Five wins in the bag from six games and Chennai Super Kings, as they have on multiple occasions in previous seasons, now have a head-start in the playoffs race. It’s almost as if the “dad’s army” of last season regrouped, shrugged off the gold dust, and soldiered on where they left off at the Wankhede Stadium in the season finale. Almost Dhoni-like, some might say.
But amidst the sea of aging modern-day greats, Deepak Chahar, a young swing merchant with plenty of heart and the gift to swing a cricket ball, has managed to hold his own. Bowling in the powerplay overs and standing directly in the line of fire has not fazed the 26-year-old from Rajasthan, an unknown quantity before playing a central role in CSK’s success last year (10 wickets from 12 games.)
Yet again, it was a case of an up-and-coming talent knowing exactly what his role was in the team and being pitch-perfect in executing it. The men in yellow just seem to make a habit of it. Rajasthan Royals used to do it as good, if not better, before their two-year-ban.
CSK, though, can point at at least half a dozen names for whom success under MS Dhoni’s watchful eyes went on to become a springboard for bulldozing their way into the India squad. With Shane Watson, Ambati Rayudu, Harbhajan Singh, Suresh Raina’s showing that there is still life in their careers, CSK can stake a claim for being another springboard – one that revives have-beens.
Even Dhoni turns back the clock effortlessly in this setup compared to the somewhat topsy-turvy form in recent times with the Indian team. This environment lifts players, gives them well-defined roles and recognises them for what they bring to the table.
Under the wily Stephen Fleming-Dhoni leadership axis, Chahar has now established himself as a certainty in the playing XI, brushing aside senior pacers such as Mohit Sharma and Shardul Thakur. With South African Lungi Ngidi out of the tournament with an injury, the 26-year-old had his task cut out before a ball was bowled.
Out of the four matches CSK has played at home, atl east three have been on decks that favoured the spinners. It has been hard work for the batsmen at the MA Chidambaram Stadium, prompting criticism even from Dhoni. While he was a little restrained after the low-scoring tournament opener against Royal Challengers Bangalore, there was no holding back following his team’s emphatic win over Kolkata Knight Riders. “I don’t think w want to be playing on these tracks. It becomes too low scoring,” Dhoni said after the game.
In comparison, the Rajasthan Royals game was fairly high-scoring given what we have witnessed at the MAC. But Chahar’s variations and discipline had come to the fore even then as he accounted for the wickets of Ajinkya Rahane and Sanju Samson and earned a rare maiden over. CSK edged out their opponents by eight wickets after defying a middle-order fight.
The slow wickets have not deterred Chahar. The spinners have been instrumental in keeping the scoring rate in check. But the pacer from Rajasthan has made his presence felt in each of those games.
One also needs to take into account that these are still early days for Chahar and CSK. With the likes of Harbhajan Singh and Imran Tahir managing to effect breakthroughs regularly, Chahar’s task, one can say, becomes that much more easier; there are multiple doors available for Dhoni to knock on. Luck too, has been in his favour. On Tuesday, a scratchy Chris Lynn was caught plumb in front playing with a cross bat despite the ball keeping a tad low. After losing early wickets, Robin Uthappa and Nitish Rana should have never played the shots they did.
Where Chahar has scored as a new-ball bowler, though, is luring batsmen into playing false shots. Not allowing any freebies on offer when there are field restrictions, keeping them guessing. There has also been the odd ball that has climbed off the Chennai surface.
Consistency the key
Dhoni couldn’t have asked for more from Chahar, having picked up eight wickets from six games at an impressive economy rate of 5.95. His yorker, however, still needs a bit of polishing and so does his return spell. He almost made a mess of his initial forays against Kings XI Punjab with a forgettable over at the death, which included two no-balls and an angry telling off from his captain.
This is where the example of Bhuvneshwar Kumar can come in handy. A raw Bhuvneshwar, a few seasons ago, had the tendency to go slightly astray in the final overs. It was a bad habit that seeped into the Sunrisers Hyderabad skipper’s Test career too. Now, Bhuvneshwar can now say that he is one of the finest in the IPL, having improved his pace, and finding a balance between dismissing a batsman by attacking the stumps as well as through conventional swing – something that is his forte.
Last year, Chahar’s CSK performances earned him his One-Day International debut in England. More displays like the ones we have seen so far will certainly see him add to that tally. Dhoni, meanwhile, can sleep easy with the knowledge that his go-to pacer is passing the litmus test – in scenarios where the odds are favouring the batsmen – with flying colours.