Up until 2014, Yuzvendra Chahal wasn't even a guaranteed starter across formats for his state side, Haryana. Then came IPL 2014 and his tryst with bowling at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium - a venue that can be a nightmare for many slow bowlers. Chahal talks about taking on that challenge, and more about limited-overs bowling, ahead of the Asia Cup.
In white-ball cricket, you're never worried about flighting the ball. How did that come about?
That is my strength, but it also depends on the situation. If the batsman is batting for long, I try to flight the ball, bowl the hard ball, and let him make a mistake. In T20 cricket, especially, even if you don't do much, the batsman will surely come after you. So I always look to bowl to my strengths and not bowl looking at who the batsman is.
Has this become your bowling style in ODIs too by default?
In ODIs, you have the extra six overs, so you have a lot more deliveries in which to unleash your variations. I always look at the game situation and then decide if I should flight the ball and go for wickets or try to restrict runs. I look at the scores of the batsmen and the situation they are in. If a new batsman is on, he's probably trying to play himself in, so that gives me a chance to attack.
You're always happy to concede the extra runs if it means there's an opportunity for a wicket. Has this been ingrained in you?
Kuldeep [Yadav] and I have been given a specific role: take wickets in the middle overs. It doesn't matter if we concede 10-15 extra runs, but if we manage to get two or three wickets, it automatically transforms the innings. Teams that may have had a chance of getting 280-290 tend to then finish with 220-230. So we're not really worried about conceding runs. The focus is always on wickets.
Tell us about your bowling partnership with Kuldeep.
We've been playing a lot of cricket together. Even when he was first with Mumbai Indians , we were together. We bond well. If I come in to bowl before him, I talk to him about how the wicket is behaving and what he can try to do to trouble the batsmen. If he comes on first, he comes up and chats with me. Obviously if one of us applies pressure from one end, there's a chance of wickets at the other. So if I don't strike, he takes over, or it's the other way round.
At what point do you decide what you're going to bowl?
I know in my mind while running in what I want to bowl.
The trend in ODIs is for spinners to try and bowl fast. But you have consciously made an effort to slow it down.
I got the idea during the  IPL. The Chinnaswamy Stadium is a small ground, and the batsman gets used to it if you keep bowling fast. So I decided to work on my variations and look to change the pace to get the batsman thinking. If you flight the ball, you're giving him room to make a mistake, because he has to step out and force the pace. Because I play a lot of cricket at Chinnaswamy, my mindset is different from other spinners. Others, when they bowl here, will probably think, "It's a small ground, let me try and restrict runs by firing it in." When I played here first, there was the fear of getting hit. That is not there now.
"When a batsman sweeps you for singles, that annoys me, because they're still picking six runs without any trouble"
How has bowling to Chris Gayle, AB de Villiers and Virat Kohli in the RCB nets helped you?
When you bowl your variations to them, it makes bowling to some of the other batsmen a lot easier. They've given me a lot of feedback, told me the kinds of deliveries I can bowl, what lengths I should look to stick to. Even if they hit me for big sixes in the nets, they come and tell me what was good about the delivery, what difficulties they have faced while executing a certain kind of shot. That helps.
Once, in Kolkata, AB came up and told me how the training wicket was entirely different from the wickets on which the games were being played. He asked me to tune my mind towards what the actual surface will be like and not bowl with the kind of rhythm or plan from the training session.
What do you look to achieve in the nets?
I tell all the batsmen my field, and try and bowl to that. I bowl with the new ball, because sometimes I'm required to bowl in the Powerplay. Whatever I need to do on match day, I try to simulate.
You said you decide your deliveries beforehand. What if the batsman makes an early move?
Obviously then you have some time to change. I look at his body movement, not just feet movement. Sometimes you get an intuition about what the batsman will do. Then I try to change my plans. If a batsman has faced two or three dot balls, then by observing him, you kind of know he may try and slog or play across the line. So I try and vary my plan accordingly.
If you get hit for a six off a good ball, what is your mindset?
I don't feel bad if I get hit for a six off a good ball. It's sixes off short balls that hurt. But I know I have five more opportunities to come back, whereas one mistake and the batsman is out.
The bats are bigger now, and sometimes outside edges carry for six. How do you try and plot your comeback as a bowler?
I've been hit for plenty of sixes and fours at Chinnaswamy. There is no fear anymore. Darr khatam ho gayi hai. I don't think, "Oh god, I'll be hit for sixes." When I run in to bowl, I know I could be hit for three sixes, six sixes, or maybe even get the batsman out. So I don't worry about being hit.
When I first played for RCB here, I conceded 45 or something off four overs. In Kolkata, I conceded 50 odd. In my mind I was like, "Okay, I'm bowling well and still going for 50. What's the worst that could happen? I'd give away 60, 65?" Once I started thinking this way, the fear of going for runs went away. Unless you experience it, the fear doesn't go away. It had happened to me twice, so I realised it can't get worse.
Who do you talk to about spin bowling?
Narendra Hirwani, our spin coach at NCA [National Cricket Academy]. I also chat with Maninder Singh [former India left-arm spinner] and my personal coach, Randhir Singh.
Against big hitters, you tend to bowl just a touch wide. Can it get difficult to control it sometimes?
Sometimes it's a gamble you have to take. In a T20, you have to understand the batsman is out to hit you, so if he is good enough to hit me inside-out over cover, you have to accept it. But if you bowl it wide and try and get it outside his reach, you get the batsman thinking. If he steps out and misses, he knows you've got him. Yes, he can middle it too, but that's a gamble you take. I keep mixing it up because you have to try and be a step ahead.
Shane Warne said if conditions were loaded in favour of the batsmen, he eliminated everything he couldn't do. How do you approach it?
