Piyush Chawla was 19 when the Indian Premier League kicked off. Believe it or not, he is still only 34. He looks close to 40. His facial features are mostly the same. There is still no hint of facial hair. But there is this slight paunch that creates the false perception. You can easily put him in the same age bracket as Amit Mishra when he is actually over a month younger than Virat Kohli.
More than anything else, it is the fact that he featured in only eight IPL games in three seasons between 2020 and 2022. There was this palpable sense that his best years were behind him and soon, we would see him join the commentary panel or the coaching staff of any of the 10 teams in the league. In fact, he did commentate last year, leaving an impending sense of good-bye to his career on the field.
Matches during the season come thick and fast. And once you are overlooked for a couple of seasons, it is easy to slip into vague memories of the fans and even the franchises. Chawla went unsold in the 2022 IPL mega-auction.
On Tuesday evening (April 11), however, Chawla rolled back the years, taking us through the initial seasons of IPL that saw the leg-spinner become a force to reckon with.
Delhi Capitals had a reasonable start, scoring 51/1 in the powerplay when Chawla came into the attack. After an eight-run first over, the 34-year old struck in each of his remaining three overs which he bowled unchanged in a four-over spell.
Manish Pandey was lured into the flight and holed out at long-off but it was the upcoming two wickets that took us back to the late 2000s.
Delhi played into Chawla’s hands by promoting Rovman Powell. Since 2022, Powell has averaged 16.5 against leg-spin at a strike-rate of 115.1, both his lowest against a bowling type. The googly is his nemesis, now dismissing him seven times at 7.9 runs per wicket in this time frame.
Chawla now has 161 IPL wickets, 68 of which have come off googlies, constituting the highest proportion of wickets for him. When he was making his strides into the Indian team as a teenage wrist-spinner, Sunil Gavaskar used to call him a googly bowler who would deliver occasional leg-breaks. In fact, one of these googlies cleaned up Sachin Tendulkar in a domestic game in 2005 and shot him to fame.
No other bowler has picked as many IPL wickets as Chawla through googlies. Rashid Khan comes second with 59 scalps.
The Powell vs Chawla clash was a recipe for disaster and the veteran pounced on the opportunity, following a leg-spinner with a ripping googly, leaving the Caribbean batter with little to no chance of survival.
If Powell’s wicket was based on feasting at the opponent’s weak points, the Lalit Yadav dismissal had class written all over it. He defeated the rookie batter in both flight and variation to hit his leg stump. From 51/1 at the point of Chawla’s introduction to the attack, Delhi slid to 103/5 in 13 overs when the wrist-spinner capped off his spell.
The holding nature of the Delhi surface certainly came to Chawla’s aid but you have got to hand it to him for constantly hitting the right areas. 75% of his deliveries were pitched in the good length region. Even the handful of fuller deliveries were nowhere full enough for the batters to line him up.
The Aligarh-born initially went unsold in the 2023 auction too. Mumbai signed him as one of their last few picks, for his base price of INR 50 lakh.
However, his inclusion isn’t an act of pulling the rabbit out of the hat. Studying how the franchise have elected their bowlers will tell you it was a match waiting to happen.
Mumbai like their bowlers to contribute with the bat. However, underpar returns from the likes of Nathan Coulter-Nile and Daniel Sams in the past few seasons must have forced them to look for the batting expertise in their spinners, eventually framing Chawla as a handy asset alongside Hrithik Shokeen.
It is a prime reason why Chawla came into the picture again and is featuring ahead of Kumar Kartikeya, Mumbai’s silver lining of an otherwise disastrous campaign last year.
Chawla also picked 1/33 against Chennai Super Kings at the Wankedhe Stadium, cutting down Ajinkya Rahane's blazing innings. In Mumbai's season opener at the M Chinnaswamy Stadum, his 0/26 in four overs were the most economical figures for the side in an eight-wicket drubbing.
As it appears, Mumbai’s spin bowling fortunes are on a rise. Of course, it is too soon to say but with pitches bound to get slower, Chawla will be licking his fingers to rip his googlies further.
Way forward for Delhi Capitals: Reset button or smart squad upgrade?
In the land of Nawabs, Marcus Stoinis proves his royalty
IPL 2023 Trends: Old is Gold, faltering home sides and last ball finishes
Understanding the genius, Rashid Khan
Most notable unsold players in the 2022 IPL auction
The two sides of the same coin – Bowlers with two different halves in IPL 2021
Redoubtable Mumbai Indians look to seal a hat-trick of IPL titles
CSK vs MI, IPL 2020, Match 1: Criclytics Talking Points
Top Bowlers in IPL