'I know I'll be back soon' - Chawla
Piyush Chawla seems obsessed with Twenty20 cricket. The other day he was sporting a Sussex Sharks t-shirt - they're the team he represents in the Champions League Twenty20 - and today he had on a red Kings XI Punjab vest. Asked if he had his priorities correct, Chawla replied with a laugh: "This is just because I'm going to take a nap." He confesses he enjoys the format a lot and knows if he does well against highly ranked batsmen in this competition, he stands to earn a recall to the Indian team.
Chawla was dropped after an indifferent Asia Cup last year, where apart from against minnows Hong Kong, he managed two wickets in two games and went for over five an over against Pakistan. The Indian selectors then decided he needed to further develop his skills and command over the ball before they could think of grooming him for the legspinner's slot, once a bastion of Anil Kumble and now occupied by Amit Mishra.
"I'm just knocking on the doors all the time. I know I'll be back soon. It is just a matter of time," Chawla told Cricinfo on the eve of Sussex's game against New South Wales. Many, including one of India's selectors, Narendra Hirwani, believe Chawla relies too much on the googly and needs to work hard on controlling his stock delivery, the legbreak.
Chawla himself doesn't buy the theory. "I can't say anything went wrong. I just had couple of bad games." According to him, he now can turn the ball enough to trouble batsmen. "I depend more on variations, and if you bowl the same kind of ball, batsmen will get smarter, and I wouldn't stand a chance."
Chawla is 20. His positive demeanour owes plenty to his relatively sound first-class stint with Sussex, where he made a strong impression.
"When I reached there, the first question the Sussex press asked me was would I be able to fill Mushy's shoes?" he recalls. Mushtaq Ahmed, the former Pakistan spinner, is a legend in those parts, having helped Sussex to more than one County Championship.
"I felt good as people looked up to me," Chawla said. In his first game he scored a century and picked up eight wickets; in the next he took a match haul of 11 wickets. It was enough to earn him his own nickname at Hove - Pushy.
"I felt really good," he says. "Once people start expecting things of you, that adds pressure, but it gives me a positive vibes."
Chawla had two stints with the county, beginning with a month as replacement for Yasir Arafat, the club's overseas player, who left to join Pakistan during the ICC World Twenty20. The day Chawla was leaving England after his first stint, he met Mushtaq for a casual chat, during which Mushtaq encouraged him to continue doing what he was doing. It was not the first time Chawla had spoken to a spin maestro.
During the first season of the IPL, Chawla sought out Shane Warne. Their first meeting was after the game between Punjab and Rajasthan Royals in Jaipur in the first round. Chawla, who had gone through two bad games, wanted desperately to get the legend's advice.
Warne simply asked Chawla what he thought when he had the ball in hand. "I said I just look to contain the batsman." Warne wasn't impressed and said a legspinner's job was to take wickets even if he went for runs. Their conversation lasted an hour. It was enough for Chawla to gain a lifetime's worth of confidence.
During their one-on-one Chawla also checked with Warne if he too thought something was not right with his bowling action, and if he didn't turn the ball enough. "He said, 'You are a good bowler, there is nothing wrong with you and you turn the ball enough,'" says Chawla. About a month later, at the end of the tournament, the two met again and Warne said, "Bro, there is nothing to tell you now." By then Chawla had changed his approach, become more open-minded and more attacking. He was the third-highest wicket-taker in the 2008 IPL.
Chawla has used that chat to inspire himself every time he goes into a shell or misses playing for India. During this year's IPL, Warne had a pat on the back for Chawla on the back in the Punjab-Rajasthan game in the first round, where Rajasthan put up a 200-plus total. Despite the eventual loss, Chawla had impressive figures of 2 for 28 in four overs.
Recently when Chawla was at the National Cricket Academy he ran into Kumble. "Anil bhai asked me to stay positive and not think about selections and all that." With such illustrious names backing him, Chawla has cause to believe he must be doing something right.
He is still feeding off the recognition he received at Sussex and expects to return to Hove next year. He misses playing for his country - "every game.
These are delicate times for India's second-youngest Test debutant.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo