In an exclusive conversation with FinancialExpress.com, Deepak Chahar opened up about his early days, the condition of players in Rajasthan and emotions before making his India debut.
After playing in the shadows of some of the bigger states in the domestic cricket, a not-so-strong Rajasthan team had turned towards Hrishikesh Kanitkar, Aakash Chopra and Rashmi Ranjan Parida – all legends in the domestic circuit, with an aim to change the fortunes of the team before the start of 2010-11 season. In the first match of the season against Hyderabad at the Sawai Maan Singh Stadium (which was set to be turned into a fortress), Kanitkar sizzled with a brilliant knock of 193 while Chopra made a useful 65. But, the man who stole the spotlight from these two big names was 18-year-old fast-bowler Deepak Chahar, making his first-class debut.
The youngster ripped apart the Hyderabad batting order including their charismatic skipper Ravi Teja. Chahar had a dream debut picking up 8 wickets for just 10 runs from 7.3 overs as Hyderabad was bundled out for just 21 runs.
Despite that heroic performance, he remained a relatively unknown entity for almost seven years – in a career which was plagued by persistent injuries – before Mahendra Singh Dhoni or Mahi bhaiya (as he calls him) saw the spark in the seamer who played an important role in Chennai Super Kings’ title win this year and also made his India debut in England recently.
“I have been doing well in the Ranji Trophy for sometime now and knew that I only needed one good IPL season to break into the Indian team. So, I was trying to get as many games as possible in one season. Mahi bhaiya has always been fond of me. Even when he was in Pune, he wanted to play me in all the games….but I got injured. The next year, Smith became captain so I didn’t get many chances,” Chahar told FinancialExpress.com in an exclusive conversation.
A few good performances in the domestic circuit helped Chahar attract a bid from CSK who was making a comeback to IPL after a gap of two years. The 25-year-old pacer responded well and finished the season with 10 wickets in 12 matches at a highly impressive economy rate of 7.28.
“I knew that this year I will get more chances for Chennai Super Kings. So, I knew that if I will do well, I will get an opportunity. But, never thought I will get this chance so soon after the IPL. Unfortunately, Bumrah got injured and I got the call,” he said.
Chahar is only the second player from his state to represent India in the last two decades after Pankaj Singh and the journey hasn’t been easy. An emotional Chahar said that it is unfortunate that you are not recognised even when you perform for Rajasthan.
“There were many challenges. There is no one to promote us. Also, we were banned for three years. There are many disadvantages when you play for Rajasthan – even when you perform, you don’t get recognised. We have a very good bunch of players, we reached the final of Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy this year and there were 7 players from the state who played in the IPL. For the last three years, we have produced two Under 19 players which is at par with the bigger states. Toh asla (arsenal) toh hai hi,” he added.
What has made life worse for the cricketers from Rajasthan is the dispute within the association. “Unfortunately, the association is not running properly. We have a camp 10 days before the Ranji Trophy and then, are asked to play in the competition. This wasn’t the case when we won the title for two back to back years. We had proper camps and preparation back then,” he said.
As surprising and unfortunate it is, not a single player got a national call-up even when Rajasthan won the Ranji Trophy for two back to back years in 2011 and 2012. “Kyunki hamare liye upar bolne wala koi nahi tha. It is very tough to play for India if you are from Rajasthan. I wanted to prove people wrong and show them if you do well, no one can stop you,” the determined fast-bowler said.
However, he believes that grinding at the domestic level helped him develop as a player. “When I was playing Ranji Trophy, I had decided not to give up on the dream of playing for India even if I turn 30. There have been so many players who have represented their nation at that age. Nehra bhaiya is the biggest example. He made a comeback at the age of 37 and played for India till he was 38. Failures will always be there but you shouldn’t give up,” he said.
“I believe Ranji Trophy teaches you a lot – planning, strategy, fitness, politics – both inside and outside the team.”
Many players who come from humble backgrounds find it difficult to deal with the pressure of international cricket but for Chahar, Mahi bhaiya (MS Dhoni) and Raina bhaiya (Suresh Raina) made life easier.
“It was easier for me as Mahi bhaiya was there. I have been playing with him for two-three years now. Then, Raina bhaiya was also there. The only tip I was given was that – Do what you can, don’t try to do anything extraordinary. I was advised to keep it simple and do what helped me reach here,” he said.
Asked about the emotions he had before making his India debut, Chahar said, “It is a different feeling altogether, when your dream comes true. I think it was a reward for the hard-work done by me and my father. I was, in fact, happier for him. Also, I had to prove a lot of things which I was able to.”
Chahar had a dream start to the 11th season of the IPL where he got rid of Evin Lewis off his second ball. Having a captain like Dhoni also helped him as the former team India skipper used Chahar with the new ball – sometimes bowling him out in the first seven or eight overs.
“Everyone have their strengths. It is not easy to bowl three overs in the powerplay. Similarly, not everyone can bowl three overs in the death. So, everyone have different roles in the IPL. Even among batsmen, somebody who can open the batting may not be as effective at number 5 or 6. This is why Mahi bhaiya is a great captain – he knows everyone’s strengths. This is also the reason why Chennai always does well in the IPL. It was his plan to use me with the new ball,” he said.
Speaking of the difference in Dhoni and Kohli’s captaincy, Chahar said, “Both of them are really nice. Mahi bhai gives you responsibility. Unka ye hai ki aap is level pe khel rahe ho toh apko pata hai ki kya karna hai…aap achha hi karke aye ho, tabhi khel rahe ho. Also, he is a wicketkeeper, so you don’t get to talk to him after every ball. He will only advise you between the overs or after the match.”
“But, with Virat, things are a bit different…even though I have played just one match. He is fielding at mid-off so if I want a particular field, I can always tell between the balls. Aur mujhe kaafi achha laga ki pehle hi match mein maine jo bhi field maangi, usne di…ek baar bhi ye nahi bola ki isi field k sath daal.”
While many players of his age are focusing more on T20 cricket, Chahar doesn’t want to labelled as a limited overs’ specialist.
“Bilukul nahi…In fact, I was asked to be ready for Tests. I have been preparing at the NCA, Bengaluru and was told that I can be called anytime. Ye sab time-time ki baat hai. I have been doing so well in the first-class cricket that they didn’t use to select me for One-Days or T20s. They used it as an excuse that he is just a long-format bowler. I had an injury which I am trying to recover from so that I am fit for five-day cricket. Fitness is important because you have to bowl 20 to 25 overs per day,” he added.
Interestingly, at the age of 16, Chahar was rejected by former team India coach Greg Chappell who was the then Rajasthan Cricket Academy’s director. Chappell had asked him to dream of something else but cricket. After years of rejection and hardwork, it seems that success has finally arrived for Deepak Chahar who hopes to represent India in all three formats.
“I have also increased my pace in the last few years which has helped me a lot. Right now, I am working to ensure that pace doesn’t come down even in the longer-format. When I will achieve it, I think I may also play ODIs and Tests.”