Part of two World Cup winning teams, in 2007 and 2011, Piyush Chawla has been involved in big moments in his career. Roped in by CSK for the 2020 edition of the IPL, the legspinner in this interview spoke about playing under Dhoni, how conditions will shape up in UAE, playing alongside Harbhajan and Imran Tahir, the growth of Kuldeep Yadav and more. Excerpts:
You are back in Dhoni’s team, what’s your feelings about playing under him?
It’s always a pleasure playing under Mahi Bhai (MS Dhoni), because we all know what kind of a captain he is. He is one of the best in the world. As a bowler you enjoy playing under somebody like Mahi Bhai.
Mumbai Indians wanted you and so did Kings XI Punjab during the auction. Personally, did you want to play for CSK as it is one of the most successful teams?
Honestly speaking I was not watching the auction so I was not even aware that who all were bidding for me. I watched the highlights later. But yes as a player you want to play for a good team. So when I got to know that I have been picked up by CSK, I was very happy because it is one of the most successful franchises in the IPL.
What was your first reaction when you got selected for CSK? So many spinners like Harbhajan Singh, Imran Tahir and Mitchell Santner are already there in the team.
Obviously first reaction was I was quite happy. As you are talking about a lot of spinners but we all know how Mahi bhai (MS Dhoni) plays around with the spinners. So that will be really good for me and for the team. It is also very important to have healthy competition in the team. The good part is when I go there I will get to learn lot of things from Bhajju Pa (Harbhajan Singh). We all know Imran Tahir, what kind of a bowler he is and his energy level even at this age. So it will be fantastic to play with these guys.
Is there any added pressure on you because CSK has paid a huge price to acquire your services?
It’s not like money adds more pressure. Pressure is always there. Even if I am playing for free that pressure is always there. Because I have to stand up to the expectation. Money always comes secondary. The first thing is to play cricket and the love and passion for the game that plays a big role. Pressure is always there to perform.
How would you summarise your stint at KKR? You were successful with them. Were you disappointed that they let you go?
I had a very good time with KKR in the 6 years I played for them. If you are talking about disappointment, it was not like that. I don’t really get disappointed easily because you know how this franchise cricket works. When I came into the auction I knew somebody will definitely pick me up so I was not worried or disappointed at all.
You have played in the UAE before in IPL in 2014. Will the pitches be helpful for the spinners?
Well, Dubai always has that history to help the spinners. As we know there are only three venues and so many matches will be happening. Maybe not in the start, but later on as the tournament will progress it definitely will help the spinners.
Do you think CSK will have an advantage because they have a formidable spin attack?
If you see all other teams, they have their basics covered with spinners. Everyone has a good spinning attack. It is not only about our team. It’s about all the other franchises also. They also have a decent spin attack. But yes spinners will definitely play a big role.
Will it be a challenge for you to get into the playing XI as CSK has Imran Tahir, Harbhajan Singh, Mitchell Santner, Ravindra Jadeja in the team?
As I said earlier, it is going to be very healthy competition in the team and when a player puts in the extra effort it definitely helps the team as well. So I am not even thinking about it right now whether I will play or not. I am just working on my preparations.
What makes leg spinners such a hot property in T20 cricket?
T20 is an attacking game and everyone is looking to score runs quickly. So leg-spin is a kind of art where you are bound to pick up wickets. Because there are so many variations. That’s the biggest reason because if you want to stop batsmen from scoring runs, the most important thing is to pick up wickets and leg-spin is the most attacking bowling variation. If you see overall everyone is going for runs. Everyone goes for runs in this format but it depends who picks up wickets.
You have got close to 450 first-class wickets and have been very successful in IPL for the last 12 seasons. Why has an India opportunity not come across?
If I would have known the answer I would have definitely told you because it is something which is not in my control. My thing is just to work on the process and just focus to play cricket and perform to my best. If I think about why it is happening I will stop enjoying my cricket. So I don’t think much of whether I am being selected or not, I just make sure that I am enjoying my cricket.
Is there any leg spinner in the contemporary cricket you admire most?
If I see from the past, definitely I look up to Shane Warne and Anil Bhai (Anil Kumble). I admired Anil Bhai because the kind of attitude he showed, the way he just ran in and bowled with the same energy all the time. It was tremendous to watch him. The kind of variations and control Shane Warne had was also amazing to watch. Everyone remembers the famous incident where Anil Bhai bowled with a broken jaw. I really admire that attitude about Anil Bhai.
What about Rashid Khan? He has been a sensation in the IPL. What’s your take on him?
I think what stands out for him is his pace. The pace at which he bowls and on that kind of pace having that kind of a control that really makes him a different bowler.
Has Kuldeep’s progress in international cricket surprised you? What you make of Kuldeep’s journey?
When he came onto the scene in UP the talent you can see right from the beginning. I am not surprised at all with his progress because he looked very prominent right from the beginning, the way he bowled in international cricket and picked up so many wickets, it was a treat to watch.
Have you interacted with Dhoni in the last 4-5 months?
Last 4-5 months didn’t get a chance to have a word with him. Just before the lockdown, we were together in Chennai for the camp. He was looking fantastic in the field, the way he was batting and the kind of energy he was showing. He looked brilliant, the way he was middling the ball and then hitting it out of the park. He was actually looking forward to play the IPL at that time. I am sure he will be very excited as well like we all are.
You have been one of the most successful bowlers in the history of IPL. Have you set any specific targets for this season?
The personal goal is to pick up as many wickets as you can as a bowler and just thinking about how to take wickets, how to help my team to win games. When I was with Kings XI and I came to KKR in 2014, IPL shifted to Dubai and we won the championship. So you know what I mean (laughs). This is my first year with CSK and IPL shifted to Dubai again!