‘Ab ki baar, Deepak Chahar !’ The social media was abuzz with such posts every time the Chennai Super Kings pacer took a wicket in this edition of the Indian Premier League. After all, he was leading the pace attack for the star-studded side, which emerged champion.
The Rajasthan youngster scalped 10 wickets in the season and also presented a snippet of his batting skills — smashing a 20-ball 39 coming at number six — against Kings XI Punjab.
With CSK skipper, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, backing him to the hilt, Chahar emerged as one of the brightest spots of the cash-rich league.
In a free-wheeling chat with Sportstar on Tuesday, the 25-year-old thanked Dhoni for all the support.
From being a promising young bowler to Chennai Super Kings’ strike bowler for the season. How would you rate your IPL season?
There was responsibility and my captain had faith in me. Before the auctions, he had indicated that he would pick me for this IPL. Now, everyone in the team tell me that Dhoni bhaiya had suggested my name to the team management at the first go. He had apparently told them, ‘ isse sabse pehle lena hai’. He had full confidence in me. I have also been working on my game for the last few years and I needed a platform to prove my talent. He gave me that platform and used me perfectly.
What do you think makes Dhoni different from other captains?
He grooms the players. He used me more with the new ball. I had even asked him the reason behind not using me in the death overs, and he said that one should improve slowly. That’s something he practiced on the field as well. Initially, he would ask me to bowl a couple of overs, slowly he gave me a few more overs. Then in the last few matches, I was introduced in the 12th or the 13th over. He has a huge knowledge of how to use a particular player. That’s the reason he is such a great captain. He knows how to get the best out of a player, and that helped me. I doubt whether it would have been this easy had there been some other captain.
Earning the captain’s trust is a great boost...
When you know your captain trusts you, you also make it a point to deliver the goods. That takes off the pressure. You don’t feel, ‘ Arrey , what will happen if I don’t do well. I could be out of the team if I don’t perform in one game’. He helped me improve my batting as well. In every interview, he has spoken highly of my batting. When someone as big as him praises you, it feels really good.
At Rising Pune Supergiant, you had spent time with Dhoni and Stephen Fleming. Did that help at CSK?
When I was with the Pune side in 2016, I pulled up a hamstring injury in the practice game and could not feature in the first seven to eight matches. By the time I recovered, the team was set. I could only play the last three games. Last year, Steven Smith was the captain, and I played the first match. In Pune, they picked me as a batting all-rounder, but Smith wanted to play Daniel Christian. They also had Ben Stokes in the ranks. Faf (du Plessis) and I were not playing. Now when I look back, I feel had Dhoni been the captain last year, I would have certainly played all the matches ( laughs ).
People who know you closely agree that you are quite prone to injuries. This time, when you picked up an injury in middle of the IPL, how tough was it to stage a comeback?
It was difficult. But in the last few years, I have had too many injuries, so I know how to comeback. Earlier, the injury woes would upset me, but now I know how to deal with it. The mind works differently in those times. When I get injured, I obviously think, what is next and when would I come back. Interestingly, this time when I picked up the injury, I told the physio that it would take two weeks to recover. Next day, when I went for the MRI, it was revealed that it would indeed take two weeks to recover ( laughs). So, I exactly know how to bounce back.
What are the changes that you made to your bowling after returning from injury?
Before the injury, I was bowling at 140-plus kmph. When I returned, I relied more on swing because I knew that it would not be possible to bowl at high speeds. A hamstring injury takes time to heal completely. Before injury, I could find my old rhythm. But later, I realised that I had to swing the ball to survive. During PowerPlay, you just can’t depend entirely on your speed. Luckily, it worked for me. When I came back, I could get more swing with a little lesser pace.
Initially when CSK was set to play in Chennai, the team had stacked more number of spinners. But when matches shifted to Pune, the focus was on pacers. Did the shift help you?
From the fans’ perspective, shifting games out of Chennai was disappointing. But as a player, I was lucky that the matches were shifted to Pune. The wicket is a good for batting, but at the same time, you could get good bounce. There was a bit of grass on the surface, and that helped me. We played one match in Chennai and that was a 200-plus match. The wicket looked a bit flat. Pune was a good venue for the team, where we just lost one match.
Technically, this was your first season as the pace spearhead. What have you learnt from this stint?
In such a short time, you don’t really learn much in terms of skills. But I learnt how to deliver a knuckleball. I had only bowled once in the nets and then tried using it in the final, and also got a wicket. I had tried it earlier (around 2010-11) with my old action. It was easy to bowl that delivery. But now, with a revised action, I can’t tweak much. So, I experimented once in the nets and delivered the same in the match. So, delivering a knuckleball is something I have learnt from this season.
How about handling pressure?
That is the main thing that one learns from the IPL. Earlier, when a domestic player would be fielded for the country right away, he would be under a bit of pressure. A lot goes on in the mind. That’s where IPL has benefitted Indian cricket. After the IPL, when the boys graduate to the international level, the pressure is gone because they have already played against most of the foreign players. Last year, while playing for Rising Pune Supergiant, I hit a couple of sixes off Pat Cummins, who was playing for Delhi Daredevils then. Those deliveries were around 150kmph, but even then, I hit one six through the covers and one through mid-wicket. I faced only five balls. But after that, whenever I faced other bowlers — even faster ones — I found the deliveries quite slow. Mentally, I had grown stronger. When you can play someone who is one of Australia’s best fast bowlers, at ease, you tend to get that confidence. Similarly, with bowling, the confidence comes automatically if I can dismiss these players in the IPL.
In IPL, scenarios change every now and then. As a bowler, how did you plan the moves?
For a bowler, the most challenging thing is to bowl the three overs in the PowerPlays. In the first over, the batsmen want to play it safe and don’t intend to go for big shots. But the later overs in PowerPlay are tough. You need to maintain your performance, read the batsman’s mind and also try out variation — so there are chances of things getting messy. But if you do well there, the confidence boosts up. You feel, ‘If I didn’t concede runs in PowerPlays, then I won’t give away runs in the other fours either.’ I tell everyone that it’s all about the confidence. Skill wise, a first-class player is good enough to play for the country. But the mental part and the self confidence make the difference.
Despite doing well against the right-hand batsmen, you have struggled against the left-hand batsmen. Do you think this is one area where you need to work on?
Yes. For left-handers, it is difficult to hit an away-going ball. But in domestic cricket, you mostly end up bowling to right-hand batsmen. For left-handers batsmen, I need to work hard. My in swing is not accurate. I am good with outswing, and if I need to dismiss a right-hander, I can keep six deliveries in the same area, but that’s not the case with in swing. I need to better the away-going deliveries.
You will be travelling to England with the India A team next month. How are you preparing for that?
I have to focus on my fitness. The performances have been good and the confidence is also high, but now, I need to ensure that I improve my fitness. I reached home (in Agra) today and will start training from tomorrow. There is time for England, but we have fitness tests before that (on June 6). Body needs only one or two days of rest and you have to start training after that in a bid to get ready. You need to work in the gym and train hard. For the last five months, we have only been concentrating on bowling four overs, but now in England, you need to bowl 10 overs in one-dayers. So, the stamina is important. There is time and I will first start training for 10 days and then slowly start bowling at the nets. There will be quite a few training sessions before the matches begin, so I will work on my bowling then. At the moment, my only target is to work on my fitness.
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