During the Indian Premier League match between Delhi Capitals and Royal Challengers Bangalore on Tuesday, the broadcasters ran a fan poll asking whether Shikhar Dhawan, the highest run-scorer in the tournament, is more likely to finish the season with the Orange Cap or does Harshal Patel, the leading wicket-taker in the tournament, have a better chance of holding on to his Purple Cap till the end.

In what was a surprise even to the commentators, it was Harshal who claimed the bigger percentage of votes. Considering Dhawan’s pedigree as a cricketer and the kind of form he has shown so far in IPL 2021, one would’ve expected him to emerge as the winner of that poll.

However, you take a closer look at Harshal’s performances over the past three weeks and the result starts to make sense. The right-arm medium pacer is five ahead of the second-highest wicket-taker, has been Virat Kohli’s go-to bowler for breakthroughs in every game, and has dismissed the likes of Hardik Pandya, Kieron Pollard, Eoin Morgan, Andre Russell, Chris Morris, Faf du Plessis, Suresh Raina, Prithvi Shaw and Marcus Stoinis.

Bangalore are at the top of the points table having completed almost half of their league games and Harshal has played a key role in getting them there. Almost every time RCB needed to strike in the death overs, he raised his hand and contributed.

Here are some of the numbers Harshal has racked up this season:

– He has taken at least two wickets in every game

– He has the joint-most number of dot balls (with Shardul Thakur) in the death overs: 23

– He has already taken more wickets in IPL 2021 than he did in his last five IPL seasons combined

Harshal Patel in IPL 2021:

Opponent Figures
vs MI 5/27 (4)
vs SRH 2/25 (4)
vs KKR 2/17 (4)
vs RR 3/47 (4)
vs CSK 3/51 (4)
vs DC 2/37 (4)

Harshal has had to endure a long, hard grind to get his moment in the sun. Originally from Gujarat, he made his first-class debut playing for Haryana back in 2011. But it was a struggle to get to that point too.

His parents were keen to move to USA when he was just starting out but they stayed put on the insistence of his childhood coach Tarak Trivedi. However, despite picking 23 wickets in the 2008-’09 Vinoo Mankad Trophy, representing India in the 2010 Under-19 World Cup, bagging an IPL contract with Mumbai Indians in 2010, and making his List A debut for Gujarat in 2009, he wasn’t given a chance at the first-class level.

It was only after he switched to Haryana that he broke through in red-ball cricket. He has played 64 first-class matches since 2011 and bagged 226 wickets. He finished with an impressive 28 wickets in seven games in his first Ranji Trophy season, picking eight–fors in the quarter and semi-finals against Karnataka and Rajasthan respectively.

Harshal made his IPL debut for RCB in 2012 and stayed with them for six straight seasons, but the majority of that period was spent in obscurity. He played 36 games for them in those years and picked 34 wickets in total. In 2018, he moved to the Delhi franchise but couldn’t make a mark in three consecutive seasons, picking 12 wickets in 12 games during that period.

However, a return to RCB this season has led to a dramatic change in fortune for him. He began the campaign with a match-winning five-for against defending champions Mumbai Indians and simply hasn’t looked back.

“Harshal is relishing the responsibility and is clear with his plans,” Kohli had said after the MI victory. “He is going to be our designated death bowler. He’s very confident about what he wants to bring to the table. As a captain you want players with clarity, and he has that.”

The 30-year-old has surely lived up to Kohli’s expectations up until now. Bangalore have struggled in the death overs in recent years and he has proven to be a key weapon for his skipper. He’s using all the experience he has gained after years of staying in the shadows and grinding it out in domestic cricket. He has the yorker, he has the cutter, he has the variations but most importantly, he is levelheaded and knows when to use what.

It’s fair to say that this is the highest point of Harshal’s career so far and going by the consistency he is showing in IPL 2021, there’s reason to believe he could vindicate that fan poll. And if he does manage to do that, he might just help RCB get to their highest point too.