Piyush Chawla: Feels nice to be competitive for so long

In the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy Twenty20 tie on Thursday, the leg-spinner became one of the very few active bowlers in Indian cricket to have had a combined tally of 800 wickets across First-Class, List A and Twenty20 cricket.

Piyush Chawla bowls in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Twenty20 tourney.   -  Vijay Soneji

When Piyush Chawla dismissed Baroda’s Urvil Patel in his first over of Gujarat’s West Zone Twenty20 tie on Thursday, he became only the fourth Indian bowler to have picked 200 wickets in the shortest format of the game. When he dismissed Rishi Arothe off the next ball, the leg-spinner became one of the very few active bowlers in Indian cricket to have had a combined tally of 800 wickets across first-class, List A and Twenty20 cricket.

“A friend had called me two days ago to tell me I am on the verge of 800 wickets but didn't know about the 200 T20 wickets,” a leaner and fitter Chawla told Sportstar. “That I have been able to be competitive across formats for so long makes me feel nice.”

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It has indeed been long since a teenaged leggie, having already led the India Under-19 team, had foxed Sachin Tendulkar with his googly in the Challenger Trophy. It’s been long since he made his Test debut in 2006, participated in India's memorable World Twenty20 triumph in South Africa in 2007 and the 2011 World Cup on home soil. Ironically, much time has also lapsed since Chawla made his last appearance in an international, in a T20I against England in Mumbai in December 2012.

‘Restricted role’ for spinners

Since then, Chawla led Uttar Pradesh for a couple of seasons and in a quest to revive his career after an injury-marred 2016-17, switched to Gujarat as a professional at the start of the ongoing season. And he seems to have had a fruitful run; his tally of 32 wickets in Gujarat's Ranji campaign was his highest in the tournament for almost a decade.

“Those who judge players only by numbers would not know that playing in UP was difficult for a spinner. With the policy of producing pace-friendly pitches, it resulted in a spinner playing a restricted role, especially in conditions already conducive for pace bowling,” Chawla said. “Besides wickets, to be able to bowl long spells and adjusting to newer challenges is a satisfying factor this season.”

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One of the biggest challenges Chawla faced while reuniting with another former teenage sensation Parthiv Patel in the Gujarat set-up was to get acquainted with red-soiled pitches. “As a bowler, you can't bowl the same lengths on red soil that you would bowl on the strips with black soil, like the ones back home in UP,” Chawla said. “I had to bowl slightly fuller to not let batsmen cut. It took me a couple of games but with Parthiv's help managed to get players through.”

Towards the end of the Ranji campaign, Patel got an India call-up as the reserve wicket-keeper for the ongoing Test series in South Africa. That has re-fuelled Chawla's burning desire to get back into the India reckoning. In an age when wrist-spinners are more in demand – not just in the India dressing room but also on the limited overs' tournaments all over the globe – Chawla hopes his hard work will once again earn him the prized India jersey.

“I may have been around for 13 years but I am just 29 and I am at the fittest, so as long as I keep performing, I have every reason to believe that I can go back there and compete with the best in the world and against the best in the business,” he signed off.