World Cup: Yuzvendra Chahal, from 64 squares to 22 yards

The first cricketer from Jind to play for the country, Chahal is aware of the impact of his rise in his hometown.

Tales of success: Happy faces after Yuzvendra Chahal had bagged six for 25 against England in a T20I in Bengaluru in February 2017. Virat Kohli and Ashish Nehra are associated with Chahal in the IPL franchise Royal Challengers Bengaluru, too, where the leg spinner is doing really well (facing page).   -  REUTERS

Like a seasoned chess player, planning and execution come naturally to Yuzvendra Chahal. This 29-year-old leg-spinner is getting increasingly better at his craft. In the coming World Cup in England, this debutant could well prove to be a deadly weapon in the arsenal of Virat Kohli-led India.

As Kohli says, “I always back someone like Chahal. He never says no to bowling with the new ball or bowling in the middle overs, so I mean, having a guy like this is great. He doesn’t say no to any situation.”

Once you sit down with Chahal, it doesn’t take long to discover that he can reel off statistics and incidents in a flash. Indeed, he is blessed with amazing memory and recall.

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Sports switch

Sport switch: Chahal in his junior days when he was wedded to chess. After representing India in the World Youth Chess Championship in Greece in 2003, he quit the sport and started concentrating on cricket.   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

 

These qualities should not surprise those aware of Chahal’s background. Son of an advocate, Chahal took up serious cricket after grabbing a fair share of success in chess until he was 13. Hailing from Jind, in Haryana, Chahal took up the cerebral sport at the age of seven, in 1997, and went on to win the district and state age-group titles before claiming the 2002 National under-11 title in Kolkata.

Chahal proved his mettle in the senior ranks, too, by making the Haryana team for the National ‘B’ championship. He represented India in the 2003 World Youth Championship in Halkidiki, Greece and ended the year with an international rating of 1956 but gave up competitive chess to concentrate on cricket.

“Until then, I could strike a balance between the two since under-14 cricket was restricted to October,” explains Chahal about his decision. “My father, who taught me chess, wanted to see me represent India. Once that was done, I went to my dad in December 2003 following the age-group Nationals in Ahmedabad and told him I was ready to be a cricketer.”

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A batter too

Looking back, Chahal reveals, “In 2009, my last season in under-19, I was the country’s highest wicket-taker besides scoring 300 runs, including 135 against Himachal Pradesh.” In fact, over two seasons, Chahal took 64 wickets and scored 600 runs.”

Elaborating on his little-known match-winning century, Chahal recalls, “We (Haryana) were 90 for seven. Kapil Dhaka and I had a long partnership and Haryana eventually won by an innings and about 15-20 runs in Bangalore.”

Chahal’s love-affair with Bangalore’s Chinnaswamy Stadium continued when he took 13 wickets against Mumbai.

“This helped me gain a call up for the Mumbai Indians trials where Sachin (Tendulkar) Sir saw me bowl and said, “Abhi Thoda Chota hai… Abhi hum isse dekhte rahenge (He is still too young… but we’ll keep an eye on him.)”

Thereafter, Chahal played for Air India for one year. In January 2011, in the D. Y. Patil tournament (in Navi Mumbai), Air India lost to ONGC in the semifinal. The leg-spinner had played pretty well and he was soon in for a surprise.

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Joining Mumbai Indians

“T. A. Sekhar Sir showed interest in me. When we reached the airport, our Air India manager received a call from Mr. Sekhar that Mumbai Indians wanted to sign me. I straightaway proceeded to the Reliance factory and signed the papers. And that’s how my IPL journey started.”

Though Chahal did not get to play for MI that season in the IPL, he got a chance in the Champions League. “Again in Bangalore, against Trinidad and Tobago, we needed two runs off the last ball (bowled by Sherwin Ganga) and I got them. Later, in the final, when we defended 139 against Royal Challengers Bangalore (in Chennai) I had figures of 3-0-9-2,” recalls Chahal.

