"I only select the ball"
Fast bowlers are generally slightly eccentric, highly bullish and often outspoken. India's have been plain and highly strung, with notable exceptions such as Sreesanth. Deepak Chahar is not plain. He can't be accused of being low on confidence even though "medium-fast" describes him better than fast. In fact MS Dhoni and Stephen Fleming recognised his speed as optimum swing pace - a euphemism for lack of express pace - and turned his career around by giving him a super specialist role of bowling out at the top of an innings.
Chahar is now a serious contender for India's T20 World Cup side as auditions began in earnest in Mohali with a bilateral T20 international against South Africa, one of about 25 India are expected to play before going into the big event. This is a new India in which only Jasprit Bumrah can take his place for certain in the bowling department. Even the two wristspinners, Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal, talk of the town until recently, find themselves on the outside because they can't bat.
India are not going to make any compromises, and if it is a super-specialist auditioning for the role he had better be excellent at what he is doing. Chahar is asked what if they get a ball that is refusing to swing. It happens to the best of them. Swing is mysterious. Not to Chahar. This is when he reveals that he selects the ball, which means that it is sure to swing for one over at least. After that if a batsman hits the ball out of shape, there are no guarantees.
It says a lot about Dhoni's contribution to Chahar's development. Selecting a ball is often a role given to your best fast bowler; Chahar enjoys that confidence from Dhoni. He pays off by swinging more balls than anybody in the IPL, and by a comfortable margin. Bowlers such as Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Trent Boult and Tim Southee swing about half as many balls as Chahar, that too in Chennai, where he believes swing goes to die. Over the last three IPL seasons, he has taken more Powerplay wickets than anyone.
While Dhoni had given him a role where he could best use his skills, Chahar needed to develop a big heart for it because having only two fielders outside the circle can be tough. More so during your third over of the Powerplay when, if you haven't taken wickets in the first two overs, the batsmen are looking to take advantage. But two fielders outside the circle has become a way of life for Chahar now.
"When I sit down to plan now, I plan thinking I have only two fielders," Chahar said after his analysis of 4-0-22-2 set up an easy chase for India. "My thinking has become such that when I am planning against a batsman, I automatically assume I have only two fielders outside. It has become a habit."
But in a tournament such as the World Cup, you can't afford to be that one-dimensional. Teams have a year to figure Chahar out, and he will need to keep adding to his bowling, specially at the death. He showed some of that evolution in his last over.
"Earlier I used to bowl out with the new ball, and people used to ask me why I don't bowl at the death," Chahar said. "I used to say death is easier to bowl. My brain had become so used to bowling with two fielders outside the circle that five seemed a luxury. If you have variations, you can use them at the death."
Chahar feels he is mentally ready to take on more at the death. He has developed the knuckle ball, and also bowls the slower bouncer.
"I believe you can't afford to be predictable at the death," Chahar said. "If the batsman knows you will bowl only the yorker or normal slower one, then he can line you up. You have to have a slower bouncer, a knuckle ball, a slower ball, a yorker… If you have all that, the batsman is a little watchful. If you miss the length by a lot, then there is a chance you will get hit for a four or a six, but if you keep executing or miss it by a little bit, you can escape punishment."
This Mohali game was a good display of his range of skills. He swung it in the first over he bowled, but the swing soon disappeared. Still he got the wicket of Reeza Hendricks in his first spell of three overs. When he came back to bowl the 18th over, he had already planned what he was going to do. He said he spends the time fielding planning for his last over. He spends it studying the batsmen, jogging his memory to previous contests.
Here Chahar had a set Temba Bavuma to bowl to, against whom he had recently played in the A series. He knew Bavuma is good at using the pace, and pulling and cutting, but not very good at hitting sixes down the ground. He also knew Bavuma had been frustrated by an excellent Navdeep Saini over. He knew the big shot was coming, and he slipped in the knuckle ball first up. It not only brought him his second wicket, but also showed captain Virat Kohli his range.
Chahar has so far made all the right moves, but he says he plays every match as if it is his last because he knows of the stiff competition for spots. The World Cup is too distant a thought. Right now he is plotting how to bowl to the next batsman. And he has only two fielders outside the circle.