all my skills were top notch so i didn’t have to work on it.
“So every time I went to practice I would take a new ball and start bowling with it because it’s good to have a skill and not need it then vice versa. It’s just something I’ve been working on on and if I get the chance, for India or for RCB [Royal Challengers Bangalore]I’d love to do that.”
Harshal is deeply analytical and challenges himself to get better and better. It also helped that the team management has been clear about what they expect from him.
In this year’s 30 T20s, he has bowled 54 overs in the mid-stage for 19 wickets against an economy of 6.61 and 41.1 overs on death for 18 wickets at 10.17. By comparison, in the 11 innings in which he came in the top six, he averaged just one left per game.
“She [India coach Rahul Dravid and captain Rohit Sharma] have been nothing but supportive,” Harshal said. “Whatever the team ethos, they’ve been prioritized over individuals, which is great.
“They told me exactly what my role was. They said, ‘We want you to be able to bowl in all three phases, not just middle and death’. They bowled me once every game at the end of the power play to match that.” get used to.”
It’s not just his bowling that Harshal has been working on. He is also very proud of his balls. “My ability to hit number 8 is something they… [team management] really valuable,” he said.
“I haven’t worked on my percussion much due to time constraints, because you’re constantly in competition. But during rehab, I’ve had the chance to hit 500-700 balls in two to three weeks. It’s something I’ve wanted to do.” working for a while, because I really want to contribute to that.”
What has helped is clarity about the roles and support of the captain and coach. Harshal believes this is critical for individuals from a mental standpoint as it helps them make better decisions, especially when players are returning from injuries.
“It does take some pressure off you,” he said. “Because sometimes people make stupid decisions when they go back to play. They either try to do too much or try to push too hard because they feel their place is in jeopardy or for whatever reason.
“But if you’re sure that the team management remembers what you did before you got injured, and those achievements and contributions aren’t forgotten, it gives you a sense of calm or comfort that once you get back on the team – you will of course having to perform over and over again and that goes for any cricketer – you know you will keep that place in the team.”
As Harshal looks ahead, the mention of ‘World Cup’ brings a smile to his face. He grew up like any other kid who dreamed of playing in one, and in about a month it will all come true.
“Of course I’m super excited,” he said. “I’ll get nervous at some point, but right now I’m just excited. The two World Cups India won in 2007 and 2011 I vividly remember where I was and what I was doing.
“After we won the World Cup, like any kid, we took our scooters and went out into the street dancing, jumping and screaming. It would be great if I could play and if we finally win the World Cup, to to have completed circle would be a great feeling [right now] it will be a lot of excitement and nervous energy.”
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo