Strike bowlers of the first order

Pankaj (left) and Chahar... terrific in tandem.-Pankaj (left) and Chahar... terrific in tandem.

Deepak Chahar would have been as thrilled as a school-boy when Rajasthan captain Hrishikesh Kanitkar asked him to share the new ball with Pankaj Singh on his Ranji Trophy debut against Hyderabad at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium, Jaipur on November 1, 2010. Fast bowlers always like to bowl on a fresh wicket on the first morning of a match. Put into action, Chahar, born in Agra and 18 years old, was in full cry, slaughtering batsmen mercilessly.

He sent down 45 balls and packed off eight batsmen for a paltry 10 runs. His senior partner, Pankaj, took the remaining two wickets. Not a batsman in the Hyderabad line-up reached double-digit score, opener Produturi Akshath Reddy was the highest with 6. Since that eventful day, Chahar has been the cynosure and IPL team Rajasthan Royals has already grabbed him.

Two and a half months afterwards, after winning the Ranji Trophy, Chahar would have felt the same way as he had done on the first day of the campaign. He would have been equally proud about his weighty collection of 40 wickets in nine matches and the significance of Rajasthan winning the Ranji Trophy for the first time in 77 years of the competition, at the Moti Bagh Laxmi Vilas Palace ground, Baroda.

Chahar and Pankaj Singh, playing his seventh first class season, complemented each other with Pankaj taking 43 wickets to bring the twosome's tally to a handsome 83. They had imposed themselves upon virtually all opposition.

After doing his duty for the photo albums, Chahar, a little coy, expressed a desire not only to play for India, but play for a long time. He did not set a time-frame by which he would be ready for an India cap, but national selectors Surendra Bhave and Narendra Hirwani would have been impressed watching him bowl 34 overs and take seven wickets on a peculiar Baroda wicket, not the kind fast and seam bowlers would really approve of.

Just like Karnataka's Abhimanyu Mithun, a new ball operator who took 52 wickets last season and went on to play for India, Chahar has always been in the limelight this season. He has made the batsmen search with his ability to move the ball both ways at speeds varying between 123 and 130 kmph.

He took four for 79 in the first innings of the final against Baroda, but seemed to be at his best (3 for 15) on the fifth afternoon when he sent down seven overs. “We were enjoying ourselves. The match was all but over. I have realised that a good batsman will find ways to play the ball that bends into him, and that I need to bowl a good outswinger to get him out. I have picked Pankaj Singh's brains and also taken counsel from the senior players in the team,'' said Chahar.

Pankaj said Chahar has proved that his 8 for 10 against Hyderabad was not a fluke. “He's improved in the course of the season and taken wickets consistently. We talk to each other on the nature of the pitch, conditions, the batsmen and all aspects of bowling.''

Having played in the Plate and Super League, Pankaj Singh said: “There's not much difference. We played against teams like Maharashtra, Hyderabad and Madhya Pradesh. I think I would consider the six-wicket haul against Mumbai as the best taking into account the quality of the wicket at Jaipur and the quality of players in the Mumbai side. At the end of day I have to be satisfied with what I am doing. I have to judge myself.''

Kanitkar had the luxury of having two bowlers equipped with the ability to vary the pace and dig in short balls. For whatever he did, Chahar did not get favourable reports from Greg Chappell, when the Australian was in charge of the RCA academy at Jaipur. “He (Chappell) said I would not be fit enough to succeed at higher levels. I was in the under-19 camp, but was kept out. I will always regard my father as my coach and mentor,''said Chahar.

Pankaj and Chahar have proved to be a formidable new ball pair. Their teammates as well as rivals will vouch for it.

G. Vishwanath