They were born within three days of each other, seven years apart. They are as close to being siblings as it is possible to be without actually being brothers: their fathers are brothers; their mothers are sisters. Fast bowler Deepak Chahar and legspinner Rahul Chahar are cousins twice over, who grew up together in houses facing each other, and for whom Lokendrasingh Chahar, Deepak's father, had the same dream: that they would play for India one day.
The two have been at opposing ends of the IPL's fiercest rivalry, Mumbai Indians v Chennai Super Kings. The 2018 tournament catapulted Deepak into the reckoning for a place in the national side, while Rahul's steady progress through the ranks has continued apace. Cut to India's tour of the West Indies tour in 2019, where they are part of the T20I squad, and might feature together in one (or more) of the three games. We spoke to the two during the last domestic season for a freewheeling chat.
What are you memories of playing together in childhood?
Deepak: We didn't play together much. When I started playing [with a leather ball], I was 12 years old, and he was just five. Initially my family was in Suratgarh, a town near Ganganagar [in Rajasthan]. My father was in the Air Force. We made practice wickets at home. When Papa retired, we came to Agra, and he got one turf pitch and a cement pitch made. From then I started playing more seriously, and that's where he [Rahul] also started.
We are cousins, but we are like brothers. Even the blood group in our family is the same for everyone - A positive!
Back then did you ever think you would be playing together at the highest levels?
Deepak: Since the day I held a cricket ball I've been thinking of playing for India, and when he held the ball, that's what he thought too - that we're going to play together for India. These are all just steps on the way - the Ranji Trophy and other tournaments.
Papa always taught us to aim big. For Rahul, Papa always tells him, "You are a bowler who can take 300-400 wickets for India."
Rahul, how did you get into cricket? Did you watch Deepak play and want to be like him?
Rahul: Well, there were nets right in front of the house, so I used to just go for timepass. But when Tauji [Dad's older brother] saw that I had some talent with legspin, he had the same dream for me [as he had for Deepak] and my interest in cricket also grew. Plus, I wasn't that good in studies.
Deepak: That went in his favour! (both laugh)
In Agra, there were some high-profile tournaments, where Ranji cricketers would also play, which had cash prizes of a lakh. I played those very late, after I had already played Under-15s. But he got to play these at nine years old. In one such match, when he was ten, our team was hit for 210 runs [in 20 overs], but he bowled four overs and took 3 for 10. He got two of the Ranji cricketers also out. I don't remember their names, but they had played Ranji. And he got them at the age of ten!
And from the time I've seen him, he has always performed. He has been among the highest wicket-takers at district level, at age-group levels. It hasn't ever happened that he hasn't been among the wickets, even at India U-19 or U-23. His graph has been very good.
Deepak, was the 2018 IPL the turning point of your career?
Deepak: I had the belief always that when I get to play all 14 matches in an IPL season, I will play for the country. You can only play 14 matches if you are doing well, and if you play that many, you can show all your skills. So that was my target.
Then the India call-up happened and I needed to show that I could do well there. The IPL helps a lot. Indian cricket being so much ahead of the others has a lot to do with the IPL. When I made my India debut, I had already bowled to some of those players and done well, so that was a confidence boost.
When did you get to know you would be playing in the IPL?
Deepak: Mahi bhai [MS Dhoni] was in Pune [Rising Pune Supergiant] for two years. He had faith in me. In the first year itself, he told me I would get to play, but unfortunately I got injured in the very first practice match. So I could play only the last two-three matches.
Next year, [Steven] Smith was the captain, and his plans were different, so I played only two-three matches. But Mahi bhai had told me he'd take me in Chennai [Super Kings] and to prepare well. So I had the belief that I will get chances. And Mahi bhai is among those people who will back you fully. He won't change his decision after just one or two matches. I knew that I would get at least five-six matches.
And he told me later, I think before the qualifier or the final, that in their initial planning talks he had said, "This guy will play all 14 matches, so let's talk of the others." He had that belief in me. And if Mahendra Singh Dhoni can believe in me so much, it gave me a reason to believe in my own abilities. That is his greatness - he gives players confidence. If someone like him says, "This guy is good and he'll do well', the player will also feel that he belongs at that level.
And how was it being picked for India?
Deepak: I thought that when I got picked for India I would yell and shout and celebrate. It happened because Jasprit Bumrah was injured. I was playing for India A that time [in England] and doing well. MSK Prasad sir told me of my selection over breakfast one morning, but also said, "Don't tell anybody." So my excitement stayed inside, since it wasn't yet officially announced. But obviously I felt very happy. The first person I told was Papa.
When Deepak first played for India, what was the feeling at home?
Rahul: I wasn't at home then, I was in England. But at home, there were dhols being beaten, everyone was dancing.
Rahul, when you get selected for India, who will you tell first?
Rahul: Tauji. He's the coach, he's the guru, so he deserves to know first.
Do you ever use each other as sounding boards?
Deepak: That's Papa's role.
Rahul: Tauji is there. If [Deepak] spots anything that I need to do, then he also calls me.
Is there competition between you when you're playing for Rajasthan? "He has taken two wickets, so I should take three?"
Rahul: No, nothing like that.
Deepak: We're happy whoever takes the wickets. Maybe if we were closer in age, there might have been a rivalry, but the age difference is too large.
Rahul: Tauji always tells us that our family is half the bowling attack of the team, so together we have to take five of the ten wickets. If he takes all five, Tauji will say, "Our sons have taken five." And he says the same if I have taken five.
Describe the feeling of playing for India, Deepak?
Deepak: I was achieving a dream I had had for 15 years. Actually two dreams. I had always wanted to bowl 145kph and play for India. And in that match I bowled 145kph too.
When I made my Ranji Trophy debut I was very slow - around 125kph. The period in the middle when I had injuries also came about because I made a big effort to become a 140kph bowler. It is a very difficult task. Many bowlers start at 140kph and come down to 125kph.
How did you do it?
Deepak: Lots of training. Changed my diet. I was vegetarian, but started eating non-veg too. Changed my lifestyle and my bowling action.
You have to make a huge effort, and you have to have time. If you have those two, it's possible to go from 125 to 140. When I decided, I was 19 years old, so I knew that I could [afford to] have a couple of bad years. But if someone who is 25 years old decides to become quicker, it might be difficult.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar did it.
Deepak: Bhuvneshwar might be the only one who has done it. He's very smart, and he increased his workload with a lot of thought. He could increase his speed without changing his action. I had to change mine, because my action wasn't that good for bowling fast. It was good for getting swing but not for bowling quick. I changed a lot of things to ensure that I can bowl at 140kph but still get swing.
Rahul, do you remember Deepak's Ranji debut, where he took 8 for 10?
Rahul: I was at home then. We were practising and Tauji had put his phone to charge. When he went inside to check his phone, we suddenly heard him yell, "Yeahhhh." We stopped practice and went home, and sweets were distributed to everyone. I was too young then, so I didn't have the courage to talk to him about the achievement.
What was it like to walk into the Rajasthan dressing room knowing Deepak was already there?
Rahul: It makes a difference. He has seen me since childhood, and there was someone to show me the ropes. The biggest advantage of having him around is that if there is a problem with my bowling, he'll pick it up and tell me. Because of him, the seniors in the team already knew me, so I didn't feel as intimidated.
Deepak, how was having Rahul in the team?
Deepak: He has had a big advantage. Generally what happens in the Ranji Trophy is, there's a lot of politics. I learned this late. We are the kind who speak our minds. I suffered a lot due to politicking after my first two years. I learned a lot there. The advantage he has is, this hasn't happened to him. And it can't happen too, because now I'm one of the senior players in the team, so people can't go against him.
Deepak: It happens in every team. There was a period of four years where I never got the new ball for Rajasthan. I've played as the fourth medium-pacer for two years. I can't really tell you all about whatever went down, but there have been matches where the team bowled 110 overs, of which I was given just five.
I'm a new-ball bowler. I've bowled with the new ball for India, I bowl with the new ball in the IPL - but for Rajasthan I was bowling fourth! So there is a question mark somewhere - either on the team management or whoever was taking decisions.
I was also in and out of the team. Obviously your performance will suffer. You play me as a fourth bowler but expect my performance to be as it was earlier - of course it won't happen. It can't happen with any bowler. I would get chances on spinning tracks, and not get into the XI on green tracks. One bad performance and I would be out. When there is a sword hanging over your head, it's difficult for a player to perform.
It changed after last year because I did well in the IPL. Then everyone thought they can't touch me.
Rahul, are you normally this quiet, or is it because Deepak is here?
Rahul: It's because my big brother's sitting here. (smiles) Since childhood I don't speak too much in front of elders, so…
Deepak: It's our family culture. We've been taught since childhood to respect elders. Not just in the family but even outside. Respect someone who's older, no matter who they are, whether your coach, your team-mate, the guy who sweeps floors.
Rahul, your domestic season has been a good one. Forty-one wickets in the Ranji Trophy, playing in a pace-dominated attack, and a successful IPL with Mumbai Indians. What went right in the Ranji Trophy this year?
Rahul: (long pause)
Deepak: I'll tell you. He's a wicket-taking bowler. If you give him more overs to bowl, he'll take wickets. He's a leggie but bowls it quick through the air. He might concede runs, but he's going to get you wickets for sure. If he bowls 25-30 overs against any side, he can take five wickets against them.
This year he got the freedom to do that. We [Rajasthan] have no spinners, so he got a long run. And in the first innings of the season, he got to bowl a lot of overs and took five wickets. And his confidence kept building.
Like my debut - in my first game I got eight wickets, so my confidence was very high, and it didn't used to matter which batsman was in front of me. Now, with experience, I do think about which batsman is there and his strengths and weaknesses. Now [Rahul] also knows that even if he has a bad day, he's the one who's going to get the ball when we need a spinner. He has proved himself and the team has faith in him. The fact that he's taking that responsibility at this age is a big thing. If your team believes in you, you also believe in yourself.
When did you feel proudest of Rahul?
Deepak: I've told him this. He bowled an over to Gautam bhaiyya [Gambhir] last year [in the final of the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy of 2017-18]. The way he bowled - it was in the Powerplay and we had already been hit for some 40-50 runs. He bowled a maiden, and got him out too. He couldn't read any of his balls, and [Gambhir] has been among the best batsmen against spinners. If you can bowl like that to such a player, it shows you belong to that level.
During the Ranji Trophy quarter-final against Karnataka, Rahul dropped a catch off your bowling. You said that you yourself had never dropped a catch off him.
Deepak: I have told him, "The next time you drop one, you're going to get whacked on the ground itself."
Rahul: I hadn't dropped a single catch this season, and the first one I dropped was off his bowling.
Deepak: And look at my record - he's been bowling for so many years, I haven't dropped a single catch off him. Even at slip.
So is Rahul going to face any more consequences for that drop?
Rahul: He's going to belt me!
Less than 12 hours after this exchange, Deepak dropped his first ever catch off Rahul.