"Jab normal se wicket mil rahe hai to naya karke confuse kyu karna? (When I am getting wicket via normal deliveries then why confuse yourself by doing something new?)"
Piyush Chawla replies when asked whether he has added anything to his arsenal for the upcoming Indian Premier League (IPL).
The answer somewhat perfectly encapsulates Chawla, the cricketer. A no-nonsense guy who doesn't complicate things. His bubbly smile and calm demenour on the field further testify to that impression.
"Normal. I don't think a lot," Chawla says when probed further about his preparations for the league. "I just pay attention to my basics because I have reached this stage by only following the basics."
Again, that 'keeping it simple' funda reflects in his answer. In an age where the bowlers slug it out desperately to develop variations in order to adapt to the demands of T20 cricket, Chawla is someone who relies on natural variations.
"The best thing about legspin variations is that sometimes you end up putting more wrist, sometimes less, sometimes more finger so whatever the advantage is they automatically turn into variations," he explains.
Chawla may have not played for India in eight years, but he has kept going in the domestic arena and the IPL. One cursory glance at the IPL bowling records and you will find Piyush Chawla's name right up there. Yes, slowly and quietly he's been climbing up the ladder amidst some of the greats and settled himself into the joint-third most wicket-taker's position, something that has flown under the radar. He's been a consistent performer in the league and a winner of two championship medals. Every season, he has picked 10 or more wickets and overall he has scalped 150 wickets at an average of 27.14 with an economy rate of 7.82 and strike rate of 20.82.
Apart from his uncluttered mind, the key to his success in the IPL is his attacking mindset. Something which he has stuck with ever since the start.
"My aim is never to save runs, I always go for wickets," Chawla says.
"The most important thing is the belief," he adds. "Whatever the situation and whenever it is, as a bowler it's very important to believe that you can do it. And as a bowler my game is an attacking one, I have to go for the wickets and not look at saving runs which plays a big role."
Not much has changed since Chawla made his IPL debut 12 years ago. He's not tried to do anything different but it's the process of learning through the experience that has helped him evolve. And that experience along with the growing expectations have been the driving force for him now.
"There's not much difference (in me from the early years)," says Chawla. Only the thought process keeps changing with time. When you start off and slowly become an experienced player, one more motivation gets instilled that you know that people are expecting something out of you. There are no major changes (with the mindset as well) as such. Whatever mindset I had 10 years ago, today also it's similar. Ten years ago also I used to think I have to play attacking cricket and today also I think the same."
As Chawla heads into the 13th consecutive year in the IPL, things will be slightly different. After six years at Kolkata Knight Riders, he will find a new home in Chennai Super Kings. Chawla didn't have the best of seasons in 2019 (10 wickets at 39.90 and an economy rate of 8.96) and was later released by KKR. CSK bought him in the 2020 auction. Chawla was a vital cog for Kolkata over the years, won two titles with the franchise, and was a part of many special moments including hitting the winning runs in the 2014 final.
While expectedly there are bound to be mixed emotions, the 31-year-old has trained his mind to be ready for the change and some familiar names at Chennai might just make this transition a lot easier.
"Whenever you get into a new team, you have to set yourself there," Chawla explains. Here the good thing is Mahi bhai (MS Dhoni) is the captain. There’s (Ambati) Rayudu, these guys are already there, so I think that comparatively, it will be easier to get set there.
"If you stay with a team for six years, then you develop a bonding automatically. It always happens. But we know that IPL is such a tournament where today or tomorrow you are with one team and then after some time you are with the other. So being a professional your mindset is tuned to that and you are ready."
Chawla was bought by CSK at Rs 6.75 crores after indulging in a bidding war with his first franchise - Kings XI Punjab and with Mumbai Indians at the start. He was CSK’s most expensive buy of the IPL 2020 auction and also ended as the most expensive Indian in the IPL. With five spinners already in the squad, it did take social media by surprise. Stephen Fleming the coach would later explain that Chawla is "rated very highly and certainly the captain (Dhoni) has a great relationship with him. He's proven that he's a quality leg-spinner which we value very highly."
— ESPNcricinfo (@ESPNcricinfo) December 20, 2019
CSK CEO Kasi Viswanathan later hinted that it was Dhoni's decision to rope in Chawla, "Our leader (thalaivan) knows what he needs."
"If a captain is believing in you, what more do you want?" says Chawla.
The reunion with Dhoni after eight years does excite him. Chawla was the part of the squad that won the 2007 World T20 and the 2011 World Cup and is in some way considered as a lucky charm for the Indian team and Dhoni. So the lucky charm is back again with the captain?
"It's not about lucky charm, because I wasn't the only one who was in the 2007 and 2011 WC squad both," Chawla says. There were eight more players. So it's not that's it's happened because of me alone. It's just about how much cricket you play, how hard you work, it depends on that.
"Definitely (excited about the reunion with Dhoni). Koi bhi leg spinner ko chahiye ke unko accha captain mile (Any leg spinner would want a good captain). I am getting Dhoni bhai, world's best captain, aur kyaa chahiye (what more do you want)?"
Chawla learned a lot under the leadership of Gautam Gambhir at KKR, the captain gave him a lot of freedom which the leg spinner certainly enjoyed. The former KKR spinner says that he will continue enjoying the same freedom with Dhoni having had the experience of playing under him in the past.
"It's always the same with Dhoni bhai as well. He gives freedom to the bowler, whatever you feel, go with it. He is always helping you out. And when he feels, this kind of thing might happen, then he gives suggestions to the bowler that let's do this. Whenever he thought that the bowler would need something in the game, he would advise from behind the wickets. So that is a very big help."
With a cluster of spinners in the squad including the likes of Ravindra Jadeja, Imran Tahir, Mitchell Santner, the competition for places will be intense, but Chawla is looking at it in a positive way.
"It's always important to have a healthy competition in the team. There are some big legendary spinners and it's good that we are having it in our team."
Chawla last played in national colours in 2012 in the T20I against England at the Wankhede Stadium. While the drive for India comeback is still there, Chawla isn't looking too far ahead. Just like his captain at CSK he is a believer in following the process. He wants to win matches for the team and is ready for the new challenge upfront.
"I am ready to put on my body on the line and give more than 100 percent," Chawla says.
"The ultimate goal is to win but it’s important to give attention to the process. Every match is crucial, and when it comes to playing for India again it is always somewhere at the back of the mind but it's important to focus on the present. Because a lot of things are not in our hands and if you try to think if I do like this then this will happen, it doesn't. Your work as a bowler is to pay attention to the process and do your best for the team."
Not just his bowling, his batting will add value in the lower-order as well. Over the years, he's scored some crucial runs down the order and that's something he keeps working on religiously. His main mantra while batting is "Har ball pe bat to lagna hi chahiye. (Every ball should connect with the bat)."
"I have concentrated on my batting right from the start and the amount of time I dedicated earlier the same amount I dedicate now. Because I know that 10-12 runs that are made off 5-6 balls at the death are very crucial. So when I go out I focus on getting the bat to ball. It's very important. Because it shouldn't happen that you are just swinging and getting beaten or not connecting."
He's finished off matches in the past. He did it in 2014 final, scoring 13 off 5 balls including hitting the winning runs, and has done if after that too. That vast experience helps him deal with the pressure as well.
"When you play for this long you yourself calculate it in your mind what you want to do on that stage. So I focus on that. With time you get mentally strong because you have seen a lot of ups and downs."
With the league shifted to the UAE, the dynamics have changed. The support, pitches, conditions will be slightly different from those at home. The plans are bound to change. However, for Chawla, nothing changes and only one thing matters - attacking cricket.
"For me nowhere is different. As a legspinner I play attacking cricket, attacking matlab ye nahi ke jaake maarne peetne laga (attacking doesn’t mean I go and hit someone), attacking means, I look for wickets. So even if I am playing in India, England, Australia, or UAE, the nature of my game doesn't change," Chawla signs off.
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Check our Chennai Super Kings' squad and updated schedule of their matches for second half of IPL 2021.
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