“I can’t wait to wear the India jersey,” said Royal Challengers Bangalore leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal.
Bagging 23 and 21 wickets in the 2015 and 2016 IPL seasons, breaking into the India team is testimony to Chahal’s perseverance.
It took him six years to reach the pinnacle, having warmed the bench for nearly three years in IPL and for Haryana. In 2011, Chahal was picked by Mumbai Indians and stayed with them till 2013. He got a solitary game against Kolkata Knight Riders and returned figures of 4-0-32-0. It was his winning runs against Trinidad and Tobago in the 2011 Champions League that got him noticed.
With Amit Mishra the senior leg-spinner in Haryana, sitting out and waiting for his chance was nothing new for Chahal. For someone who made his first-class debut in 2009, after becoming the leading wicket-taker in the U-19 Cooch Behar trophy with 34 wickets, Chahal has played only 20 matches so far.
“At Lahli, we usually have green wickets and have to wait for the opportunity. The idea is to better ourselves at the nets and make sure when the chance comes, it is grabbed with both hands. In between IPL and domestic cricket, I make sure I don’t leave a chance to play club games as you stay in touch,” Chahal told HT.
His career began to look up when he was picked by RCB. Though he is not a big spinner of the ball, smart thinking and variation helped him get 12 wickets. This year, RCB bowling mentor Allan Donald praised Chahal for his acumen. He not just added variation, but learned to bowl in different situations.
Under Virat Kohli, Chahal shouldered responsibility in the slog overs, but also bowled with the new ball. In 2015, he capped the season with 23 wickets off 15 games, which earned him a call-up to the India ‘A’ side touring South Africa last year.
This year, Chahal warmed the bench again for three games in IPL. The leg-spinner had been experiencing problems with his trajectory and landed short quite often. South African Tabraiz Shamsi replaced him but Chahal came back strongly by mixing his stock ball and googlies to good effect, and ended the season with 21 wickets.
His best came against Kings XI at Bengaluru when he broke the opposition’s back with figures of 4/25 and followed it with 3/25 against Gujarat Lions.
“There was no frustration. It’s just that you have to go back to the nets and improve. Daniel Vettori helped me a lot and solved the issues with my flight and the length I needed to bowl. Bharath Arun advised me to vary my pace which gave me confidence,” said Chahal.
An entertainer, a team man
Off-the field, Chahal is an entertainer. His Twitter handle is full of pictures with RCB stars like Chris Gayle, Kohli and AB de Villiers. Chahal admitted chasing made him nervous, so when De Villiers ensured RCB made the final, Chahal was ecstatic. He nearly broke De Villiers’ neck that evening. He pounced on De Villiers, causing the South African’s helmet to fall and the visor bruising the chin. Chahal soon apologised on Twitter, “I’m really sorry bro @ABdeVilliers17 but thanks for tonight #loveyou.”
Chahal has been seen dancing with Gayle and taking selfies. “The team appreciates such nature. The seniors joke around and they have given me the right to joke back. So I make the best of the chance and enjoy my stay with them,” he said.
With Chahal scheduled to join Team India on June 8, the focus is on the job at hand. “I couldn’t have got a better opportunity than this. The focus will be to keep varying my pace and variation which will be important in Zimbabwe,” he said.