Before the game against Kings XI Punjab on Saturday, Deepak Chahar had not bowled a single ball in the death overs since his IPL debut in May 2016. He had established himself as Chennai Super Kings' Powerplay specialist - since IPL 2018 no bowler has taken more wickets than Chahar's 17 - but an injury to the side's designated death bowler Dwayne Bravo forced Dhoni hold an over of Chahar back for the death.
Kings XI Punjab needed 39 off 12 balls in a chase of 161. Dhoni tossed the ball to Chahar, but the seamer made a mess of the back-of-the-hand slower ball in dewy conditions and instead sent down two beamers, the first of which was ramped over backward point. The second was slashed over the same fielder, and just like that the equation was reduced to 31 off 12 balls.
Dhoni was livid with Chahar's back-to-back lapses and walked up to him, asking him to change up his pace and lengths. Chahar then redeemed himself with a brace of near-perfect yorkers and three tighter slower balls. He capped the over with a full, straight ball that knocked over David Miller's leg stump.
Chahar gave Scott Kuggeleijn the cushion of defending 25 in the final over, and the New Zealand seam-bowling allrounder secured victory for Super Kings on IPL debut.
"I've got thousands of messages asking the same question [What did Dhoni tell you after bowling two beamers?]. I think he was angry," Chahar said. "If I was the captain, I would have been angry also at that situation, bowling two beamers. They needed 39 runs and suddenly needed only 30  off 12 balls. He was angry at the selection of the ball. It was a wet ball and that ball was not good. So, I went and bowled other balls."
Last season, Chahar found movement in the air and also off the helpful Pune track to subdue the opposition. The Chennai track hasn't been as helpful to the seamers, but Chahar has adjusted by venturing a variety of slower balls.
Chahar said that he had trained for the tired Chepauk surface by bowling a lot of slower balls in the lead-up to the IPL. Earlier, he had developed the knuckle ball during his injury-hit stint with Rising Pune Supergiant(s) in 2016, and then introduced it to the world at Chennai Super Kings last season.
"Last year we played a lot of matches in Pune," Chahar said. "The conditions were very helpful for seam bowlers. There was lot of swing and seam [movement], but this year I knew we will be playing a lot of matches in Chennai. So, we practiced that way, and length is very important. When the ball is swinging, you can get away with bad lengths, But, when the ball isn't swinging, the length and line need to be very accurate.
"So, I've practiced that way. I have worked on the slower ones and slower bouncers. I was prepared for it. Obviously, I'm a better bowler now than I was last year because at this level, you need a lot of confidence. Last year I performed well, so I had a lot confidence. Playing for India has also helped me."
Chahar's knuckle ball hasn't made an appearance yet in IPL 2019, but he pinned Robin Uthappa with a 120kph offcutter in Super Kings' victory over Kolkata Knight Riders on Tuesday. Uthappa briefly found his groove with back-to-back boundaries off seam-up balls from Chahar. Dhoni then brought fine leg inside the circle and whisked midwicket to the boundary.
Chahar got a short offcutter to stick into the pitch and had Uthappa splicing a catch to Kedar Jadhav, who had just moved to deep midwicket. Dhoni and Chahar executed the plan to perfection and left Knight Riders at 24 for 4 in the fifth over. There would be no way back for them.
"Obviously, it [Uthappa's wicket] was a plan," Chahar said. "The ball only swings one or two overs and after that the batsmen are looking to line up the ball. And there you have to bowl a lot of variations. I've practiced a lot of variations like the knuckle ball, but it's very difficult to bowl with the wet ball. So the option is yorker, or slower bouncer on this wicket. So, we set the field according to that because we are going to bowl this ball."
In the two overs he has bowled in the death in the past two matches, Chahar has done fairly well, giving away 19 runs while claiming a wicket.
David Willey (personal reasons) and Lungi Ngidi (injury) have both been sidelined from the entire IPL 2019. Bravo has now joined Ngidi on the injury list and might not be available until the end of April. Chahar said he was ready to dig deeper into his reserves and embrace the responsibility of bowling at the death.
"I don't think I have any pressure," Chahar said. "I like when responsibility is given to me. I was happy, and I always wanted to bowl at the death. Obviously, we miss Bravo because he's an asset to the team and you can't replace a bowler. Because you need a batsman and a bowler in place of him. As far as I'm concerned, I was happy to get the opportunity to bowl at the death. Proving myself as a death bowler will help me in my career because it makes me a complete bowler."