I try and not waste time on things that aren't in my control. If I decide I'm going to get hit just because I'm bowling on a small ground, I'm already in the negative before bowling a ball.
So you're not influenced by how the surface behaves before you come on to bowl?
Sometimes you have runs to defend, so you attack. Sometimes you have to save runs. It's situation-dependent. You can't set the field for bad balls, but for good balls you have to ensure runs aren't leaked. If the wicket is slow, you can't bowl slow. If it's pacy, you try and bowl length to get skid off the deck. In South Africa, I had the experience of playing with India A. I knew there was bounce, so I adjusted. In England, this time, the weather was hot and conditions were dry. So it was different.
How much did you learn from that game in South Africa, where Heinrich Klaasen hit you for five sixes across two overs and turned the game?
It was raining continuously [at the Wanderers]. If there's dew, I don't face too many issues generally, because at least the wicket remains dry. There was a lot of rain, so the wicket was damp, and the ball started to skid. Whatever little turn there was on offer was gone too. That made it easy for the batsman. But it was a learning experience. I knew the next time if I was faced with something similar, at least I'd know how to approach it.
"If four matches don't go well, it doesn't mean I'm a bad bowler. It's best to figure out why something isn't working and try getting better"
Can you pick out an instance where the opponents have started really well but were pulled back because of your spell?
The game against New Zealand in Kanpur last year, where I dismissed Colin Munro and Kane Williamson, is one I look back at fondly. Both batsmen were set, their partnership was more than 100 runs and we needed a wicket. I got them both in three overs, and that helped us make a comeback. We knew restricting runs wasn't an option. I wanted to bowl the best delivery, in areas where he [Munro] is weak and doesn't generally like to score. He has to get runs eventually, so the pressure is equally on the batsman.
I got Munro on the drive finally. For a couple of overs, I observed he didn't move his feet and was playing from the crease. Then I beat him on one delivery, and Mahi bhai [MS Dhoni] even appealed for a stumping. I knew he wasn't leaning into the drive, and this was my best chance to get him driving. There was a gap between bat and pad, so I set him up to do exactly what I wanted. He tried to drive and was bowled.
I'd kept cover inside the ring. If the fielder is back, the batsman generally doesn't have it in his mind. But if he is in, the batsman is also aware he can try and score by chipping the ball over. Therein lies an opportunity for me too.
Another game in Indore [against Sri Lanka], Kuldeep and I had gone for 52 [each] in four overs, but we got seven wickets between us. In two overs, we'd given away 35-36 runs, but we knew at least we have two more overs to make a comeback. Our thinking was, even if we don't get wickets, we'll try and not give away more than 10-15 in the two overs. When we returned, I got two wickets in four overs, and he got three, I think. If I think, "Oh god, I've been hit for two overs. How many more will I concede?" then negative thoughts creep in.
Self-belief is key. If you don't have it, nothing others tell you will help. If four matches don't go well, it doesn't mean I'm a bad bowler. It's best to figure out why something isn't working and try getting better.
What is MS Dhoni's role in plotting these dismissals? He's very vocal on the stump mic.
When Kuldeep and I bowl, he tells us very early how the wicket is behaving. He also tells us what the batsman is trying to do. So that kind of gives you an idea even before you bowl, instead of me finding out after bowling two or three overs. He's been captain, he's played for so many years and has a wealth of experience. He watches the batsmen closely. He's a batsman too, and knows what it is to play on such surfaces. Sometimes when I have a plan that is different to what he thinks, we discuss it. It's not like he rejects our plan. Then we formulate a plan B.
Sometimes it happens that he gives you instructions, but the execution is wrong. But he doesn't lose his cool. In that Indore game and in South Africa, where Klaasen hit me, he just said, "Don't worry. It's just not your day. At least try to bowl to ensure your spin partner tries to get wickets."
How do you approach bowling to someone like Glenn Maxwell, against whom you have had some success?
We watch videos to assess their strong and weak points, but the pressure of a match situation is different. They're playing for a place, so are we. So there is pressure on both of us at that point. With Maxwell, I know he can't stay at the wicket for long. He has to try and slog, and leg side is his preferred area. If he hits me over cover, fine, it's a good shot. But if I bowl outside off, he has to drag me from wide, so there's a chance for me. In Kolkata, I had him stumped with the ball sneaking through his legs when he was trying to slog me over the leg side.
What annoys you the most as a spinner?
When a batsman sweeps you for singles - that annoys me, because they're still picking six runs without any trouble. It's not like they're taking a big risk for the same runs.
You'll be playing Pakistan for the first time in your career in the Asia Cup. Excited?
Growing up as a young kid wanting to play for India, it was always on my bucket list. I haven't experienced what it feels like but I'm more excited than nervous. I've watched all India-Pakistan games. I try and look at which batsman is in form and who is playing how. The 1996 World Cup game stands out; every game is a favourite actually, but it's about the expectation that people have from you. But for me, whichever team I'm playing, I value wickets the same. I know if I take five wickets, I'll be Man of the Match.
Have you now looked at making strides in red-ball cricket?
I played two games for India A against South Africa A. Red ball needs you to practise more. I have to be prepared to bowl 20-25 overs in a day. The batsman is also willing to be patient, so you have to devise plans to get him out. You have to bring all your skills into play. But yes, you develop [those skills] the more you play red-ball cricket. In white-ball cricket you know the batsman is going to come after you, so you try and restrict. [In longer-form cricket], the fielders are in, so you have to hit the same spots consistently. Strength levels, stamina, everything is tested. The challenge is what do you do when the batsman is patient and wants to play you out. So your mind has to tick all the time.