At the age of 26, having played 91 times for India across the three formats, Kuldeep Yadav has yet another opportunity to prove his worth. However, at the age of nearly 30, Varun Chakravarthy faces an uphill battle against form and fitness even before his debut for the national team.
Varun Chakravarthy’s career has been a rather unique one, it was only at the age of 26 when the mystery spinner had announced his existence with his bowling, that caught the batsmen in a spell.
More interestingly, he wasn’t a spinner to kick things off, he was a wicketkeeper-batsman before he dabbled into pace bowling and eventually settled as a spinner, only because of his bad back. His first season with the ball yielded just nine wickets but what was impressive and had caught the widespread attention of the cricket lovers, on social media, was his ability to cut the run veins, bowling 125 dot balls in just 10 innings.
He didn’t stop there, he went on to make his debut across all the formats for Tamil Nadu in the 2018-19 domestic season, which eventually culminated in him getting an IPL contract, with the then Kings XI Punjab side.
But there came the crash, in the clash against his current side Kolkata Knight Riders on his debut, he went for 35 runs with the ball, picking up just a solitary wicket in the outing. Since that, a finger injury had ruled him out of the competition, which then subsequently started the tumble of his career. An architect, who brilliantly had started to craft himself a career in cricket, had just faced his first big block, a block that has often put an end to several bowlers’ careers - injury.
While injuries are part and parcel of a bowler’s career, for a spinner, who made his debut only at the age of 26, it was always going to be a detrimental one, especially considering how many years he would have in international cricket. Having celebrated just earlier in the year, with Punjab picking him for 8.4 crores, the money had slowly started fading, as the injuries kept him tumbling away from the game that made him leave his profession, in the first place.
Sport is often cruel, you would have to spend years and years, putting in efforts at every level to make the cut and one injury could leave you back in dry. The mystery spinner was yet another athlete, who was caught in the crossroads, having suffered the wrath of injury. While no franchise had dared to take the leap, especially considering that he had not played any form of cricket since his injury, he had a magnitude task, in front of him, to start it all over again.
Cut to July 2021, having been picked in the India squad for the series against Sri Lanka, the mystery spinner has to go through the rigour all over again - starting it fresh. However, this time, not just based on his efforts in the Tamil Nadu Premier League or his stint with Kings XI Punjab but it was driven by his efforts for the Kolkata Knight Riders, where he emerged as a premier spinner for the country.
His emergence also coincided with his maiden call-up for the national team, before the series against Australia, away from home. However, his familiar foe, an injury, had the last say as he was not deemed fit to be part of the Indian squad for the series Down Under. And again, before the England series, he was once again deemed unfit to make it to the cut, which really left the Indian skipper Virat Kohli in a tilt, fuming at the press conference.
Varun Chakravarthy’s mark in the IPL was brutally cut short his first impression in the national team setup, his consistent worry with fitness was something that had held him back, more than his abilities on the field. And for once, he knew that his career in cricket, especially his dream of playing for India would solely only depend on him and he needed to get his act together, with him expected to play a key role in the Indian squad that was named to take on Sri Lanka.
India, who flew with a countless number of leg-spinners, spinners who would take the ball away from the right-handers, needed someone to hold the fort, with his uncanny abilities at the other end. Yuzvendra Chahal’s abilities were fading, Kuldeep Yadav has been on the verge of breaking down in the past two years and more importantly, Krunal Pandya is in the setup, merely for his batting abilities. So this provides the talented Tamil Nadu spinner with a unique opportunity - to set things right, to tell the entire world that he deserved the luck, third time albeit.
His 25 IPL wickets were not a fluke, his opportunities in the Indian team were not just lucky and more importantly, his body ideally, not so weak and timid. If he had entered as the second spinner in the 2020 edition of the IPL, he had walked out of it as one of the best in the competition. But behind the scenes, more important than his average, strike rate, economy rate or even the list of wickets, was would he find himself back in the best shape possible?
Walking into the 2021 edition of the IPL, he was a much-improved athlete, having strung hard in the off-season, with both - the franchise, KKR and National Cricket Academy - helping him gain utmost fitness.
“In Varun’s case, we trained at Thane’s Dadoji Konddev stadium and at Parsee Gymkhana in South Mumbai. One has to look at the player’s past history and frame curated programmes. Most of the progress is made in the off-season,” said KKR’s assistant bowling coach, Omkar Salvi to Hindustan Times.
If he entered the 2021 edition as one of the best, he turned his game up a notch, bowling regularly in the death overs, without conceding too many runs. If he is indeed entering the Sri Lanka series as one of the best talents, he has an opportunity to come away as the best, he has succumbed under the pressure in the past but now, he has a unique opportunity to thrive under the limelight.
But the narrative would still surround whether he, his body and his bag of tricks would come good at the international level, having passed the rigorous IPL season twice in two seasons. Seven variations - leg-spinner, the carrom ball, the leg-cutter, the off-spinner, the flipper, the top-spinner and the arm ball, three lives, one spinner - time for the leg-spinner to leave a long-lasting impression in Sri Lanka, far away from home.