When Hardik Pandya suffered a back injury - which forced him to a long layoff - during South Africa's tour of India last year, the Indian selectors put their money on players like Shivam Dube and Shardul Thakur to fill the giant void created by Pandya's absence. Vijay Shankar, who was also a part of India's 2019 World Cup squad, was another option, but his mediocre performance during the mega event in England didn't help his case. Moreover, the dearth of visible all-round options in the country made Dube and Thakur the only logical choices to go for.
However, one player who has escaped the selectors' attention during the tenure has been Harshal Patel, the skipper of the Haryana cricket team. The 29-year-old is in the form of his life currently. He has been a consistent performer across all formats since last year. In fact, his performances in T20 cricket, in particular, have been the most eye-catching.
Patel was the highest run-getter, and also the highest wicket-taker for Haryana during the 2019/20 season of the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy. He scored 374 runs with the bat at a healthy average of 31.14 and his strike-rate of 165.48 was outstanding. As far as his bowling is considered, Patel claimed 19 wickets at a decent economy rate of 7.04 and struck at an interval of every 13.5 deliveries. Overall, he had the fourth most number of runs and had taken the joint second most number of wickets among all players during the course of the tournament.
These are mindboggling numbers for any player and it was because of his efforts that Haryana reached the semi-finals of the tournament. He led the charge for them almost single-handedly. All of their other top and middle-order batsmen had a strike-rate of below 130. Patel, with a strike-rate of over 160, was the only one who provided them with some much-needed acceleration. With the ball as well, nobody from the team came even close to matching his tally of 19 wickets. The next best was Sumit Kumar with 11 wickets to his name.
Patel's success hasn't remained limited to T20s only in this season. Although he didn't do that well with the bat in the Vijay Hazare Trophy, which preceded the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 tournament, Patel was still Haryana's best bowler, as he was their joint-highest wicket-taker with 10 wickets to his name at an excellent average and strike-rate of 19.80 and 23.4 respectively. In the Ranji Trophy that followed afterwards, he was once again at the helm of things for his team with both bat and ball.
The Gujarat born all-rounder claimed the third-most number of wickets during the 2019/20 season of the Ranji Trophy. His 52 scalps came in just nine matches and that too at a sensational average and strike-rate of 14.48 and 27.1 respectively. With the bat, he did a decent job once again as he scored 292 runs at 22.70 and it included two fifties as well.
So it is clearly visible how Harshal Patel has excelled as an all-rounder in this season. His main strength is his bowling and he is known for having an excellent outswinger. But his batting, as evident from his numbers this season, has improved in leaps and bounds. It might be difficult for him to find a place in the longer formats for the Indian team primarily as a bowling all-rounder. But he just looks like a perfect package for India's T20 setup and hence, the Indian selectors should at least keep him in the radar for T20Is, even as a backup for Hardik Pandya.
Feature Image: AFP / Xavier Galiana