Harshal Patel produced a grand opening act in IPL 2021. A five-wicket haul in the April 9 season opener for Royal Challengers Bangalore against defending champions Mumbai Indians meant he got the cricket world’s attention. Though the campaign was halted midway due to the Covid-19 crisis, Patel now has a great chance to build on his new-found fame.
Yet, making a splash at the glitzy tournament was the last thing on Patel’s mind in the build-up. Two months before the IPL season, the world went upside down for the 30-year-old. A Grade 3 ankle ligament tear and several other complications meant playing cricket was out of the question.
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“The only thing he could do was walk properly. You could see the swelling in his ankle even from 10 metres when he came to us on February 8,” Dhananjay Kaushik, head physiotherapist at the Inspire Institute of Sports in Vijayanagar, Karnataka who oversaw his rehabilitation, said over a video call.
During a fielding drill with his state team Haryana ahead of the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 Trophy in January, Patel rolled his ankle after landing on the boundary rope. It put him out of the tournament and chances of competing in IPL also looked bleak.
Intense rehabilitation for 21 days followed, packing in more than 60 sessions. The hard work paid off as Patel recovered and regained match fitness. He ended with 17 wickets in seven IPL games to top the bowling charts before the season was halted after coronavirus cases within its bio-bubble.
“He is currently in the United States with his family,” Kaushik said. “We chat a lot. He is doing 5km runs there; BCCI now has a new 2km time trial (inside of the yo-yo fitness test). I am confident that purely on fitness he is right up there to make it to the squad.”
Before Patel could put his hand up for a possible India slot after a stellar IPL, he had to undergo a rigorous schedule.
“He always used to ask if he could play IPL. He was a bit apprehensive. We gave him the belief that with right rehabilitation it was possible,” Kaushik said, explaining the injury, and breaking it down.
“The problem was Patel had a Grade-3 anterior talofibular (ATF) ligament tear,” he said, referring to one of the three ligaments that bind the ankle. “There was also an issue with his deltoid ligament and muscle; also, in that ankle area, there was lot of bony oedema (fluid retention) as well,” Kaushik said.
“Grade 1 and 2 tear in the ankle is common, but Grade 3 is a serious matter. More often than not athletes end up on the operation table. Most of the time, it takes four to six weeks to recover fully.”
But time was not Patel’s ally with IPL fast approaching and a RCB camp scheduled in early March. It meant the all-rounder had to put in extra effort. It was a mix of innovation and determination.
“We had to think out of the box and hence his rehabilitation was intensive. That he has made a recovery from a Grade 3 tear in just three weeks is a testimony to his hard work,” said Kaushik, who has also worked with spinner Amit Mishra, boxer Nikhat Zareen and javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra at the JSW-owned facility.
Kaushik said Patel contributed to his speedy recovery. “Firstly, Patel’s pre-rehabilitation status was really good. I have rarely seen a sportsperson who is so well aware of his body and learned about rehab. First, I video consulted him as I was in Pennsylvania in January. When I joined him at the IIS facility, it was already three weeks since he had suffered the injury, but still there was swelling.”
Kaushik and the team of experts ensured that Patel was never out of touch with cricket, even it meant mimicking bowling action in an indoor-track at the IIS facility.
“First, we evaluated the range of motions he was capable of, his swelling, what all he could do. I made him do something which is very much related to cricket. If you keep the athlete away from what they are used to doing, it takes a toll on the mind.
“Initially, we did a little bit of weight bearing exercises while ensuring the mobility of the ankle is kept in check. We strapped his ankle and still made him do a few of the things. Basically, you give the athlete simulation from different angles to check whether his balance is intact or not.”
The progress was gradual and the load on his ankle was increased in a consistent way. “By the time he was ready to bowl again, we did not want him to think he has been de-conditioned to play. So, we maintained the load on the ankle throughout and increased it gradually. We monitored it closely so that there is no damage. We video analysed him before, during and after the exercises. There would be swelling after some sessions and then we would improvise that way.
“We used to do two to three sessions a day. In the morning we did conditioning, in the evening strength exercises and in the middle balance drill.”
After two weeks of rehabilitation, the swelling was gone and Patel was ready to bowl on a proper pitch. That he was about to play T20 cricket gave Kaushik the confidence that Patel’s body could bear the rigours of playing a competitive sport.
“Initially we made him bowl with a tapered down action. Two weeks after he started his rehabilitation, we made him bowl on the ground. We calculated that even counting no balls and extra balls, he would not have to bowl more than 26-28 deliveries in a match. So, before giving him the fitness certificate, I made him bowl 10 overs in two spells. It would be divided 6-4 with a five minute gap.
“In a match situation, there is extra pressure which leads to stress. So, we made him bat for 45 minutes as well. We made him do that 3-4 days consecutively. There was no swelling or discomfort and we realised he was ready to take the match load.”
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