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He was one Mumbai Indians’ stars when they clinched the Champions League Twenty20 title in 2011, featuring in all the games and returning match-winning figures of 3-0-9-2 in the final. That performance was followed by a lull as Yuzvendra Chahal only managed to get a solitary IPL game in 2013.
Not anymore. The leg-spinner from Haryana is on fire this year, with his new team, Royal Challengers Bangalore. In 11 matches so far, he has picked 12 wickets at an economy-rate of 6.68. With his impressive show against some of the big names and teams, Chahal is one of the frontrunners for the Emerging Player of the Tournament award in Pepsi IPL 2014.
In a chat with IPLT20.com, after RCB’s thrilling win over CSK in Ranchi, Chahal reveled in the revival of his IPL career and shared his experiences with RCB.
Here are excerpts from his exclusive interview:
You have been one of the revelations of this IPL. Enjoying the success?
I am having a lot of fun and today’s win has been particularly special as it has given us a chance of making it to the next level of the tournament. We have momentum on our side with this win. Everyone has been great at RCB with me, backing me up at every step. I am enjoying my bowling.
You made your mark with MI in CLT20 2011. How would you explain the quiet time you had in the IPL after that?
I think it had mainly to do with the fact that (Pragyan) Ojha bhaiya became a part of MI in 2012 and joined Bhajji pa (Harbhajan Singh). With these two senior spinners, it was unlikely for me to get many chances and that’s what happened. The same happened with me during that period with my state team, Haryana. We had Amit Mishra playing for us and on a wicket like Lahli (which is conducive to pace bowlers), where we play our home games, it is difficult to play too many spinners. That was the main reason for the lull.
How did you spend the time when you didn’t play much cricket?
I kept working on my bowling. In 2011, I worked a lot with Maninder (Singh) sir and now I am doing the same with Dan sir (Daniel Vettori). It was important for me to not lose touch of my bowling when I was not playing for long periods. That is helping me now.
What is the one thing you’ve so far learnt from Murali and Vettori?
Dan sir has been especially helpful in me getting my stride right. I tend to unknowingly elongate my stride sometimes during my run-up and he keeps an eye for that and corrects it. With Murali sir it’s more about confidence. He always tells me to bowl confidently, and most importantly, have fun while bowling. He says enjoyment is the main ingredient of success.
Spin bowling is a very mental skill, and you have to outthink the batsman. Does your chess background help you in that regards?
It does, actually, especially the patience factor, when I am not picking wickets and giving away way too many runs. Due to my chess experience, I can beat the batsman in the game of patience, which I think is very important for a leg-spinner.
Can you remember any particular IPL wicket where you used this aspect to your benefit?
It has to be Kevin Pietersen’s wicket in the last match. He wasn’t stepping out against me for a long time and my instinct told me he could step out in next delivery. So I bowled him that ball (flat, short, leg-spinning ball that Pietersen was stumped off while trying to dance down the track). That was a very satisfying wicket.
What kind of a captain is Virat Kohli to youngsters?
Virat bhai is very supportive on the field. Even when I go for a six too many, he keeps it calm and tells me to not bother about it. It’s also the same with Yuvi pa (Yuvraj Singh) and all other seniors in the team. In the last game (against DD in Bengaluru) I gave away 45 runs in four overs, but there was no pressure on me at all during or after the game. Today, I went on the field and enjoyed my time there as I always do.
Honestly, what are your chances of winning the Emerging Player of the Tournament this year?
I think I have a very good chance, given the way my performance has been so far. I would love to win the award, but more than that I’d like to play in the IPL final.
Behind the earring, the famous twirled moustache and those intricately inked biceps, is a very soft-spoken man – Shikhar Dhawan. From a simple cricket-loving youngster going through the grind of domestic cricket to taking the cricketing world by frenzy by scoring the fastest century on Test debut, Dhawan has come a long way. With his batting capabilities rising with every international and IPL outing, Shikhar now looks to brace himself for tougher challenges ahead.
“I am someone who believes in going with the flow,” Dhawan said during the course of an exclusive chat with IPLT20.com where he also spoke about enjoying his new role as captain. In this conversation, the left-handed opening bat talked about living his dream of becoming a captain, his admiration for MS Dhoni and the hunger to perform across all formats. Here are excerpts from his interview:
Did you always dream of being a captain since the time you started playing cricket?
I have been playing a lot of domestic cricket all these years, and to be honest with you, there did come a point when I wanted to captain a side. But that realisation came only after I began to feel that I was doing something fruitful and achieving something while playing the game. Only when I knew I was performing to my potential did I feel the need to captain a team. I have been performing well for the Sunrisers Hyderabad now and I believe that is the reason why I have been handed the responsibility of captaining the side. It has been an enjoyable experience so far leading the Sunrisers, and I would say a little dream has come true.
As a budding cricketer, whose leadership skills have you admired the most?
