ICC CRICKET WORLD CUP 2019
“You can never plan thinking you are definitely going to play for India or end up playing a World Cup.” © Getty
The upcoming ICC World Cup may be his first major global tournament in cricket but Yuzvendra Chahal has already experienced a World Cup in chess – he represented India at the U-14 level. India’s big leg-spinning hope talks to TOI about his transition from a chess player to a cricketer, working out batsmen, relationship with Kuldeep Yadav and more.
Excerpts from an interview.
How do you look back at your chess career?
I don’t have any regrets but unn dino ki yaadein aati hain. (But I do think about those days). I have played good five-six years of chess. I have very fond memories. Representing India at the age of 14 is a big thing. I had to choose between cricket and chess because it would have been difficult to pursue both. You can put it this way that I had two per cent more interest in cricket.
The World Cup is going to be your first major ICC tournament. How much does having played a chess World Cup at 14 inspire you?
Chess has helped me to be patient. Sometimes when I have an off day, I need to quickly switch to another plan and not panic. There are also days when you feel you are bowling really well but the wickets are not coming. Even then I need to calm myself down. In high-pressure games, you need to stay calm to understand what the batsmen could do.
After quitting chess, you went into the grind of domestic cricket? Did you have any alternate plan?
I made sure I completed my graduation in humanities. I realized being a graduate and a decent cricketer gave me an option to go for government jobs as well. You can never plan thinking you are definitely going to play for India or end up playing a World Cup. At that time, I realized that I could not become a doctor. I needed to have options.
Modern-day ODI cricket sees huge totals. How do you plan a wicket?
It depends on the situation. Then we look at the size of the ground. If it’s a small ground and the pitch is flat, you won’t see us flighting the ball as frequently. And then you watch how eager the batsman is and quickly analyse his strengths. But when you first arrive at the venue, you analyse the dimensions and conditions and then you go back to your room and draw a plan. The important bit is to talk to the senior batsmen like Mahi bhai (Dhoni), Virat, Rohit and Shikhar. You ask them how they would approach their batting in such conditions. And they have played at most venues around the world. They have a better idea.
How difficult is it to put pressure back on the batsmen?
The game is all about pressure. I know the opposition batsman is under more pressure to get the extra runs in this scenario. They get edgy trying to win matches for their teams.
Do you watch other teams playing on TV, for leisure maybe? There have been some big scores happening in England at the moment…
I don’t watch them live. I do watch the highlights. That gives me an idea about how players are actually doing around world.
How much time do you spend with the video analysts then?
That’s different. I go for video analysis if I want to watch a specific batsman. But I do watch highlights if there’s match going on.
Now that every team is keen on getting in wrist spinners in the shorter formats, how do you stay ahead of the race?
We are feeding off the confidence of each other. We have done well in all conditions and we have realized that we need to do the same thing. We don’t have to change according to conditions.
There has been a lot of talk about your partnership with Kuldeep. Both of you feed of each other’s success…
It’s not like that it’s limited to Kuldeep. Even if Jaddu bhaiya (Ravindra Jadeja) takes five wickets, we enjoy that.
There is theory that both of you are more potent when you are playing together. How dependent are you on each other?
It feels nice to know that our partnership works. We know each other for seven-eight years. We were together at the Mumbai Indians. We trust each other. If I have a bad over, I know he will try to cover it up from the other end by being a bit defensive so that I can make a good comeback in my next over.
When Hardik Pandya got injured, Jadeja was brought into the playing XI. Does your game plan change with Jaddu around who is known to be a more restrictive bowler?
It’s a professional game. You never know when I won’t be there for Kuldeep or vice versa. The team will move on anyway. It doesn’t matter if Jaddu bhaiyais playing. I have played enough with him. I know how Jaddu bowls and he is an experienced bowler. He guides me as well. You have to do your own thing and find a way, irrespective who you are playing with.
How tough was it to replace Ashwin and Jadeja seeing as it was believed that wrist-spinners would do the job from the word go?
There was no pressure on us. We got an opportunity and we grabbed it. There was a talk that Ashwin and Jadeja were left out at our expense. There’s nothing like that. We were just doing our job. We are not close to them in terms of the number of wickets they have taken together. Comparing us to them is as unfair as comparing Virat to Sachin Tendulkar. Kuldeep and I enjoy every moment like you do when you sit for a final exam.
How important is it to have a personal bonding outside the game? Did you speak to Kuldeep when he was going through a rough time during this IPL?
It’s very important. We do talk to each other over phone. He’s like my younger brother. You need a few people to talk to you when you are down. When I have a rough phase, he talks to me. When we are not with the team, we like to be in our personal space but it’s important to keep in touch too.
Dhoni guided both you and Kuldeep when you arrived. After two years, does he need to guide as much?
Whatever happens, you need Mahi bhai. We still obey what he says. He intervenes when we go wrong. It was the same when we first arrived. Even today, if we plan something of our own, we feel the need to talk to him about it.
Things have happened very fast for you in the last two years. Previously, you were dependent on your father. How do you deal with the nerves your parents go through?
They get edgy with my performance. It’s natural that they expect me to maybe take a fiver every time I play. You need to be calm and explain them there will be a few bad matches. Now, I talk more about planning my future. I hardly get any time with my dad now. I don’t want to talk cricket with him. Even before a big event like the World Cup, I like my time off and enjoy a getaway with my friends. I feel so glad that I now have an interactive website called CheQmate.
Is there any moment of World Cup cricket that has stayed with you?
When India won the 2011 World Cup, it was my first IPL season. I got a sense how big a thing that is. It stays with you. When you retire, you’ll be remembered as a World Cup player. That means a lot to me.