In recent years, there have been only a few things harder for a bowler in limited-overs cricket, than having to bowl to Jos Buttler. The England wicketkeeper has been one of the top batsmen in white-ball cricket of late and, when he is at his best, it must be terrifying at times to bowl to him.
On 8 July 2018, Deepak Chahar – who was making his international debut for India – had a formidable task ahead of him. In his opening spell, he was going to be up against Buttler with fielding restrictions in place. And that was not all. At the other end, there was Jason Roy, who himself is one of the most destructive limited-overs batsmen in the world. When it comes to first assignments, it couldn’t have gotten much tougher.
Buttler took the attack to Chahar right away and hit as many as three boundaries in the first over. It was far from the ideal start for the Agra-born pacer who has carved a niche for himself as a specialist Powerplay bowler in T20 cricket.
Chahar would later end his debut T20 International (T20I) with bowling figures of 1/43 from four overs. While he would’ve been pleased with the wicket of Roy who looked set for a massive score, it wasn’t the sort of introduction to international cricket that he would have hoped for.
The right-arm fast bowler then had to wait for more than a year for his next engagement with T20Is. This time around, he was coming off a magnificent season in the Indian Premier League (IPL). While he had a few impressive performances under his belt in the IPL previously, in 2019, he stepped it up a few gears and was one of the outstanding bowlers in the tournament – taking 22 wickets at an average of 21.9 with an economy rate of 7.5. In fact, no Indian bowler took more wickets than him during IPL 2019.
Most frontline pacers in white-ball cricket are usually used during the Powerplay and then during the death overs. In T20 cricket, it tends to be a couple of overs upfront and then a couple towards the end of the innings. But Chennai Super Kings captain MS Dhoni has favoured to use three overs of Chahar during the Powerplay. During IPL 2019, in 16 out of 17 matches, Chahar bowled three overs during the first six. In three games, he had completed his quota of four overs by the seventh over of the opposition’s innings.
77.5% out of the 64.3 overs he bowled during the IPL last season were in the first six overs. It’s no surprise then that he was the highest wicket-taker during that phase of the innings, picking up 15 wickets with an economy rate of 7.3. Second on the list was teammate Harbhajan Singh with nine wickets.
Returning to the Indian team on the back of a grand IPL season, Chahar showed his potential as an opening bowler in T20 cricket right away. If his overs during the Powerplay in his first T20I hadn’t gone according to plan, it was a completely different story in his second.
Facing T20 world champions West Indies, Chahar took three wickets in his first two overs to put India in the driver’s seat right away. Much like in the IPL, he bowled all three of his overs during the Powerplay, ending with mind-boggling bowling figures of 3/4. He was, of course, named the Player of the Match.
A few months later, Chahar produced the best bowling figures in men’s T20Is – picking up six wickets for just seven runs against Bangladesh. Not only did he take two wickets at the start of the innings, he was impressive when given the responsibility of bowling towards the end – even picking up a hat-trick.
With such performances, Chahar had made a good claim to be a regular part of India’s T20 setup in the immediate future. The 2020 T20 World Cup is likely to be postponed due to the ongoing pandemic and, when the tournament is held, India will have a few interesting selection choices to make.
Over the last few years, Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar have been very good in T20 cricket at both ends of an innings. With the T20 world event to be held in Australia, it’ll be interesting to see the combination that India prefer. In New Zealand earlier this year, they went for four pacers and two spinners – with one of the pacers and one of the spin options also being handy batsmen.
During the T20 World Cup, Hardik Pandya is expected to take up the pace-bowling allrounder spot and there’s no doubt about Bumrah’s place in the team. This opens up two spots in the playing XI for fast bowlers.
While Bhuvneshwar has been one of the top T20 bowlers of the past decade, his form dipped a bit in the format in 2019. Yet, you’d expect him to be among the foremost bowlers that the Indian think tank consider for the T20 World Cup. There are Mohammed Shami, Navdeep Saini and Shardul Thakur also in the mix. And, of course, there’s Chahar too.
Since the start of 2019, among the aforementioned bowlers, Chahar has the best average and strike-rate in T20 cricket which should help his cause greatly. At the same time, the Haryana pacer has been quite economical as well. Among the six pacers, only Bumrah has a better economy rate than him during this period – this is obviously helped by the fact that he doesn’t bowl as much during the death overs as the others, but it’s an impressive figure nonetheless.
Another factor that might count in favour of Chahar is his ability to take care of the first few overs. This could allow India to save Bumrah for the death overs, a phase during which batsmen have struggled to get him away.
Chahar missed the tour to New Zealand at the start of the year due to injury, so when international cricket resumes for India, he will be keen to get back into his stride right away. If he can carry on his form from 2019, he could very well become a regular member of India’s T20 team for years to come.