All captains have their own style, but I love the way MS Dhoni leads a side. I was never someone who would watch the game so closely. It is only now after watching players and being a captain that I have begun to look at other aspects of the game. But having been in the Indian dressing room and having observed Dhoni from close quarters, I have begun to understand certain things while playing. I love his tactics and admire the way he can remain cool even in pressure-cooker situations. That quality, which Dhoni has, is a sign of a strong individual, and that attracts me the most.
From captaining Delhi (in domestic cricket) in the past to captaining the Sunrisers Hyderabad now, what are the things that you have learnt as a leader?
I have learnt to plan my moves in a game while captaining the side. I have learnt to read the situation of the game better and react to it accordingly. Also, while captaining in T20s, I have learnt that you cannot be rigid in your planning and you have to be flexible whenever necessary. T20 is a fast game and you need to know how to make use of your best bowlers when they are most needed. As a captain, I do not interfere in a bowler’s plans and my job is to ensure that my bowlers bowl according to their respective strengths. Also, I am beginning to learn to bluff when it comes to field placements and make the opposition batsmen play according to our plans.
SRH coach Tom Moody sees a lot of potential in you as a captain. How have his inputs helped you with your captaincy?
Tom has helped me a lot and I have learnt a lot from him. Not only him, I have also got a lot of valuable inputs from VVS Laxman and Kris Srikkanth who have taught me the importance of carrying the personality and aura of a captain. They stress on the fact that a captain should have a command over his 11 players on the field. They are the ones who notice these small things from the boundary ropes, which are not clear to me when I am on the field. Captaincy has been a new and exciting endeavour for me and I would want to learn as much as I can and become better.
How much does it help when you share the dressing room with international captains – like Kumar Sangakkara last year and Darren Sammy this year?
When Kumar Sangakkara was the captain of the Sunrisers, I did not pay much heed to certain things regarding captaincy. I was merely present there as a batsman and as a fielder and would go by what my captain used to ask me to do that time. But the case has been different this year, and I have had a lot of interactions with Darren Sammy. He has given a lot of inputs regarding the use of the right bowler at the right time and planning out the overs according to the nature of the game. I have got a lot of clarity with regards to captaincy because of Sammy.
There is a notion that captaincy affects the form of a batsman. Do you think it is true?
I feel cricket is a very mental game. The batsman in me has never got bogged down after being handed the captaincy of the Sunrisers. When I am batting, it is not the captain who is batting, but it is the batsman in me who is facing the ball. Some people say that the pressure of captaincy affects your batting without your knowledge, but I personally have not felt it. Captaincy does not affect my batting negatively.
You have played under two contrasting captains in MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli. Do you think when you are entrusted the responsibility of leading a side you can strike a balance between calmness and aggression – two distinct qualities that these leaders are known for?
Definitely. I guess the good thing about me is that I am quite balanced as a human being. It is one of the qualities that help me during my captaincy. I do get my aggressive side to the fore when it is required, and at the same time, I have the ability to control my aggression.
Sourav Ganguly had once said that captaincy is a crown of thorns and you have to take the honours and at the same time accept the brick bats. Are you mentally prepared for something like that?
I feel when you make a name for yourself, the adulations and the criticisms come along with it. It is a part and parcel of every sportsman’s life. When you captain the side, you are responsible for the mistakes of the whole team, which is a huge responsibility. I guess it depends on the individual as to how one takes those criticisms and how it matters to you. Criticisms will follow, but it is up to an individual to take them in their stride and look forward from there. I take success and failure in the same manner, and I try to be calm instead of getting into a state of panic. I realise that there will be times when things will not go your way, but I know I have to take things as they come. I am uncovering more facets of the T20 format since I am captaining the side and I only look to improve from here.
We have seen young cricketers flourishing when asked to lead a side. Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli are prime examples of that. Are you among those who thrive when there is more responsibility on your shoulders?
I feel the need to perform for my side even when I am not under pressure. Pressure to perform is part of a cricketer’s life and you are expected to bring your A game each time you turn up on the field. As a player and as a captain, all I look to do is lead by example and help my team win at the end of the day.
Has captaincy improved your batting in any way?
Frankly speaking, I have just gone about batting the way I have been doing so all these years. Whether I am the captain or not, my way of batting does not change. I always think positive and dream big. I am not someone who sets goals or targets. I believe in going with the flow and doing what is best for my country or any side that I am a part of. My priority is to be a successful batsman overseas and in India and do well across all formats of the game. I am prepared to take any challenge that comes my way.
What is Shikhar Dhawan’s brand of captaincy?
Smartness and flexibility to change plans according to the situation would be a style that I would want to employ in my captaincy. I am happy to captain the side and I am always open for discussions with my bowlers and other teammates, because at the end of the day, it is not just one man on the field who is going to win you the game. It is a collective effort that will help the side win games.