Chahar hitches his wagon to a star
For an 18-year old in his debut season of first-class cricket, Deepak Chahar is remarkably confident. He's taken 40 wickets in Rajasthan's maiden Ranji Trophy triumph, but that does not seem to be the cause of his self-belief. It seems to run much deeper, and is almost an innate part of his demeanour. He has come a long way after being rejected two years ago by Greg Chappell, the former India coach, at the Rajasthan Cricket Academy. "He told me that I could not play top-level cricket. Boys were being sent out of the academy on grounds of fitness, and he must have felt that I was not fit enough," Chahar said. "It was good for me actually, and that was the moment from where my life changed. I haven't looked back in the last two years."
His natural ability to swing the ball was showcased in his debut match, when he blew away Hyderabad for a record low of 21 with an eight-wicket haul. "I have bowled out a lot of teams cheaply, for 40 or 50, but against Hyderabad was too much. I will credit my father for developing my skills. He has been my coach since I started playing, about six-seven years ago. He used to play university cricket before he got a job in the Air Force."
A lot of effort has gone into getting Chahar's wrist and seam position right. "From around 15 metres, I used to take a step or two and bowl between 300 and 500 deliveries to my father - just to get the seam position right, to get control of the wrists. People believe that you have to practice control while running in, but I think you have to start from standing up and bowling. If you can develop control then, it will also come when you are running in."
Chahar can bowl outrageous inswingers, but his first season has taught him that a good outswinger will dismiss most batsmen, as Dale Steyn has consistently displayed at the highest level. "Earlier I used to bowl both outswing and inswing regularly, without any bias. But now, I have decided to focus a lot on outswing. I have also learnt to bowl on flat pitches."
Having won the highest domestic prize in his first year, Chahar does not understand why it is perceived that there is a huge difference between first-class and age-group cricket. "Maybe first-class batsmen are able to keep out even good balls sometimes, unlike Under-19 batsmen. But I don't feel a lot of difference. Only those who are India players come across as really special, like Rohit Sharma. The others don't really dominate you, even if they are not getting out."
While his swing has brought him into national spotlight, Chahar doesn't want to be slotted as a one-trick bowler. "If you are fast, you don't need favourable conditions. Guys like Shane Bond and Steyn have been able to swing it at 140-plus. I want to increase my speed by around 10 kph. If I can do that, the swing will be even more difficult to play. Right now, my average is around 128. I can bowl quicker, but the season has been long and hard, and my pace has gone down a bit due to the incessant travelling."
Chahar has been home for only two days in the last seven months, and the grind has taken its toll on his young body. There have been constant niggles, and he bowled in the final with a tape around his bowling arm. He is icing the area even as we speak.
"I hadn't worked much on my triceps earlier, as I did not want to build a lot of muscle in my arm. Maybe that is what is causing the problem. It is so important to rest as well as work hard in the gym. That is why for some time now, I have started using heavier weights."
He's used to bowling long spells, though, and proudly cites one instance from last year's Under-19 tournament. "How long do you think a fast bowler can bowl at a stretch? I bowled a 22-over spell in Ratnagiri against Maharashtra last season. I was in good rhythm, and just kept on going."
The initial success has brought with it the inevitable IPL contract, and he has been signed by Rajasthan Royals. He talks about developing his yorker for the shortest format. "I have to work on my yorker. The thing is, that delivery at my pace is not very effective. So there is another reason to increase my speed."
We are watching the highlights of the final on television, and Chahar beams broadly whenever he sees one of his seven wickets. He took out Ambati Rayudu and Baroda captain Pinal Shah at crucial junctures in the first innings. "I have never seen Hrishi bhaiyya (Hrishikesh Kanitkar, his captain) get as angry as when I bowled a short one to Pinal. I had asked him at the start of the over whether I should bowl the bouncer, and he had told me no need, just pitch it up and you will get him. But I ran in and bowled the short delivery, which went for a boundary. Fortunately, next ball I got him, and was spared my captain's wrath."
His new-ball partner and lead bowler, Pankaj Singh, has been a big help, and the pair has brought Rajasthan 83 victims in the season. "I have learnt a lot from Pankaj. He normally stands at mid-off or mid-on, and lets me know what type of delivery could work against which batsman."
Chahar is ambitious and aspires to play for the country one day as an allrounder. "I have this dream of becoming an allrounder. Now I have come up to No 8, gaining promotion in the batting order. I just want to remain not out. I don't like to get dismissed.
"You know, the dialogue from the movie Three Idiots, 'Don't run after success; strive for excellence'. The day I am able to swing the ball at good pace, I will hopefully play for India."
Abhishek Purohit is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo