With the Twenty20 World Cup just a year away, India seem to have found a genuine match-winner in Deepak Chahar. The right-arm fast bowler returned with sensational figures of six wickets for just seven runs in the third T20 International against Bangladesh on Sunday to help India clinch the three-match series 2-1.
Chahar became the first Indian man to register a hat-trick in T20I cricket and also notched up the best bowling figures by a man in T20Is. The 27-year-old got wickets with the new ball as well as in the death to solidify his position in the XI.
Having made his First Class and List A debut way back in 2010 as an 18-year-old, Chahar spent several years on the domestic circuit without much success. His progress was hampered by injuries and he struggled to replicate the stunning feat he achieved on his First Class debut for Rajasthan – a haul of eight wickets for just 10 runs.
It was in the 11th edition of the Indian Premier League, last year, when Chahar made a statement once again. Playing for the Chennai Super Kings, he picked up 10 wickets in 12 matches to help the men in yellow clinch the T20 trophy for the third time. That performance also helped him earn his first India call-up and he made his ODI debut against Afghanistan in September, 2018.
In this year’s IPL, too, Chahar put in a string of impressive performances. And this time, it wasn’t just with the new ball. He was used consistently at the death as well and ended up bagging 22 wickets in the 17 matches he played. Once again, his IPL performances helped him get recognised and he made his T20I debut soon after in England.
It is in these two IPL seasons with CSK that Chahar’s game seems to have grown significantly. And the one crucial factor for him in these two stints has been the presence of Mahendra Singh Dhoni as captain.
In an interview with The Times of India, former India pacer and CSK bowling coach Lakshmipathy Balaji spoke about how Dhoni’s inputs have helped Chahar grow as a bowler.
“The good thing about Chahar is that he is always keen to learn,” said Balaji. “When he joined CSK, initially, he used to bowl only in the first 10 overs. But Dhoni was keen to use him at the death and see how well he has learnt. Dhoni told him to use slower balls and back of a length deliveries to make it tough for the batsmen. It was good to see he has learnt and he negotiated similar conditions so well.”
Chahar himself acknowledged the contribution CSK and Dhoni have made to his game. Speaking after the final T20I against Bangladesh, he said: “Playing in Chennai [for CSK], I have now realised how to counter dew and sweat, how to keep my hands clean. At times, rub dry soil in your hands and then bowl.”
This isn’t to say that Chahar has been hand-held to the top by Dhoni. The pacer is the talk of the town today because of the hard yards he has put in. His controlled swing with the new ball and variations at the end of an innings are skills that can match up with the very best. But the growth he has had playing under Dhoni is undeniable.
Of course, not every cricketer who has played under Dhoni’s leadership has gone on to achieve international success. However, the ones who have tend to make it a point to swear by the former India captain’s impact on their game.
Be it Mohit Sharma, who played for India in the 2015 World Cup in Australia, or the likes of Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal, to name a few, they have all been open about the advantage of having Dhoni behind the stumps and the input he provides.
The influence that Dhoni has on his bowlers can be gauged from a comment he had made after CSK lost an IPL game to Rajasthan Royals last year.
“We had to bowl one particular length and the bowlers were instructed on what they need to bowl and where they need to bowl,” he had said. “What really happens is once you are told what to bowl, you need to be bowling to that area. They need to commit and execute. It is not the planning but the execution that goes haywire.”
This statement shows the kind of in-depth feedback you get as a bowler playing under Dhoni. It’s almost as if he lays out a foolproof plan for you and it’s up to you to make the most of it. And if you live up to his expectations, you could make a name for yourself. Much like the way Joginder Sharma did back in 2007.
Dhoni’s future in international cricket remains a mystery and it’s also unclear whether he will turn up to play in the Ranji Trophy. Historically, the 38-year-old hasn’t played domestic cricket very often. One can’t help but imagine, though, the kind of effect he will have on youngsters if he does decide to play for Jharkhand this season.
It seems certain that Dhoni will play for CSK in the IPL for at least another year. It will be great for Indian cricket, though, if he does choose to play in the domestic circuit too. He’s one of the greatest thinkers of the game and the time he spends with youngsters across the country will be invaluable. It’s the clarity of thought he provides that helps elevate players.
For now, though, let’s cherish Chahar, India’s latest international success who has benefited from having the former India captain as leader and mentor.