You may not be wrong in thinking that Deepak Chahar ought to have been included in the main squad for the upcoming Asia Cup (T20 format) and not be named in the reserves. Especially when the Indian team is bereft of the services of Jasprit Bumrah (injured) and Md Shami (assumed to be rested if not dropped) for the continental championship starting in Dubai this Saturday.
Chahar returned to the India ODI squad for the Zimbabwe tour that concluded on Monday with the KL Rahul-led side making a clean 3-0 sweep. Chahar straightaway came up with a man-of-the-match performance on his comeback with three for 27 in his seven overs in the first game in Harare last Thursday. It was swing bowling at its best, the 30-year-old right-armer picking up his wickets in one extended opening burst.
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He was left out for the second ODI and came back into the 11 for the third, trapping opener Innocent Kaia with an inswinger in his second over. Chahar finished with 2 for 75, a majority of the damage done by Sikandar Raza, whose 115 nearly took Zimbabwe home.
Chahar looked perfectly fine during his spell and did not seem to have lost any of his skills during the near six-month absence from international action. Chahar had to miss out after suffering a right quadriceps injury during the third T20I against the West Indies in Kolkata in February.
Eventually, a back injury sustained during rehabilitation at the National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru kept him out of the entire IPL 2022 for Chennai Super Kings after having been bought for ₹14 crore in this year’s mega auctions.
As one who went out of the squad because of an injury, you would expect him to straightaway walk back into the Indian cricket team after recovering and regaining full fitness. At least that was what was being practiced by the Indian team management and the selectors not long ago.
Remember Karun Nair, who had to give way to Ajinkya Rahane after the latter recovered from a finger injury that saw him out of the Test squad for a few games in 2016-17? Little consideration was given to Nair, who had to step aside despite scoring a Test triple century. The reason given then was that Nair came into Test 11 because Rahane had to miss out due to injury. And, since Rahane was back fit, he had his right to claim back his place in the squad at the expense of the player who replaced him for the time being.
However, the thought process of captain Rohit Sharma and coach Rahul Dravid seems to be different. There are no reasons given for players left out of a squad or no explanations from the chairman of selectors about the team selection. A lot of youngsters have been given chances and they have also made themselves count with their performances. Arshdeep Singh and Avesh Khan have been preferred for Asia Cup and Bhuvaneshwar Kumar provides that experience.
It is here that, especially in the absence of Bumrah and Shami, the Indian team would be better off with Chahar. Especially when he is fit. The selectors may be thinking of not wanting to rush Chahar’s comeback and look at giving him chances in the home T20Is against Australia and South Africa next month.
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But, Chahar needs more game time to get into the rhythm, especially for the type of bowler that he is.
Former India pacer and bowling coach of Chennai Super Kings, Lakshmipathi Balaji, preferred to see Chahar playing more often to get into the right groove going into the T20 World Cup. India cannot afford to leave out a fit Chahar out of the T20 World Cup squad.
Balaji gave his reasons as to why Chahar ought to be given more game time while sharing his views exclusively with news18.com. He said: “What he was doing in Zimbabwe straightaway on his return to international cricket was like he just pressed the resume button and got into his wicket-taking abilities. Chahar has been phenomenal with his work ethics. He has got a lot of variations. His ability to bowl swing and seam, and pick up wickets with the new ball makes him special. When you have the skills like he has with the new ball, it is a treat to watch. Very rarely do you get to see swing and seam with the new ball in today’s cricket. It is more of hit-the-deck type.”
Chahar, since his T20I debut in 2018, has taken 26 wickets in 20 matches, the best being six wickets for seven runs including a hat-trick against Bangladesh in November 2019 in Nagpur. That was the best ever bowling figures in T20Is until Nigeria’s right-arm speedster Peter Aho bettered Chahar’s figures by taking six wickets for five runs against Sierra Leone in October 2021.
Balaji, who has worked closely with Chahar in the CSK set-up, added: “Chahar has improved a lot. Unfortunately, injury forced him out for six months. He is a hardworking cricketer. I would say he has to wait for his opportunities as the other guys have earned their spots. He is a tough cricketer and always works on what is within his control, not worrying about selections. The fast bowling department is phenomenally good and there is a lot of competition.
“Right from the first ball, he has control. You can see the late swing through the air with the new ball. He needs to play matches continuously. He is looking very fit now. With the skill sets that he has, he needs to play regularly. Who can forget his hat-trick and six wickets against Bangladesh?
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Besides his skills with the new ball, he is working to be effective with the old ball too. If Chahar is fit to play, he needs to be given enough game time as swing and seam bowling is an art and needs to be mastered by playing consistently, especially when you travel in the Asian continent.
“In the UAE, where the new ball skills are needed to make early inroads into the opposition batting, what you want is wickets upfront with the new ball. If Chahar gives you those early wickets, you have to look at him as a first-choice. But, there are a lot of bowlers and there is a lot of competition. You want wicket-taking bowlers with the new ball. If Bumrah and Shami are not available, Chahar is the one who provides that.”
Also, Chahar’s utility with the bat lower down the order gives him the edge over a few other medium-pacers. And, India will do well to go as deep as possible in the T20Is. He won an ODI for India in an ODI in Sri Lanka last year with an unbeaten 69 at No. 8; scored his second consecutive ODI fifty (54) to take India to within hand-shaking distance of a stiff target set by South Africa, eventually losing by four runs.