He eventually made his IPL debut in 2013 against host Kolkata Knight Riders when Rohit Sharma captained MI for the first time. “But once I returned to Mumbai, I fractured the ring-finger of my left hand during practice and I was out for three months following a surgery.

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Transfer to RCB

“In the 2014 auction, RCB opted for me. In the first match at Sharjah against Delhi Daredevils, I was Man of the Match," says Chahal.   -  PTI

 

“In the 2014 auction, RCB opted for me. In the first match at Sharjah against Delhi Daredevils, I was Man of the Match. That season, I took 12 wickets with an economy of around seven runs per over. In 2015, I was the third highest wicket-taker with 23 wickets. The following year, when we lost the final to Sunrisers Hyderabad, I was the second highest wicket-taker, with 22 wickets.”

Chahal’s performances earned him a call for India’s tour to Zimbabwe. “I was the Man of the Match in my second outing. In the ODIs, I was named the “Emerging Player of the Tournament.” Once I returned, I was out of the Indian team.”

What followed, in 2016, was the grind of domestic cricket with Chahal playing Ranji Trophy and finishing with 34 wickets from six matches.

“Then I received a call for the T20 series against England (at home) and my best performance (6 for 25) in Bangalore helped India win the series. Thereafter, I was a part of the India ‘A’ team until I was selected, in September 2017, to tour Sri Lanka. Since then, God has been kind to me,” says Chahal.

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Consulting seniors

Coached by the New Delhi-based Randhir Singh, Chahal constantly stays in touch with former cricketers like Haryana’s left-arm spinner Rajinder Goel and Indore-based leg-spinner Narendra Hirwani.

“When I decided to leave chess and concentrate on cricket, there was surely a sign from God. I always felt I was destined to play this sport and do well. Even when I was a part of the Haryana squad and was not getting to play in Ranji Trophy, with Amit Mishra and Jayant Yadav around, I always enjoyed bowling in the nets. I felt I would do well in cricket. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else in any other field.”

The first cricketer from Jind to play for the country, Chahal is obviously loved in his home town. Though he had stayed in Delhi for nine years before moving to Gurugram, Chahal is aware of the impact of his rise in Jind.

“The love and affection of the people of Jind is very humbling. I can see that they feel proud of my achievements. In fact, in an Academy, the number of trainees has risen from 30-40 to about 100 after I started playing for India. Since I don’t get to go to Jind very often, I request my parents to join me in Gurugram. That allows us to spend more time together.”

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Doing a duty

When in Jind, Chahal makes it a point to visit the trainees during their practice sessions. “I know how it feels to be with one’s idol. You get positive vibes. Even if I am able to inspire even one trainee to move to the next level, I’ll be very satisfied.”

But who are the players who have influenced or inspired Chahal? “Virat(Kohli) Bhaiya, Rohit (Sharma) Bhaiya, Shikhar (Dhawan) Bhaiya, among others, have inspired and encouraged me all along. They’ve believed in me. They keep saying, “Yuzi, you have it in you to serve the country for long. In the past two years, Ashish (Nehra) Bhaiya has also supported me a lot. Our Video Analyst (of Haryana and RCB) Sandeep Raj Bhaiya was one instrumental in my joining RCB.”

As Nehra observes, “Yuzi is a very bright kid, no doubt. Even in his cricket, you can see his chess side. Sharp brain, no body, he is all about will and ‘dil’ (heart). Playing for RCB at Chinnaswamy, small ground, flat wicket that offers plenty of runs, he has still picked 100 wickets in IPL. There are so many wrist-spinners bowling well these days. Going forward, I really wish that he works on his fitness, and his fielding, so he can play Tests for India for long. He is only 29. I retired at 39 as a fast bowler with so many injuries. So, he has a good 7-8 years in hand. In a team game, you need characters like him. Even in the RCB dressing room, if Yuzi is not around, it feels a little dead.”

