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Deepak Chahar's journey from false dawns to late sunshine

Putting a spate of injuries and "freakish" bad luck behind him, Deepak Chahar is finally showing the world all of his abilities as a swing bowler

Deivarayan Muthu
Deepak Chahar claimed the first wicket of IPL 2018 by trapping Evin Lewis lbw, Mumbai Indians v Chennai Super Kings, IPL 2018, Mumbai, April 7, 2018

Deepak Chahar claimed the first wicket of IPL 2018 by trapping Evin Lewis lbw  •  Getty Images

Manpreet Gony, Sudeep Tyagi, Mohit Sharma, Ishwar Pandey, Shadab Jakati... and Deepak Chahar. Chahar has become the latest uncapped Indian bowler to deliver for Chennai Super Kings. While Gony, Tyagi, Mohit, Pandey and Jakati were all unknown names before their stints with Super Kings, Chahar shot to prominence in 2010, after bagging 8 for 10 on Ranji Trophy debut to bundle out Hyderabad for 21 - the lowest total in Indian domestic cricket - at just 18 years of age. In his first Ranji season, he carried Rajasthan to their first title with 30 wickets at 19.63. He was subsequently signed by Rajasthan Royals in 2011, but a spate of injuries and illnesses saw him fade away.
This doesn't mean he was sloppy. On the contrary, even after the end of his training sessions with Rajasthan, he'd go and do sprints in the dark to keep himself fit. Chahar's problem is that he is "freakishly unlucky." Or at least, that's how Hrishikesh Kanitkar, his first Ranji Trophy captain, puts it. Once, during a practice match, Kanitkar drove a ball back to him, Chahar stretched his hand out instinctively and earned a split webbing for his trouble.
He reunited with Kanitkar in 2016 at Rising Pune Supergiant and was even developing a knuckle ball when injury ruled him out of contention. After being seen as a first-choice pick, he played only five matches for Rising Pune in 2016 and 2017 and took one solitary wicket.
In October 2017, he was initially named in the Board President's XI squad for the warm-up games against the visiting New Zealand side, only for the BCCI to fix the "inadvertent" error and pick his brother Rahul Chahar instead.
After several false dawns, things are finally looking up for Chahar this season. He was the top wicket-taker in the 20-over Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy with 19 scalps in Rajasthan's maiden run to the final. He showed he had added an extra yard of pace and grabbed 5 for 15 against Karnataka; twice he was on a hat-trick in that match. His performances caught the eyes of Chennai Super Kings in the auction.
"When he came on to the domestic scene, Chahar used to bowl around 130kph, but now he has pushed his pace above 135kph because he wanted to play a higher level of cricket," Kanitkar told ESPNcricinfo. "He did not rush into it and, like Bhuvneshwar, he has upped his pace gradually. In one of the IPL matches, I noticed he hit 140kph but swing will be his strength."
These are still early days in IPL 2018, but Chahar seems to have become MS Dhoni's go-to bowler in the Powerplay. Dhoni's preference for swing bowlers at CSK is well known - Gony, Tyagi, Mohit, Pandey all had good outswingers. Chahar can move the ball both ways and now he has the confidence to bowl the knuckle ball he had practiced at Rising Pune. Case in point: the variation that fooled Ajinkya Rahane and hit the top of off stump.
CSK coach Stephen Fleming was thrilled to see how far Chahar has come along: "He's been developing over the last two years. He had a very good domestic season. His skill set was something we were very impressed with since the first day. He's actually a handy batsman as well. We think he's a fine cricketer. The fact that he swings the ball is important. Lots of trends in the game, obviously wristspinners and swinging the ball are very effective at the moment. And he does that and he does it at good pace too. At the moment he's around 140 kph, 143 tops. He's gone really well. He's got to find and maintain consistency and that will come with experience. "
In his last two games, Chahar has bowled uninterrupted four and three-over spells with the new ball, opening up the middle order for the change bowlers. His spell against Sunrisers Hyderabad on Sunday was particularly delightful. He began with a wicket-maiden, and the wicket itself was a perfect set up. Outswinger first. Inswinger next. Outswinger again. Batsman caught at slip for 0. In his next over, he dismissed Manish Pandey with one that move away again before getting Deepak Hooda with a change-up. At that point, Chahar had delivered 13 dots in 14 balls. Eventually, he finished with 3 for 15 in four overs to pave the way for another last-over CSK win.
Most teams would have figured out by now that all of Chahar's seven IPL wickets, including six this season, have come in the Powerplay at an economy rate of 8.6. How can he adapt to that and Royal Challengers Bangalore's rollicking top four on an easy-paced, hit-through-the line, Chinnaswamy pitch?

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo