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IPL 2021: Harshal Patel, the journeyman, finds his moment in the sun

Kolkata: In his eight previous seasons in the Indian Premier League (IPL), Harshal Patel has never quite had his moment under the arclights. The Haryana allrounder, who made his debut with Royals Challengers Bangalore back in 2012, had been the quintessential journeyman - but all that may change after the opening night of IPL XIV in Chennai on Friday.

Stories like that of Patel had been one of the biggest positives emerging out of the cash-rich T20 franchise league. It's diffcult to see the 30-year-old bowling himself into any form of reckoning for the national squad in this format - given the abundance of riches there - but his haul of five for 27 (and first to take a five against the mighty Mumbai Indians) will be regarded as one of the most match-defining bowling performances in the league.

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In a contest with a constellation of stars like the Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, AB de Villiers or Trent Boult, it's  not everyday that someone like Patel is credited with laying the foundation of his team's victory. A lot of credit for that, however, should be attributed to Virat Kohli and the team management for seeing the potential in Patel to use him as a death bowler with his slower variations and yorkers.

Speaking after the match on Friday, Patel said he felt that the slower wicket in Chennai would suit his bowling and Kohli had kept three overs for him at the end. Any IPL follower will acknowledge that the Mumbai Indians batting can be at their brutal best in the last five overs when the Pandya brothers and Kieron Pollard have so often taken the target beyond the opponents' reach. This is where Patel struck telling blows with three wickets, missing a hat-trick narrowly when debutant Marco Jansen had a close shave against an yorker. 

From the green pitches of his homeground in Lahli, Haryana, to the slow and low tracks of Chennai, it's quite a contrast. However, much like how his seamers are effective in first-class cricket on the Haryana ground, his cutters and slower balls had its merits for T20 cricket in Chennai - somewhat in the same way Shardul Thakur serves the Chennai Super Kings in his second spell.

It was almost a poetic justice that Patel hit the winning runs for his team in a tense run-chase, but the fact that he possibly bowled the best 20th over in the history of IPL - three wickets for one run - would do any of the leading pace merchants proud. The yorkers which he generated were spot-on as the ball was reversing a bit and a brilliant start like this would mean that he could be seen more regularly in this edition than ever before.

Just ponder this, since IPL 2012, he has played more five matches only in two seasons. The cricketer, on his part, admitted that it had been a good start but said the IPL is like a pendulum - where the fortunes swing both ways.

We, for one, would like to see him more regularly...