Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo
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India's head coach Rahul Dravid was the India A coach before he took up the job. During his stint, he coached most of the players who play for India now. One of the players he was highly impressed with was Deepak Chahar. It wasn't just the skills. Chahar has had to deal with more than a few injuries, but he has always bounced back. Dravid says that whenever Chahar played for India A, it was an education for the other fast bowlers in the group, in how professional, deliberate and particular he was with how he looked after his body.
Chahar's ability to come back from injury has been tested at a particularly delicate time in his career. He was building up solid momentum towards his first World Cup appearance when he tore his quadriceps during a T20I in February this year. It turned out be his last competitive game of cricket before his match-winning return against Zimbabwe on Thursday.
At the time of his injury, Chahar was a frontrunner for the new-ball role in India's T20 side. He also brought value with the bat down the order. He had worked on his death-bowling skills too, and had proved it when playing for Chennai Super Kings. While rehabbing following the quadriceps tear, Chahar did his back in, which kept him out of the IPL and the tours of England and the West Indies.
Had Chahar been ready for the five T20Is against the West Indies, he could have presented a case for a World Cup spot, but now that he is not part of the Asia Cup squad, it is perhaps believed that his body has recovered a touch too late.
It pays to be professional and philosophical about these things and do the best you can when you get whatever games you get. Chahar was not happy with the landing area when he began his new-ball spell, but his attention to detail was apparent. He was not taking any chances on his comeback. By over two, he felt comfortable and was on the money with a new ball that surprisingly swung for all seven overs of his first spell.
In these moments, it's not about selection for World Cups but enjoying the rare day when the conditions are helping you.
"That [World Cup selection] is not in my hand," Chahar said when asked if he felt he was back to where he was six-and-a-half months ago vis-à-vis the World Cup spot. "Skill-wise, though, I have worked really hard. There I can say I have probably started where I had left off. After the first over [when I had the run-up issue], rest whatever I bowled, I was happy. It was a seven-over spell, so the fitness is good."
However, Chahar did feel the pressure of having to reclaim his place in the side after the long break. "You have to make your space again in the team," Chahar said. "Because when you are away for a long time, others come in and perform well and make their place in the side. To make your place in the side again, you have to give good performances. So that pressure is always there on a returning player. I had the same expectation that I will do well when I come back because that is all a player has in his hand."
Other than that, Chahal will be the first one to say his outing in Harare - late swing each way, full attacking lengths, early wickets - didn't tell viewers anything they didn't know about Chahar. "My plan is always simple," Chahar said. "When the ball is swinging, try to bowl fuller length and take as many wickets as possible. When the ball is not swinging, then there is a Plan B or Plan C. Today when I bowled, it swung for six-seven overs, so I had a simple plan: bowl full, mix the swing and confuse the batsmen."
The question really is not about Chahar's skill or his utility when it comes to World Cup selection. It's about his fitness - which he was happy with having bowled 10 overs in the practice matches he played before returning, and then this seven-over spell - and the timing of his return. Do the selectors think it is too late to disrupt a combination that they might have settled on before Chahar's return?
As Chahar said, that is not in his hands. So let's just enjoy the early swing and look forward to Plans B and C for the rest of this series.