Chahal: From kings and queens to slips and short legs!

Leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal — a regular bowler for India in limited-over cricket today — throws light on a season that helped him grow as a cricketer, the two-over spell against New Zealand in the rain-curtailed eight-over T20I recently, chess and more.

Published : Dec 08, 2017 16:05 IST

 Yuzvendra Chahal has made a mark as a leg-spinner in limited-over cricket. He is now in the Indian team after a period of apprenticeship with Royal Challengers Bangalore.
Yuzvendra Chahal has made a mark as a leg-spinner in limited-over cricket. He is now in the Indian team after a period of apprenticeship with Royal Challengers Bangalore.

Yuzvendra Chahal has made a mark as a leg-spinner in limited-over cricket. He is now in the Indian team after a period of apprenticeship with Royal Challengers Bangalore.

If the pieces on a chessboard could transform into real-life characters, Yuzvendra Chahal would be that pawn-turned-knight under construction. The India leg-spinner’s career as a sportsman started with chess. Though his journey began black and white, he eventually earned a colourful palette, smudged with red (Royal Challengers Bangalore) leading to blue — for Team India.

The IPL threw its rope to pull him up the rocks. An India call-up was imminent. The cap landed on his head in 2016. Patience and consistency cemented his place. Now he is on the verge of stitching a new spin bowling partnership with Kuldeep Yadav; perhaps the next generation of Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja.

Chahal’s performances — call it the record-breaking 6/25 against England or the run-choking 0/8 (2.0) in the rain-curtailed eight-over game against New Zealand earlier this month — confirmed his variations.

The 27-year-old Chahal took a few minutes out of his daily training session at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bengaluru to discuss the season that went by. Excerpts from the interview:

Question: What does one learn by playing for India on a regular basis? These days, holding on to the spot is a tough job.

Answer: The limited-over season gave me a lot of confidence. The matches that I played offered different situations and the idea was to plan and act accordingly. It taught me to handle pressure. You have similar situations in the IPL but the whole game changes when you are wearing the India jersey. After the Sri Lanka tour, Australia and New Zealand series, I feel I can bowl on any surface.

How challenging was it to restrict the New Zealand batsmen in that eight-over T20I? The target, 68, looked easy.

The idea was to get dot balls. I was getting turn, so I had chosen not to flight, which increases the risk of being hit for a six. But there is also a 50 per cent chance of getting a wicket. My mind kept telling me to mix deliveries and bowl outside the off stump. I knew wickets weren’t as important as runs. I knew if I didn’t get a wicket, somebody else would.

Would you have thought similarly had you not played so many matches? How important is it to stick to a combination?

It is important to get games. You mature as you play. I have been playing in the IPL for four years, but the idea of T20I and ODI is different. There is less chance of a comeback in a T20I match as you only have four overs to impress. In ODI cricket, you have six more.

Did you discover any stock ball this season?

I have been trying a lot of top spin. Mahi bhai’s (M.S. Dhoni) 100th stumping, that came off my bowling against Sri Lanka, was one such stock delivery. If the batsman is a left-hander, I bowl googlies. In case of right-handers, I mix the googly with a flipper.

How is your equation with Kuldeep?

Just not him, I have a great bonding with Axar (Patel) too. We keep discussing line and length, the areas to bowl at, mistakes made in the last match and how not to repeat them.

Chahal enjoys a good rapport with his fellow-spinners in the Indian team, Kuldeep Yadav and Axar Patel.

Do you realise you all could be in the next World Cup squad? The comparisons with Ashwin and Jadeja are already doing the rounds…

There is no pressure. Ashwin is still doing a lot for India. He has been playing for seven years, whereas we have barely played two or three series. We aren’t in his position at all. Our duty is to keep performing. On the ground, there is a lot of support from Rohit bhaiyya (Sharma), Mahi bhai and Virat (Kohli).

How, when and why did the transition happen from chess to cricket?

I liked playing both but I was more inclined to cricket. I have been the India national junior champion (U-12) in chess. I also went on to represent India in the World Cup in 2003 in Greece. I quit chess once I returned. But if there is a good chess tournament happening, I try to attend. It is always good to meet old friends.

Who were your inspirations back then?

Viswanathan Anand was a huge inspiration and then, there was Abhijeet Gupta. Chess makes you patient.

Who among the Indian cricketers are good at chess?

In the Indian cricket team, I usually play with our trainer, Shankar Basu.

Do you indulge in calculations, field placements when off the field? How busy is your brain when watching the game from the pavilion?

It starts in my mind when the team is batting first. Once you see the wicket, the planning part becomes easier. You can construct your field positions.

What’s more important to get into the Indian team? A fair experience of domestic cricket or the IPL?

The IPL is like international cricket. You are playing with international cricketers. It makes you big-match ready with filled stands. A packed stadium experience early in the career helps.

What’s next? Are you doing anything special for the South Africa tour?

South Africa is very far, first I have to prepare for the Sri Lanka one-dayers.

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