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Varun Chakravarthy ready for second coming at Kolkata Knight Riders

From being taken apart by Sunil Narine to bowling alongside him, the mystery spinner's career has come full circle

Deivarayan Muthu
Varun Chakravarthy bowls in the TNPL

Varun Chakravarthy bowls in the TNPL  •  TNPL

Who writes your scripts, Varun Chakravarthy? The 28-year old Tamil Nadu mystery spinner hit paydirt in the IPL auction for a second successive year, emerging as the highest-paid uncapped Indian, with Kolkata Knight Riders shelling out INR 4 crore (USD 563,000 approx.) for his seven variations. At last year's auction, he was the joint-highest-paid player overall, earning INR 8.4 crore, 42 times his base price of INR 20 lakh.
Varun played a solitary game for Kings XI Punjab in IPL 2019, before a finger fracture sidelined him for a lengthy period. Varun hasn't played competitive cricket since; he had only resumed training "two-three months back."
It would not have been surprising if nobody wanted him for IPL 2020. However, Knight Riders outbid Royal Challengers Bangalore and got him on board. In fact, Varun himself didn't see that coming, although he had bowled at the Knight Riders nets last year and had the franchise furiously bidding for him even in 2018.
"I didn't expect to be picked at all this year," Varun tells ESPNcricinfo a day after the auction. "I was just watching the auction alone yesterday in Chennai (in contrast to watching the madness unfold with his entire family in his hometown Thanjavur last year). My parents were in my hometown this time.
"I was watching the auction with a little bit of hope that I'll be picked and I'm thankful to DK [Dinesh Karthik] and Abhishek Nayar [Knight Riders mentor] for showing confidence in me. Santhoshama irukku [I'm happy]. I've spoken to my parents and sister, and they're pleased for me too."
Things weren't as rosy for Varun during his IPL debut, against Knight Riders in Kolkata. He had a harsh initiation, leaking 25 runs in his first over, the worst start for an IPL debutant. Varun then hurt his finger and was ruled out of IPL 2019.
In IPL 2020, he will return to Eden Gardens as a Knight Rider. He could potentially bowl in tandem with Sunil Narine, who had whacked Varun for three sixes and a four in that 25-run over. A few months before that match-up, Varun had been bowling with Narine at the Knight Riders nets and had even impressed Narine's spin coach Carl Crowe, who is also part of the franchise's support staff.
Varun's career has had more twists and turns than a whodunit. He was a wicketkeeper-batsman until 17. Then, after being rejected multiple times in age-group cricket, he took up an architecture degree and then worked as a freelancer. But he got bored of it and turned into a mystery spinner.
More fun facts: before he burst into the 20-over Tamil Nadu Premier League (TNPL), Varun had made a brief appearance in a Tamil movie called Jeeva, starring actor Vishnu Vishal, who was R Ashwin's first club captain.
In his first IPL season, Varun got to play alongside Ashwin. Now he has a chance to exchange notes with the mystery spinner, Narine. After Knight Riders scooped up Varun, their CEO Venky Mysore said he "kind of reminds" the franchise of a young Narine, when they'd first picked him for IPL 2012.
"Personally, I'd learnt a lot from R Ashwin at Punjab," Varun says. "Working with Narine, I just want to learn whatever I can from him. I'm just like a student in front of somebody like Narine."
Varun had attracted the attention of the IPL talents scouts during TNPL 2018, when Michael Hussey, one of the TV commentators, singled him out as an exciting talent. All told, Varun bowled 40 overs in TNPL 2018, of which 125 balls were dots. His economy rate of 4.7 was the best among bowlers who bowled at least 15 overs.
Varun was slated to make his return from injury in TNPL 2019, but things didn't go according to plan. He was merely part of the Madurai Panthers squad earlier this year, but didn't get to play a game. Since then Varun has enrolled himself into Primal Patterns, where most of the top-tier Tamil Nadu cricketers work out under Shanker Basu, the former India trainer.
"I've been working hard on my fitness with Basu sir," Varun says. "For the past two-three months, I've had one session a day. We've been working on gymming and strengthening. I've also started playing a few low-key games and I'm confident of bowling the googlies and carrom balls again. I'm still training and preparing to come back."
Varun also reckons that he's in a better space to deal with the immense pressure that the IPL brings, having had a brief crack at it before.
"I've lost hope many times over the last few months, but I've managed to train and get better," he says. "The previous experience [with Kings XI] has helped me grow as a player and person, but now I need to focus on what's in hand. I'm preparing for the next IPL and I hope it'll be a fresh start for me at KKR."

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo