Yuzvendra Chahal can now count his name among stalwarts like Andrew Flintoff, Ian Botham and even Don Bradman. At the age of just 25, he had put himself in the same company as Dennis Compton, Suzie Bates, Jonty Rhodes, and Ellyse Perry. While nobody is calling him the next Flintoff (it would take three of the wiry Chahal to come close to Flintoff), he can proudly claim to be a part of a club that even MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli don’t belong to. Like the players in the list above, he has made a name for himself in more than one sport.Flintoff switched from cricket to boxing after giving the former up. Botham played in the Football League, even as he played tests. And the Don was a squash champion for his state. Chahal has bragging rights over this lot, for he didn’t just excel in another sport, he earned national colours in it. Chahal was the under-12 national chess champion. He represented India at the Asian Youth Championship in Kozhikode and was also selected for India at the World Youth Chess Championship in Greece.Yuzvendra Chahal owes a lot to the IPL. BCCIbut is more common elsewhere. Compton and Perry have both represented their country in cricket and football. Rhodes has played hockey for South Africa, and Bates basketball for New Zealand, besides cricket. And now Indians can boast that we have Chahal.However, the leg spinner no longer plays competitive chess. He gave it up at the age of fifteen due to financial constraints. “To progress in chess, he needed about Rs 50 lakh per annum and we could not find sponsors. So, he had to abandon the game,” his father K K Chahal, who is an advocate, was quoted as saying in an article by Ironic then that Chahal made a name for himself in the IPL, the richest stage of the most financially rewarding sport in the country.
Chahal owes a lot to the IPL. For all the brickbats it has attracted, it has changed the lives of a number of youngsters like him, allowing them a platform to leapfrog into national reckoning. He is unlikely to have got such a chance through first class cricket. He made his first class debut for Haryana back in 2009, but has played only 20 matches since then, not for lack of talent, but rather opportunity. Amit Mishra, India’s leg spinner of choice for a number of years also plays for Haryana. Add to that the fact that many of Haryana’s matches are played on green tops which leave little room for additional spinners in the eleven, and you can see why we don’t hear much about Chahal outside the IPL.So Chahal plied his trade in the T20 format with alacrity, and grabbed headlines in the IPL. His second consecutive season with more than 20 wickets has made him the lead spinner in a team whose home ground is regarded as the elephant graveyard for bowlers. After Virat Kohli, he played the biggest part in the Royal Challengers Bangalore’s near miraculous run to the final this year. The IPL was his rock show, but he made it his nursery as well.Any young spinner would probably sell his mother’s jewellery to be part of a team with Dan Vettori as coach. “When I came to RCB, Vettori started observing even finer aspects of my bowling. He would let me know when my body would slide a bit or my strides during my run-up were bigger, or my follow through was faster. Together we worked on all these aspects,”
But in a country overflowing with spinners, much of Chahal’s success lies in the space between his ears. “I get an intuition that the batsman’s going to do something,” he was quoted as saying by showing a prescient awareness of the match situation and the ability to out think the opponent, both traits that his chess days no doubt nurtured. “My mind is on that, and always trying to guess what the batsman’s trying to do and it helps me a lot,” he added.Each step in his journey has led up to this moment. Last Saturday, he became the 211th man to play ODIs for India. On Monday, he bagged his first Man of the Match award, for his three for 25, which snuffed out the beginning of a fight-back from Zimbabwe. Although he is far from staking a strong claim in a full strength Indian team, he has made people think about him as an option.Captains are like collectors. They like having showpiece players in their teams, each the master of a particular skill. In R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, India already have a world class off spinner and a left arm spinner entrenched in the squad. In the limited overs game, if an Indian captain should come across a dustbowl that demands three spinners (wishful thinking, I know), there is a strong case to add Chahal to the eleven and complete the troika