Deepak Chahar runs in to bowl, with the new cherry in his hand, the fans are absolutely delighted and assured that he will pick up wickets with the new ball. But what transpired in Colombo is and will not be a one-time affair.
It is the 2021 edition of the Indian Premier League, the fans have gone berserk, not because Thala MS Dhoni has knocked it out of the park but because Deepak Chahar has returned to his sublime form, with the new ball. The vociferous support on Twitter was guaranteed and for Chahar, a long-lasting legacy with the new ball well earned.
In short, that is how people mostly define the 28-year-old bowler from Agra, Deepak Lokendrasingh Chahar. You might have to pay close attention to the story to crack this ‘new-ball’ journey for the bowler. He wasn’t fast, he wasn’t extremely aggressive, he wasn’t most definitely a one-swing pony that people assume him to be.
Swing, new-ball, wickets are some of the keywords that are closely associated with him but in the late hours on Tuesday, that all started to change. Deepak Chahar had pulled off the most outrageous ‘heist’ in Lanka, one that seemingly has transpired an entirely vivid and distinctive narrative around him. But it wasn’t his first time.
"When you play for India A or the country, you don't get a lot of chances. So this is the place where I can show what I can do with my bat. I obviously want to win matches with my bowling, but if I score some runs it is an extra edge," Chahar told Sportstar back in 2019, before the start of the Bangladesh tour.
While he didn’t quite get the chance to flex his bat with the national team, Chahar had quietly, away from the fanatical eyes, shown his quality as a batsman - a solid defence, an over-the-top follow through and a befitting slog that could carry the ball miles away. Many remember the audacious move from Dhoni to make the right-hander into an overnight batting sensation but that knock isn’t what Chahar is typically made of.
It was the 56th match of the 2018 IPL season, CSK were at their own den in Pune, needing a win to solidify their position at the top of the table. Chahar, with the ball, ended up with just figures of 1-30 in his four overs but surprisingly, got an opportunity to not just bat but to become a hero for the franchise. Walking at 58-4 after 10 overs, the right-hander walked in and it surprised everyone - fans, opposition skipper Ravichandran Ashwin and even the commentators.
But his calm, collected and equally viable element of Swashbuckle-tooth against Ashwin enabled him to not just score two sixes and a boundary but to finish with a score of 39 from 20 balls. That was fiery yet it was selective scoring, something that he had learnt over the years, playing for Rajasthan.
Flash-forward to 2019, Rajasthan are in dire straits against Bihar in the Vijay Hazare Trophy, at 156/5, needing something spectacular to get them to a par total. Skipper Mahipal Lomror’s innings of 2 off 10 balls showed that the pitch wasn’t the most ideal of batting conditions. Bihar might not have been the most threatening side but Rajasthan were in a delicate situation. Alongside Rajesh Bishnoi, Chahar put on a show, at No.7, with a 51-ball 63, where he was carefully picking apart the bowlers, with three boundaries and five sixes.
Even though he only bowled the three overs, he was rightfully the most impactful player, with two maidens and a knock that was of utmost value and importance to the team. However, that knock didn’t weigh any progress for Rajasthan, who finished with just ten points. But in 2019, different format, same batsman, a very complex situation for Rajasthan this team around, Chahar came attending the call.
In Surat, against a strong Delhi team, led by Dhruv Shorey, the Rajasthan side were pinned and slapped towards the wall, with their backs against the wall. 0/1 turned 43/2, 44/3, 50/4 and 50/5 before Chahar came out to bat. Before him, only two other batsmen had cleared the boundary, with four sixes in between them. But as his blade came blazing, the runs, the momentum and more crucially, a place in the semi-final was swinging their way.
During his knock, he had cleared the boundaries seven times, more than what Delhi eventually managed in their entire innings. But more importantly, he took 42 deliveries, spent valuable time at the crease which allowed Rajasthan to rebuild their innings to a substantial total, which later turned into a match-winning score for them. With the ball he didn’t pick a single wicket but a maiden from him meant that Delhi’s hopes were crushed, with Rajasthan facing Tamil Nadu in the semi-final.
So when Chahar walked out to bat, in Colombo, on a track that was slightly two-paced, it wasn’t alien for him. Rather, it was a situation that he was very well familiar with. But the pressure was not like Vijay Hazare or Syed Mushtaq Ali, it was a matter of series win for India. He didn’t walk in at No.7 but at No.8, where responsibility was more on the shoulders of Krunal Pandya to not expose the tail. However, that’s where the catch lies, there was no tail - in fact, this Indian lower-order had the quality to bat and bat well.
When the right-handed Chahar walked in, the focus shifted, not just from the Indian fans but also from the Sri Lankan bowlers, who hurled at his head, several times even breaking his posture down with thuds. 2 off 16, the right-hander was definitely not the best batter out there but looked assured nevertheless. His first boundary certainly raised expectations but his partnership with Bhuvneshwar Kumar raised tension.
Anxious Indian fans ran to get glued to their television sets, some had already given up when Suryakumar Yadav had got out. Every time a bad delivery came, Chahar ensured that it had to reach the boundary, slowly building the castle from down below. A six and two boundaries later, the Indian fans started believing that his knocks against Delhi and Bihar were no fluke, he was not just a bowler who could bowl but could contribute very heavily with the bat. It was perhaps only fitting that he hit the winning runs for India.
That was just one side of the story, the other side, Chahar’s Kratos-like look came with added pressure, not with the new ball but with the old one. His knuckle deliveries, back of the hand slower ones and sharp bouncers certainly caught the Sri Lankan batsmen by surprise, and his dance, well just one of his many talents. For the larger picture, the Agra-bowler’s package came very handily for the national team, who now have identified the real need for more bowlers who can bat.
“I am honestly more comfortable bowling at death with five fielders outside. It is easier to bowl to that field-set. Whenever I have bowled in the death, I have never conceded more than 10 runs in an over. But Mahi Bhai, more often than not, asks me to bowl with the new ball because if I can take 2-3 wickets upfront, it keeps the side in good stead. I have always been a captain’s bowler, thus I have never qualms doing that over and over again,” Chahar had told Cricket.com last month.
Gone are the days when the bowlers turned up and just bowled their overs. The demanding limited-formats calls for bowlers to double-up, buckle-up as a batter and Chahar’s 92-minute stay, for his 69 runs, showcased what India really needed, a competition. India already possesses Shardul Thakur and Bhuvneshwar but when the need arises, starting with the World T20, the 28-year-old’s dual-tone, that had sort of fortified him into a godlike presence, would definitely come in handy.
It might be too early to say that he is India’s solution, after all that’s where a lot of the hype often is created (and eventually dies). But with more substance than the talk, there is a strong possibility that Deepak Chahar will not just live to the expectations but might just well outlive it.