If not for Deepak Chahar, Bangladesh looked prime to win their first-ever T20I series against India on Sunday. Chahar became the first Indian male cricketer to claim a hat-trick in a T20 international in the series-decider to warrant India the trophy.
The pacer finished with figures of six for seven which now stand as the best by a bowler in the shortest format, surpassing the previous best of six for eight by Ajantha Mendis. In an exclusive conversation with Cricket.com, the bowler spoke about a life-changing IPL 2019, MS Dhoni’s support, his struggle with injuries and a lot more. Here are a few excerpts.
From being rejected by Greg Chappell to winning a series-decider for India, how would you describe your journey?
The media has hyped Greg Chappell rejecting me in the Rajasthan team. I was just 14 years old then but since it makes for a good story everyone is writing on it. Of course Chappell’s rejection motivated me to work harder than I did, but I feel I struggled the most from 2010-18. That phase was more difficult than Chappell’s rejection.
I got eight wickets on debut and was also the highest wicket-taker for Rajasthan that Ranji season, but after that I suffered a lot. The last six to seven years have been difficult due to injuries. I was not getting selected. I had no support. It is just lots of hard work which has brought me to the Indian team.
You have been very injury prone. Tell us about your injury management.
See, it is not that only fast bowlers get injured, every cricketer is injury prone. But a pacer has to be 99% fit to be able to play a match. If any of my fingers are injured, I can play as a batsman but not as a fast bowler. I have seen batsmen play even with a fractured finger.
I think fitness does not matter, it is just bad luck. Unfortunately, I have had several injuries. Once I had jaundice in the Ranji Trophy, then twice I injured my back, then the hamstring injury in the IPL. Injuries have happened during the wrong time and I just hope that these kind of wrong things at the wrong time don’t happen again.
Did you have any chat with Rohit Sharma ahead of the third T20I?
Yes, I wanted to speak to him about some field changes so that was when he told me that I’d not bowl with the new ball in the third T20I and that I would be trusted with the crucial overs. That was very motivating for me because after playing only six international matches the Indian captain trusted me with the crucial overs in a series decider. I was fully prepared to perform well.
You think you stand a chance in next year’s World T20 after such a sensational performance?
Next year’s World Cup is in eleven months so you cannot say what is going to happen after all this while. I just take it match by match and focus on what is next. India currently have a lot of quality fast bowlers. People were talking about the pace strength even after the Tests against South Africa. So cementing your place in the current team is a difficult job.
By now everyone knows that MS Dhoni has played a big role in your rise. But tell us about how exactly the association between you two began in the IPL.
I was a part of Pune Supergiant for two years and the first season I played under him when he was the captain. I played three matches that season but that is not where the association exactly began.
The first time Mahi bhai saw me, I was batting and not bowling. Actually he was planning the team from the selection matches and he picked me as a batting all-rounder because in the practice match I scored some 45 runs. He picked me for my ability to hit the ball and also because I could swing the ball too.
Then the Pune camp started for the IPL and Mahi bhai came to the ground when I was batting one down for the team. I scored some 30 runs in 10 balls and hit around five sixes. So his first impression of me was that I can hit the ball well.
But in that innings I got injured while running and pulled a hamstring. That was my very first day at the camp. When I was walking out after being injured, Mahi bhai asked me to go and bat again assuming I had ran myself out. But then I told him that I had actually injured myself.
He was very supportive. The entire season he kept telling everyone that we have this guy, Deepak Chahar, who can bat well and also bowl. But I got fit only during the latter part of the season and could play only the last few games. By then, the team combination was also set.
Then next year Steve Smith became the captain and I didn’t get a lot of opportunities. But after the IPL final that season I was coming back to the hotel when I had a word with Mahi bhai on how I can improve. He asked me to work on my yorkers as well as on my batting skills.
From a powerplay specialist in IPL 2018 to now a death-over specialist too. How did the transition happen?
Honestly, back then I was being asked to bowl only in the powerplays so I did not get the platform to show my death bowling skills. But at the same time I was also working on my death bowling skills because to be the captain’s choice you have to be a complete bowler – someone who can bowl with the new ball and the old ball.
I think the transition began in IPL 2019. We played seven matches in Chennai where they expected me to bowl a lot of slower deliveries and yorkers. I practiced very hard before the season, worked on my yorkers and slower deliveries and that season I managed to do well. Actually even for CSK initially I didn’t get to bowl much in the death overs until Bravo got injured. I bowled well in the death overs and confidence comes from performing well during the match. So basically IPL 2019 improved me as a bowler.
What are a few things you concentrate on while bowling with the new ball?
I think T20 cricket is a lot about confusing batsmen. With the new ball, I try to confuse them with my swing because I can swing it both ways. With the old ball, I try to confuse them with my pace and length variations. If you become predictable, it’s easy for batsmen to hit you. Even with the new ball, I just try to hit the right length because every pitch is different and you cannot bowl the same length on every wicket. And I always work very hard before every match, watching opposition videos and try to read the pitch.
What comes to your mind if you have to differentiate between MS Dhoni and Rohit Sharma’s captaincy? Both are calm on the field.
It is difficult to differentiate between both the captains but Mahi bhai is a wicketkeeper so he stands far away from you and will come and give you inputs as per the situation whenever necessary. Rohit, on the other hand, stands near you at mid-off so he will often come and discuss things like what ball do you want to bowl and what field you want. Every individual has a different way of conveying his message; at the end of the day the captain just wants the team to win.
Tell us about life before and after the final T20I against Bangladesh. Increase in followers on social media, being chased by journalists. How’s it going?
After my Ranji Trophy debut, my dad had collected clippings of all the coverage that was done on me. We would read who had written what. But now I don’t really keep a check.
All these things happen only after you perform well. My focus has always been only to improve as a cricketer. I have to keep improving. This is sports, not an IAS exam or an IIT exam which, if cracked, will give you a good job for the next couple of years. In sports, you perform well one day and it might be different the next day.
I have experienced all this the hard way. Some days I have performed well, other days I haven’t. So I am not keeping a check on how many followers have increased on social media.
You must have got a grand welcome in the Rajasthan team after returning from the India-Bangladesh series?
Everyone was happy. The team is full of youngsters right now. Two to three years ago when I was struggling I told some of them that I will play for India for sure. That time few people laughed at me but now they have realised hard work pays off. Now the youngsters tell me that ‘bhaiya, you have proved ki hard work hi sab kuch hai (brother, you have proved that hard work is everything)’.
Right now, I am the senior player in the team and the captain as well. When I made my Ranji debut, half of these youngsters were playing under 14. So it feels good that they have been motivated by me.