HT Brunch Cover Story: Sports star Yuzvendra Chahal reveals his non-cricketing passions in an exclusive interview
The leg spin sensation talks about the importance of being well turned out for a person in a public profession, how he deals with female attention and moreUpdated: Sep 21, 2019 23:50 IST
On the field and off it, sportspeople inspire us in many ways. A desire for a career in sports is the most obvious inspiration when you see a sportsperson on field. However, the style of sportsmen has also been a tremendous influence, thanks to all the social media exposure there is. But 29-year-old Yuzvendra Chahal has a Bollywood side to his style stories. The Haryana boy is totally inspired by actor Ranveer Singh’s bindaas style. So much so, that before he left to play for the World Cup 2019, he hired one of Bollywood’s favourite stylists, Nikita Jaisinghani, to give him a makeover!
As we gear up to style him for this shoot, Chahal walks in, wearing a stud in one ear, sporting his four tattoos: Lord Shiva, an anchor, a compass and his zodiac sign, Leo. “I will soon get some more tattoos!” he grins, as we observe.
He recalls his first encounter with professional styling. “I realised that at the World Cup – which incidentally was my first ever World Cup – the media would be commenting not only on our game, but also on our different styles,” grins the right-arm leg spinner with a lean frame. “That’s why I decided to seek professional help to put my looks together.”
Making the right moves
Growing up in Jind, Haryana, Chahal started his career by playing cricket and chess – a combination of sport that not many people could have put together. He started playing cricket in 2000. But while he represented India at international levels in chess, and won the National Junior Championship in 2002, his passion for cricket took over chess and he soon realised that the bat and the ball were his calling, and there was no looking back since.
With a single-minded focus on cricket, Chahal moved up the ranks very fast, also playing for Mumbai Indians and the Royal Challengers Bangalore teams in the IPL. He made his World Cup debut this year. One of the major highlights of his career so far is his six-wicket haul against England in 2017. He is one of the only two players in the world to have achieved such a feat in the T20 format. No wonder Smriti Mandhana of the Indian women’s cricket team calls him an ‘inspiration’!
Chahal’s own inspirations range from the all-time favourite Shane Warne, MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli. “My idol since childhood has been Shane Warne, but I have been inspired by both Mahi (Dhoni) bhai and Virat (Kohli) bhai not just in terms of their game, but also by their individual style,” says Chahal.
His biggest style inspiration however, is Ranveer Singh, who he follows ardently on Instagram. “Ranveer’s style is very cool and he doesn’t shy away from experimenting at all,” says Chahal. “When we play abroad, we need to attend social engagements, and it’s important to be dressed well. Initially, I was a bit shy about experimenting with my look, but now I am open to trying out various styles and am getting a sense of what would look good on me.”
Despite his own experiments, Chahal decided he needed a stylist to help him hone in on a personal style, a unique fashion sense that his followers could be inspired by, with confidence.
“We are public figures, so we need to update our wardrobe every three months,” Chahal explains. “And being sports icons, we need to think about the people who follow us. In fact, I am beginning to get comfortable with my female fans, and now am happy to accommodate their requests for selfies, and interact with them on social media. Just a few days ago, a fan on Instagram actually proposed marriage!”
As a fashion-conscious young man, you might believe Chahal would be all about weights in the gym. But he’s in fact quite comfortable with his body and its limitations. “I don’t want to bulk up as that would affect my bowling and running style,” he says. “I have learnt to accept my body and I handle criticism positively. I don’t let body shamers or trolls affect me, In fact, I am experimenting with formal suits and finding my happiness as well as my style in the way I am built.”
He’s got his brands in order too. Picking favourites, Chahal tells us his one-stop shops are Zara, Gucci and Represent for clothes, and he heads to Armani, Breitling and Tag Heuer for watches.
It’s all in the game!
Chahal is a big fan of video games on the PS4 and PUBG; they help him de-stress. “Playing PUBG with my teammates not only helps us all relax, it also makes us bond better,” he says. “It’s very difficult to sit idle when the game is not on. Even during the World Cup, Mahi bhai, Manish Pandey, Rishabh Pant and I would play the game after dinner. And since we play online, the game connects me with my family and friends when I am far away.”
These aren’t the only games he plays, however. Chahal is famous for being the dressing room prankster! Fellow bowler Mohammed Shami calls him ‘naughty’ all the time. His knack for pranks tickled the BCCI so much that it asked Chahal to interview his fellow cricketers while they were on the West Indies tour last month. ‘Chahal TV,’ as these interviews came to be known, was conducted in Hindi with a mix of professional and personal questions between ‘Yuzi’ (as Chahal is affectionately called) and the other team members. The interviews took place after the team won a game and fast became a viewer favourite. “This started off as a fun thing but now everyone seems to be enjoying it,” grins Chahal. “I recently interviewed Virat bhai, Rohit (Sharma) bhai, KL Rahul and Shreyas Iyer among others. The two to three minute interviews are relaxed and funny.”
Never say no
Chahal’s eagerness to learn new things is evident from the fact that he is now picking up golf too. “One of my cousins is a golfer, so I got motivated to try the game and I enjoy the relaxed pace it offers me after the fast pace of cricket,” says Chahal, who enjoys driving fast cars and has just bought the car of his childhood dreams – the Porsche Cayenne.
But sports is not all fun and games, and Chahal knows very well that professional training is expensive. Also, the country has far more sport potential than actual sportspeople. He has co-founded India Sport and Women Sports Foundation with entrepreneur Piyush Sachdeva to provide support to struggling and economically-challenged athletes.
“Ten years back, while playing for the Ranji Trophy, I never thought I’d play for India,” explains Chahal. “This journey so far has made me realise that everyone who is lucky to get a chance should give back to the fraternity as well.”
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From HT Brunch, September 22, 2019
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