Chetan Sakariya — striving to be more than just a feel-good story 

Sakariya is aware there will be more hurdles to clear and setbacks to overcome in the near future. But he strives to bring an uncomplicated, honest approach to his game.

Published : Feb 16, 2022 17:48 IST , Ahmedabad

Chetan Sakariya, who previously featured for Rajasthan Royals, was among the success stories of IPL 2020.
Chetan Sakariya, who previously featured for Rajasthan Royals, was among the success stories of IPL 2020.

Chetan Sakariya, who previously featured for Rajasthan Royals, was among the success stories of IPL 2020.

At 23, Saurashtra left-arm pacer Chetan Sakariya has endured personal loss, beaten hopeless odds and achieved, what in his words seemed "unimaginable" at one point. Sakariya, one of the stories of Indian Premier League (IPL) 2020, joined Gujarat Titans at the mega auction for Rs 4.2 crore, marking the latest chapter in the growth of a fledgling career. But Sakariya now wants to be more than just a feel-good story of Indian cricket. 

"Shuruat achhi hui hai, rukna nahi hai bas [Have begun well, want to keep going]," he told Sportstar  a few days ahead of the Ranji Trophy clash against Mumbai in Ahmedabad. 

"We are all very excited to play red-ball cricket after a long time. It's a great opportunity to gauge our skills."

During the 2018-19 season, Sakariya was picked for the Syed Mushtaq Trophy but didn't get a place in the playing XI. He then made his List A debut in the Vijay Hazare Trophy but played just one game. However, the big break came when his pace bowling partner, Jaydev Unadkat, had an injury. Sakariya got a call-up for the Ranji match against Gujarat and took a five-for on debut, eventually ending the season with 29 wickets from eight matches. Unadkat has followed Sakariya's career closely and the latter holds him in high regard. 

"JD (Unadkat) bhai is a legend. For me, he's the best domestic red-ball bowler at the moment. He will get you wickets in any condition and against any opposition.

"Before this Ranji Trophy, we spoke about how to bowl wicket-taking deliveries and how fast bowlers can outsmart batters if they trust their variations and take their time plotting their moves. Also understanding when to apply that skill set or what to bowl in a particular situation, on a particular pitch."

Sakariya made his international debut last year against Sri Lanka. Photo: REUTERS

Sakariya is at once secure about his craft and sensitive; opinionated yet modest enough. The lack of domestic red-ball cricket and surplus of limited-overs games, including IPL, has robbed him of the chance to explore and expand his skill set in the longer format. "I haven't had time to polish my red-ball skills, to be honest," he said. 

"Even during Covid, I played a lot of cricket but it was mainly white-ball. Increasing workload meant more stress on the body. So, ahead of Ranji Trophy, I spent 20 days in Chennai with my personal trainer and through a combination of running and strength work, tried to up my fitness levels for days cricket."

Sakariya expects his role-clarity in white-ball cricket to embellish his red-ball game. "I'm someone who can bowl in the PowerPlays, middle overs as well as at the death. That kind of flexibility and knowing what is expected of me has helped me better my limited-overs  game; that is something I'll try and feed off in red-ball games as well. The conditions and the wicket will play their part too."

Sakariya tries to pick the best from each bowler, especially left-armers. He wants to imbibe Australia fast bowler Mitchell Starc's ability to swing the ball at a rapid pace. "I am nowhere near cranking up my pace like Starc," he says with a smile. "But I'm definitely working on it. Then there was Zaheer Khan sir, who set the batter up. That sense of anticipation that accompanied Zaheer sir with the old ball is something I loved about his game."

Among the batters he has bowled to in domestic cricket, Sakariya found former India international Wasim Jaffer most difficult to dislodge. Wasim sir has troubled me a lot (laughs)," he says. "He plays the flick really well. And my strength is the one that comes back in, so he ended up milking my good balls for runs and made me look clueless."

But he immediately recalls how he got the better of India's current Test No. 3 Cheteshwar Pujara in the nets. "Puji bhai did four to five sessions with us before Ranji Trophy, from batting in the nets to playing a practice match. I bowled to him in the nets and even got him out once (smiles). I ran in, bowled an inswinger, and Pujara bhai was clean bowled trying to play the drive. That gave me a big confidence boost.

"He was not happy with himself. That tells you a lot about a player. An international star like him wants to avoid making mistakes even in the nets. But once he cooled down a little, he walked up to me and said, "well bowled". 

"He is spearheading the batting department and helping us youngsters understand how to switch on and off before a tournament on such short notice."

Sakariya during the 2018 Ranji Trophy season. Photo: Vivek Bendre

This year's Ranji Trophy will be played in two phases, split by the IPL. Sakariya credits the IPL for his growth as a "smart" bowler. "When the IPL began [in 2008], the game was tilted in batter's favour. I feel bowlers back then didn't bowl so many variations in T20s... maybe someone like a Sohail Tanvir [Pakistan pacer] did… 

"But as the format evolved, so did the bowlers and the types of balls they bowled. Now, there's a knuckleball, cutter and a back-of-the hand slower ball, which Mohit Sharma used to great effect in one IPL season. So, I observed them closely and kept adding the appropriate balls to my armoury. Earlier, I only bowled the inswinger and the bouncer."


As the chat winds to a close, Sakariya recalls what fast bowling great Glenn McGrath told him at the MRF Pace Academy back in the day. "Glenn sir belongs to an era when he and his team dominated world cricket for a long time. His durability as a fast bowler was also quite amazing. He also shared his experience with us, told us how he used to work on his fitness... he troubled Sachin (Tendulkar) sir a lot, he told us how he used to try and set Sachin sir up by landing the ball in one spot and cutting out easy runs."

Sakariya is aware there will be more hurdles to clear and setbacks to overcome in the near future. But he strives to bring an uncomplicated, honest approach to his game. And to Indian cricket, he brings hope, that with talents like him, the reputation of the country's pace bowling reserves will grow and grow as the years pass. 

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