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'Under the radar' Deepak Chahar pivotal to the Dhoni-Fleming plan

Deepak Chahar has been one of Chennai Super Kings' standout performers BCCI

If you were to list Chennai Super Kings' standout performers so far in IPL 2019, chances are you will point out the obvious names: MS Dhoni, Harbhajan Singh, Shane Watson, Dwayne Bravo and, to some extent, Imran Tahir.

But Deepak Chahar's contribution to Super Kings' three wins in three games this season has been immense. It is, however, possible that in the afterglow of the end-overs brilliance of the Dhonis and the Bravos, Chahar's feats haven't registered quite as strongly as they might have otherwise.

It has to do with how Dhoni uses Chahar, as a frontline bowler who doesn't bowl in the death. With the field restrictions in play, he has bowled unbroken spells up front in all three matches. The result? Chahar has returned the best economy rate - 4.66 - and smart economy figures - 2.1 - so far this season.

Chahar holds the distinction of sending down the most deliveries in the first six overs since the start of the 2018 season - in which he took 10 wickets in 12 matches. He impressed with his ability to swing the ball under lights, which subsequently earned him the India cap - he has played one ODI and one T20I to date.

Interestingly, while he is a better strike force, while also maintaining an excellent economy rate, in the first six overs, his economy actually becomes even better between overs seven and 11. But that's not his best period in terms of picking up wickets.

On the subject of wickets, Chahar didn't have any while conceding 17 runs in Super Kings' season opener against Royal Challengers Bangalore. In the last two matches, though, he struck thrice at the expense of only 39 runs his eight overs. His victims: Ajinkya Rahane, and the in-form pair of Sanju Samson and Prithvi Shaw. Impressive, right?

For Stephen Fleming, the Super Kings head coach, the "relatively unsung" Chahar's formidable showings this season haven't come as a surprise. Fleming had, after all, observed the pace bowler from close quarters in the 2016 and 2017 seasons when they were both part of Rising Pune Supergiant, and he knew what the paceman can and cannot do.

"He's been with me for four years now and his development has been excellent," Fleming said in Mumbai on Tuesday, ahead of Super Kings' match against Mumbai Indians. "He's always been a very skilful player, but in some ways, has been reducing his skills down to know what to deliver at the right time.

"He's worked around just being quite simple with his method rather than all this and all that and all the skills that he's got" Coach Fleming on Chahar

"In particular, his bowling has been very good [this season]. [He] swung a little bit in the last game. He's relatively unsung, but his performance to date has been very good. The key thing for him has been consistency."

Clarity of thought and a willingness to exercise restraint, stressed Fleming, have abetted Chahar's evolution as a potent force in the IPL, and his determination to stick to the plan outlined for him by the support staff has made a big difference.

Fleming said, "The bowling coaches, with Eric Simons (bowling consultant) and [Lakshmipathy] Balaji (bowling coach), he's worked around just being quite simple with his method rather than all this and all that and all the skills that he's got. He's now a lot smarter with the options he uses."

Apart from his impressive run with the ball, there is also his less-analysed (and -utilised) skills with the bat in hand.

In last season's final league-stage fixture - yes, one more cricket match that ended with a Dhoni six! - a big blow to Kings XI Punjab's playoff hopes came from an unlikely quarter: sent in at No. 6, ahead of Dhoni, Chahar smashed three sixes on his way to a 20-ball 39 that ensured his side ended on a high.

The rationale behind promoting Chahar (and Harbhajan Singh) in that game, as the captain had explained, was to create "a bit of chaos" and negate the swing on offer for the bowling side.

"If you see the bowling line-up, it was swinging a bit. In a game like this, you want to take a lot of wickets while it is swinging. So with Bhajji and Chahar going in - it creates a bit of chaos," Dhoni said at the time. "With proper batsmen the bowlers are consistent; somehow to lower-order players they try the bouncers, off-cutters, etc."

But that may well have been a one-off exercise.

"I want Deepak to fly under the radar… He's been consistent with the ball," Fleming said. "Look, I don't want to see him with the bat. I don't see him come out as a pinch-hitter again. But him at No. 8 is a talent not many have seen but he's a very good player."

As long as can do his job with the ball, like he has been, it should stand both the player and his team in good stead.