Deepak Chahar had a dream. To run in and bowl as much as he can. But his father had a slightly different plan - to ensure his son becomes the best in the business with a new ball in hand. At his own coaching academy, he would ensure Deepak bowls with a new ball, no matter how much he has to spend procuring the shiny cherry.
Thus it is imperative that while discussing Deepak Chahar, we discuss his numbers first - especially his figures in the powerplay. Since his IPL debut in 2016, no bowler has had more wickets than him in the powerplay or has more breakthroughs in the first over of the innings in IPL. And especially, when you bag 75.5% of your wickets in the first six overs, the most among bowlers who have bagged more than 50 wickets overall, it is understandable why the world would judge you as a classical swing bowler who is only fit to do the job with an undusted seed in hand.
However, that is only half the truth. “People say I am a good new-ball bowler because I bowl three overs in the powerplay. But the ball swings for hardly an over or two. Swing completely disappears in the third. If I can do that with two fielders outside, of course, I can do that at the death,” Deepak told cricket.com.
“I am honestly more comfortable bowling at death with five fielders outside. It is easier to bowl to that field-set. Whenever I have bowled in the death, I have never conceded more than 10 runs in an over. But Mahi Bhai, more often than not, asks me to bowl with the new ball because if I can take 2-3 wickets upfront, it keeps the side in good stead. I have always been a captain’s bowler, thus I have never qualms doing that over and over again.”
The 2019 IPL final was a classic example. Bowling the 19th over against Mumbai Indians, Deepak gave away just four runs for two wickets to put CSK in a solid position. Last year in Dubai, he dismissed AB de Villiers and Chris Morris at death while giving away just 11 runs in two overs against Royal Challengers Bangalore.
“This IPL, I was doing only death bowling practise in the nets. I used to bowl 12 deliveries with the new ball and then hone my death ability. Not saying I am still great, I need to work on wide outside the off-stump yorker a bit more but the fact is I haven’t had that much opportunity with the older ball to prove myself,” Deepak added.
“My approach to the sport is always about stretching my belief system”
The fundamental belief system that he can do well in any conditions was tuned by bending his back time and again at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium in Jaipur - one of the flattest wickets in the country. It added to his skill as he understood the importance of putting the past behind and focusing on the next course of action.
“In Indian domestic cricket, you don’t often get wickets favouring fast bowling. Also playing lots of domestic cricket over the years, I’ve understood that you don’t need to bowl with full effort in a multi-day game. Striking a balance is the key that I learnt from experience. By facing those situations very early in my career, I’ve learnt how to toughen myself up for bigger challenges in my cricketing journey.
“I learnt very early in my life that sports are about coming back from tough situations and putting the past behind. Failures are bound to happen and you can’t avoid injuries either. My approach to the sport is always about stretching my belief system and ensuring I am going strong, no matter what happens.”
Bumper on the road
In 2019, he was at a professional high. For two consecutive years, he was the lynchpin of the Chennai bowling attack and was MS Dhoni’s trusted lieutenant. He was one of the first names on the Indian T20 team playing XI following the World Cup that year and towards the backend of the year, he had created a record for the best bowling figures in a men's T20I match with the figures of 6/7 against Bangladesh.
Life was moving only one way for Deepak when the disaster struck. He aggravated a lower back injury during the three-match ODI series against West Indies at home and missed the subsequent limited-overs series against Sri Lanka and Australia in January 2020. While for many, that would have had a deterrent effect, for Chahar, it was just another blip to test his belief system.
“When someone suffers a stress fracture on the back, especially for a pace bowler, returning back within four months is very rare but I did that. Even if I get injured during a game, I don’t crib about the lost opportunities but stay focused about what I can do further to not pick that injury ever again and how quickly I can make a comeback. My tuning is like that only which helps me in a positive way since childhood.
“Swing is an art which I have. Really worked hard on that since childhood which will never go away. However, I have to always keep working hard on my pace so that I can consistently bowl around 140s at the top level. When I come back from injury, bringing that pace back has always been a daunting proposition, so I had to work doubly hard after the stress fracture in late 2019. Lockdown helped and I got some extra time to focus on that aspect. But never ever I felt it was the end of the road for me. I know how to come back from such situations.”
“Post Covid complications were tough to handle”
The rescheduled 2020 IPL, his first match since the stress fracture in December 2019, threw another challenge for him. Chahar found himself contracting Covid-19 on the way to the UAE and had to undergo a straight 25 days in isolation. Even though he managed to get back in time for the tournament, the post-Covid complications meant he was not in his best shape.
“As a unit, we didn’t do well. People say my 2020 IPL performance was bad, but still, my 2020 IPL economy rate was better than my 2019 IPL. I got 22 wickets in 2019 because we played finals, so that was four extra games and I was bowling one over in the death. In 2020, I bowled only once in death and I got two wickets. Before the tournament, when I got Covid, I was in quarantine for 25 days. When I returned, I had back spasms due to post-Covid complications. It was not easy being at your best and delivering from the first game you’d play after Covid."
With Deepak Chahar, you'd always expect him to make a statement on return and as the IPL caravan moves to UAE once again, teams would be fully aware of his abilities to wreck havoc. For CSK, he would hold the aces and to give the final touch to a mission that the unit missed in 2019 by a whisker.