In normal times, the 13th edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) would have been everyday's entertainment for all viewers at this time of the year. The glam of the cricket carnival, the typical trumpet tune from Pepe el Trompeta of Paso Doble fame, the big hits and the nail-biting finishes would have been on the menu for cricket-devouring public. For players, it would have been a manic time with frequent travel, high-intense clashes, numerous pressure situations and mounting expectations.
However, we are not living in normal times. The world has been under the gloomy shadow of the coronavirus disease with the pandemic accounting for over 100,000 deaths over the world. India have also been facing the brunt of the deadly outbreak with over 9,000 confirmed cases. The entire nation has been under lockdown, which is expected to be extended till end of April. IPL was earlier postponed till 15 April from its scheduled 29 March, but with the spread of virus being far from being under control, it is expected to be indefinitely postponed. The pandemic has thrown the world upside down.
Sports has naturally taken the backseat. What was expected to be the central theme of every evening, now, as things stand, cricket and IPL are far from being on the minds of the public. It has been no different for India spinner Piyush Chawla.
One of the most consistent players in the IPL, evenings for Chawla would have meant rolling his arm with the aim to outfox the best batsmen in the business but for now the "focus is not on cricket".
"Abhi toh filhal mera dhyan cricket par nahi hain, kisiko ko pata nahi hain hum kab iss situtaion se bahar nikelenge. Poori duniya thamm si gaayi hain. Life is more important than anything at the moment, sirf meri ya meri family ki nahi but sabki (My focus is not on cricket at the moment because we don’t know when are we going to come out of this turmoil. The whole world is at a standstill. Life is more important at the moment and not just mine or my family's but everyone’s). Cricket will go on but first it’s important to bring life back on track," Chawla tells Firstpost.
COVID-19 has confined most in their homes, but in these dire times, Chawla has found refuge in his family.
"It’s a completely different world right now," says the 31-year-old cricketer. "You can’t go out, so there's no training, no gyming. I have made few arrangements at home for training, so I do it but most of the time I have dedicated to family, spending quality time with them, watching movies. My son is also pretty young so I have this opportunity to play with him."
If it was not for the coronavirus, Chawla was scheduled to play for Chennai Super Kings (CSK) in IPL 2020. After spending six successful seasons at Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR), where he also won the 2014 title. The leg-spinner was snapped up by CSK for a whopping Rs 6.5 crore in the 2020 auction — making him the most expensive capped Indian at the auction.
The tweaker is currently the joint third-highest wicket-taker in IPL with 150 scalps to his name. And while his CSK debut has been delayed, Chawla is looking forward to playing for the franchise whenever he gets the opportunity.
"We all know what CSK means as franchise, the fan following that they have. You as a player always want to play for a good team, under a good captain, in that sense, you are not going to get a better team than CSK and a better captain than Mahi bhai (MS Dhoni). There was a lot of excitement to play for the franchise and I was in Chennai before IPL was postponed but now everything has changed, we need to wait," says the former Kings XI Punjab player.
A conversation with Chawla could not be complete without talking about 'that' Sachin Tendulkar dismissal which propelled him to national prominence. Only 16-year-old, Chawla grabbed the eyeballs of one and all when he beguiled the Master Blaster to clean bowl him in a Challenger Trophy match in 2005 by the virtue of a well-disguised googly. Ask him if the wicket is still the most memorable event for him and the answer is a straight yes.
"Definitely," says Chawla. "As a 16-year-old it’s your wish to meet the great Sachin Tendulkar, to impress him. I got the opportunity to play against him and to get him out. It was surreal. Without doubt it still remains the best moment of my career," says the former Uttar Pradesh cricketer.
As he owned the headlines, selectors rewarded Chawla with a India call up soon after as he made his international debut at the age of 17 against England in the Mohali Test in 2006 — the venue where he took the famous Tendulkar wicket. However, international cricket hasn't been a smooth sailing for Chawla ever since. He could only add two more Tests to his tally apart from featuring in 25 ODIs and seven T20Is. While he was part of the 2011 World Cup winning side, he last played a match for India in December 2012.
Chawla even shifted base from home state Uttar Pradesh to Gujarat in 2017 for domestic cricket and has since produced memorable performances in Ranji Trophy and Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy. Only 31, the leg-spinner still has a lot of cricket left in him and while he has not given up on playing for India again, the mantra for him is to enjoy his game not to bother about the uncontrollable, after all it was the love for the sport that brought him to cricket in first place.
"I have not been in the Indian team for last six-seven years but I enjoy the game as much as I did 10 years back. I don’t think too much about it, I don’t sulk about not getting selected. My job is to keep playing, to keep performing and that’s what I have been doing. Whether I get selected or not, whether I make a comeback or not is a different story altogether," says Chawla.
"If I keep thinking about my comeback then I would stop enjoying my cricket. I started playing this sport because I love cricket and that thing still stays the same. I love the sport and I play because I enjoy it."
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