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A good cricket thinker

Sandeep says, “What struck me about Chahal, was that he was one of those who understood the game very well. We would discus the game and he always had plans, wondered what was going to happen and had the ability to understand the batsman, field placings etc. When Amit (Mishra) got injured and Chahal got his chances, even on those wickets in Lahli (near Rohtak), he showed everyone glimpses of how special he is.

“When Chahal was released by Mumbai Indians and we, at RCB, were building a new team. I was there at the auctions and I told Mr. (Vijay) Mallya that the ₹10 lakh investment was worth it.

“Chahal enjoys the game because he understands that cricket is not a game that everyone gets to play. He is thankful to God since he moved from one sport to another. Cricket is his passion. He is a very enthusiastic and jovial character. All of us at RCB just love him.”

A special person

Dhoni holds a special place in Chahal’s growth. “I got my India cap from Mahi Bhai. What helps me a great deal is that, by the time I come to bowl the ninth or the 10th over, Mahi Bhai is ready with his reading of the pitch and the batsmen. He suggests where to pitch the ball for a particular batsman.

“Therefore, as a bowler, I feel very happy that I know about the pitch even before bowling my first delivery. In addition, the adjustments that he makes to the field placements prove extremely fruitful. As a result, I stay focussed on what and how I have to bowl. In short, Mahi Bhai makes a bowler’s job easier by at least 50 per cent.

“Even when I have played under Virat Bhaiya and Rohit Bhaiya, they have asked me what kind of a field I had in mind. Thereafter, they suggested changes, if any.”

Recalling a tough day on the field, Chahal said, “At Centurion, when I was hit for 64 runs off my four overs, I was feeling very low. Several senior players told me it was okay. Mahi Bhai said, “These things happen in cricket. You can’t take five wickets in every match.” Rohit Bhai said, “forget this match and focus on the next one.” This kind of backing really helps a bowler.”

Parents’ fervent wish

A solid backing: Chahal’s mother and father have been pillars of strength and are expecting their son to do well in the 2019 World Cup.   -  MANOJ KUMAR

 

Back home, Chahal’s parents are excited with the World Cup round the corner. “I want him to play his part in India’s Cup-winning campaign,” says his father and quickly adds, “I want to experience those overwhelming emotions…”

Chahal’s mother is eternally grateful to God and the blessings of his well-wishers. “I want to hold a big party when my son returns with the Cup.”

In Chahal’s words, “I am very excited ahead of my first World Cup. The expectations of our people are huge. They expect me to continue my good work of the past two years in the World Cup too and help India win matches. For me, this is like the main exam that comes once in four years. Your performances in the World Cup are remembered and recalled more. So I am eagerly looking forward to wearing India colours and perform well for the team.

“Since I have played in England, I have a fair idea as to how to bowl in those conditions. At this time of the year, the pitches are likely to offer some bounce as well. So, I think, spinners will play a very important role in this World Cup. Compared to finger spinners, we wrist-spinners have 3-4 varieties. As a result, we can keep the batsmen guessing.” Indeed, armed with the confidence in his craft and the conviction of captain Kohli, Chahal is up for the challenge.

SIDELIGHTS

Name: Yuzvendra Chahal

Age: 29

From: Jind, Haryana

What do friends and family call him: Sunny, Yuzi

Favourite Food: Home cooked

First school: DAV School, Jind.

First coach: Randhir Singh

QUOTE:

Everyone aspires to do well. But there is nothing quite like watching your child receive blessings/appreciation from those he respects. It makes us feel proud when Yuzi gets the blessings of not only his elders or those from Jind, but also from the entire country.

— K. K. Chahal, father of Yuzvendra Chahal.

YUZVENDRA CHAHAL STATS

ODIs: 41. Runs: 34. Best bowling: 6-42. T20Is: 31. Runs: 4. Best bowling: 6-25.