Even before Harpreet Brar had bowled his first ball, the left-arm orthodox spinner was already feeling very good about himself. This wasn’t just because he had scored a vital 17-ball 25 in the Punjab Kings batting effort earlier. He was feeling good simply because he had got a game; something that had been in very short supply ever since he was picked up by the franchise for Rs 20 lakhs at the auctions prior to IPL 2019.
Brar had played just three games before coming into the match against the in-form Royal Challengers Bangalore on Friday. Two games in 2019, one in 2020 and one in 2021. In his earlier matches, he took no wickets and his economy rate was high too. So it was perhaps no surprise that RCB tried to go after him.
The first ball Brar bowled was hit for six straight down the ground by Virat Kohli. The was the RCB and India captain trying to stamp his authority on the young 25-year-old from Moga district in Punjab.
Ten runs came off the over — the most expensive of the innings at that point and then, the first ball of the second over was hit for a four… Kohli the batsman again. Two overs, 17 runs… and Brar was feeling the heat a little.
Of course, Brar knew what it was like to be under the pump. He has always believed in his talent but game time has been in short supply. Just before the IPL 2019 auction, he had decided to back his bags and move to Canada if he wasn’t able to get an IPL contract and a place in the Ranji Trophy team.
After representing Punjab at the Under-16 level, Brar was ignored by the junior selectors. In 2019, at 23, he was playing his first and last under-23 season. But that is when Punjab Kings (then Kings XI Punjab) decided to show some faith and picked him. It didn’t mean game time but it meant an opportunity to pursue his dream; an opportunity to keep playing cricket. Few realise how precious that can be.
Just after the 2019 auction, he told The Times of India: “I had decided that if I fail to break into the Punjab senior team or get an IPL contract this year, I will move to my sister in Canada for good. Paaji, bahut frustration tha (it was extremely frustrating, brother).”
It wasn’t as if he wasn’t trying. He had tried out for the Kings XI four times already and was close to breaking point. Perhaps, his move from Ropar to Mohali in the 2019 Katoch Shield (Punjab’s inter-district cricket tournament) helped. Perhaps his numbers in the CK Nayudu impressed. Perhaps his perseverance struck a chord. Either which way, at long last, he was part of the elite.
“Destiny had at least some luck in store for me,” he said.
But as it turned out that wasn’t the only play destiny designed for him. After being attacked by Kohli in his first two overs, Brar got his own back.
Just as he had in the previous two overs, Kohli decided to attack the first ball. In the first over, he had got a six and in the second over, a four. But this time Brar was ready. He saw the RCB skipper coming down the wicket and dropped the ball short. The batsman was unable to cope with the change in length and the ball crashed into his leg-stump.
Kohli had struggled to get going and his innings of 35 off 34 balls wasn’t great, but it was a psychological boost for Punjab Kings and Brar.
Brar later said: “I wasn’t overwhelmed when Kohli hit me because a bowler always gets a second chance to come back. My first IPL wicket was Kohli Paaji’s wicket and that was very special. It came out in a flow after that, your body opens up, you get confident and things fall in place.”
Even before he could soak in the joy, he produced a cracker of a delivery to send back the in-form Glenn Maxwell. The Australian misread the length and the ball turned sharply. The bat didn’t even come close to the ball as it crashed into the off-stump. Two wickets in two balls, PBKS were in charge and Brar was leading their charge with a double-wicket maiden.
It only got better when he dismissed AB de Villiers off the first ball of his fourth over. The South African tried to clear the infield but didn’t get enough elevation and KL Rahul held on to the chance.
Brar finished with bowling figures of 4-1-19-3 and in addition to his 25 (which included a six off the final ball of the innings), he also took a catch.
In the post-game chat, when Rahul was asked by Harsha Bhogle where they had been hiding Brar, the PBKS skipper had replied with a grin: “We were preparing Brar.”
Rahul added: “On a pitch like this, we felt like we needed a finger spinner who could hit hard lengths. He did exactly that and batted really well in the end as well.”
Whether Brar goes from strength to strength from this point on or not, he’ll know he has put his best foot forward when it mattered. A performance like this will inspire even more faith from the team management and they will look at him not just as filler, but as a serious option now.
Moga is known as the place that Harmanpreet Kaur and Sonu Sood hail from but perhaps in the future, it will also be known as Brar’s hometown. As he has shown, sometimes you just need to keep hanging in there until someone extends a helping hand.