Deepak Chahar hasn't played competitive cricket since December 2023, but he is preparing to shake off the rust and return to action in the IPL as an improved bowler and batter. He is using the downtime before the tournament to add an extra yard of pace to his bowling and more shots to his batting.
"When you're doing rehab - or just playing - you're not gaining strength. You're losing strength of your body," Chahar said on the sidelines of an event in Chennai where Etihad Airways was announced as the new official sponsors for Chennai Super Kings. "So this is the right time for me or any athlete… when you get one-and-a-half months or two months, you need to gain strength. If you gain strength you increase your pace as well.
"So, yeah, when I played in 2018, I was nearly bowling around 140ks. When you're playing regularly you don't get the chance to do strength training and your pace comes down. This is the right time for me to increase my pace. Skill-wise, I've obviously been doing well with batting and bowling. So I'm trying to develop a few shots with the bat too, because when you bat at No. 8 or No. 9, you only get to play three-four balls. So you have to utilise those balls with different shots."
The presence of Chahar and Shardul Thakur could potentially give CSK batting depth all the way down to No.9, with the Sri Lanka pair of Maheesh Theekshana, who has also improved his batting, and Matheesha Pathirana to follow. Stephen Fleming had originally scouted Chahar as a batting allrounder at Rising Pune Supergiant/s, and MS Dhoni had even used him as a pinch-hitting No. 3 in 2018 - remember chaos theory? The introduction of the Impact Player rule has somewhat diminished CSK's need for Chahar, the batter, but his lower-order skills give the top order the license to take more risks.
"That was the only game where Mahi bhai [Dhoni] gave me batting before him and I scored some runs in that game," Chahar said with a laugh. "And we won that game. It has been good for the team because we haven't needed my batting. Mahi bhai himself bats at No. 8 and I bat at No. 9 and you know that gives a lot of balance to the team and see the batters before us having this [depth].
"I can give you an example of one game. It was the first game in Dubai after Covid. The first game was against Mumbai [Indians]. We were 40 for 4 [24 for 4], I think, and from there we ended up scoring 160 runs. Rutu [Ruturaj Gaikwad] and [Ravindra] Jadeja were playing, and they started hitting from the 14th over. Other teams won't do that because they don't have that depth in their batting. They have to go till the 18th or 19th over and then they start hitting. You are late and you don't end up scoring those many runs."
MS Dhoni and Stephen Fleming have a happy headache when it comes to getting the playing XI right•BCCI
'Dhoni, Fleming will have a problem with the combination'
The addition of New Zealand players Daryl Mitchell and Rachin Ravindra, who are both particularly strong against spin, and Thakur lends even more flexibility to the CSK line-up and could result in a problem of plenty for the team management, in Chahar's opinion.
"We had a very good auction and I also said recently that we have such a good balance that Mahi bhai and Fleming will have problems to make the combinations," he said. "We will have plenty of combinations to play with, so they're the ones who are going to decide. It's challenging for them to pick the combination for the 22nd [March]."
Chahar had missed the South Africa tour and the home T20Is against Afghanistan because his father was unwell. Since India don't play any more T20Is until the start of the T20 World Cup in June, the IPL is last-chance saloon for him.
"He's helped the bowlers a lot, especially those who bowl more at the death, because he knows the mindset of batsmen - what he is thinking"
Deepak Chahar on Dwayne Bravo, the CSK bowling coach
"I'd say family comes first. If there's a family emergency, you don't think about anything else," Chahar said. "When you face a situation like this, you don't think about what's going to happen next. When I came out of that situation, I could think about what next I can do. When anyone sees me play the next time, they should be thinking: 'he's an improved cricketer'."
At CSK, Chahar could lean on the experience of bowling coach Dwayne Bravo, who was often hands-on with the fast bowlers during the death overs in IPL 2023. Bravo stationed himself right behind his fast bowlers at the boundary to track their progress with the old ball.
"He has so much experience. He has more than 600  wickets in T20 cricket," Chahar said. "He doesn't teach me a lot [with the new ball], but when it comes to the old ball, he starts giving his coaching. He's helped the bowlers a lot, especially those who bowl more at the death, because he knows the mindset of batsmen - what he is thinking.
"At that time, you need to understand the game, have a mindset of our own, and understand the mindset of the batsman too. He's been trying to do that with the youngsters."