Chahar hits form in first comeback game
Bending ball both ways, the all-rounder does his bit to get noticed ahead of T20 World Cup.
If there is the slightest hint of swing available with the white Kookaburra, trust Deepak Chahar to find it – even if he is playing his first competitive game in six months. That’s what the 30-year-old did in Harare on Thursday, moving the new ball both ways at will and taking 3/27 in seven overs to help India cruise to a 1-0 lead in the three-match ODI series.
Chahar’s return from a quadricep injury he suffered during a T20I against West Indies in February couldn’t have been more perfect. Except perhaps that he would have liked this game to come a little earlier. With India’s squad for the T20 World Cup – scheduled to be held in Australia in October-November – likely to be announced in early September, Chahar is clearly facing a race against time to force his way back into the reckoning. After the three ODIs against Zimbabwe, he is only a standby for the Asia Cup starting August 27. India also have three T20Is each against Australia and South Africa before the marquee event, but the 15 men who will lead the team’s title bid will have to be chosen by then.
That Chahar’s T20 World Cup selection is ridden with doubt is largely down to his lengthy layoff. When he tore his right quadricep at Eden Gardens in February, Chahar, who has the best figures by an Indian in T20Is (6/7 against Bangladesh in 2019), seemed to be gradually nudging ahead of the more experienced Bhuvneshwar Kumar in the race for the role of that conventional swing bowler. He was also playing eye-catching cameos with the bat, most notably striking a 34-ball 54 in an ODI against South Africa in Cape Town in January. It was this all-round package that had fetched him a whopping ₹14 crore from Chennai Super Kings (CSK) at the IPL auction just days before his injury. He couldn’t play a single IPL game this season as CSK meandered to a ninth-place finish.
“He was obviously a key player for us. It was a big blow that he wasn’t available. The injury took time to heal. His recovery was overseen by the National Cricket Academy (NCA),” CSK CEO Kasi Viswanathan said.
Bhuvneshwar had been having his own battles with injuries for the past couple of years. But as Chahar acknowledged after the game on Thursday, there’s always a chance of another player overtaking you in the selection queue when injury strikes. “It is difficult when you are returning from injury. You have expectations from yourself. You want to create your place in the team. When you are not playing for a long time, others play and do well and create a place. To again get back in the side, you have to perform well. That pressure is there. My expectation was that whenever I get an opportunity, I will try to do well because that’s what is in my hands,” Chahar told reporters.
The return of Bhuvneshwar
Bhuvneshwar has reinforced his standing in the team with a string of performances that show he is not past his peak. The 32-year-old has done so by regaining his sharpness with the new ball and once again bowling in the 135-138 kmph range, brisk enough to trouble batters when combined with movement. Since Chahar’s injury, he has claimed 18 scalps in 15 T20Is at an excellent economy rate of 6.72. It helps that Bhuvneshwar, who has played 72 T20Is, hasn’t featured in any other format in recent months.
It meant that Chahar had to hit his stride in his first comeback game. He took time getting into his rhythm at the Harare Sports Club on Thursday, starting with a gentle full-toss outside off-stump and labouring to control his swing initially. His speeds were also a notch below his usual range.
Once he got his radar right, though, he kept the Zimbabwean batters guessing by frequently mixing up the outswinger – his stock delivery to the right-hander – with the inswinger. That his bowling brain was ticking was also evident in his clever use of the short ball. Whenever he felt that the batters were getting comfortable with the fuller lengths, he would slip in a shorter delivery. Zimbabwe opener Innocent Kaia perished when he got a thin outside edge off an attempted pull that went to Sanju Samson behind the stumps. Chahar also dismissed left-hander Tadiwanashe Marumani and Wessly Madhevere with apparent ease.
“It is not in my hands whether I will be selected for the World Cup or not. Skill wise, I have done a lot of hard work. I think I have continued from where I left off in February. I bowled seven overs on the trot. So, the fitness levels are also good,” Chahar said.
The factor working against Chahar and Bhuvneshwar featuring in the same playing XI, of course, is the similarity in their methods, leaving place for probably only one of them in the final T20 World Cup squad. This Zimbabwean side has many limitations but Chahar is doing all he can to make his case in the opportunities available.