Taking a break from cricket for a couple of years helped Kolkata Knight Riders' Varun Chakravarthy refresh his bowling, develop mystery spin variety and return to the sport with a bang, his former captain at the Tamil Nadu Premier League (TNPL) Rohit Damodaran has said.
29-year-old Chakravarthy, who has been a consistent performer for KKR this IPL season, used to play divisional cricket in Chennai before being spotted by Rohit, who was captain of the Madurai Panthers in the TNPL.
"He (Chakravarthy) was initially playing first division in Chennai and also studying architecture engineering. He then took 2-3 years off and in that period he developed this 'mystery' variety while he played fourth division league in Chennai. One of our coaches told me about him and I saw him at one of our (Madurai Panthers) nets," Damodaran told IANS.
Damodaran picked him in the first round of auctions itself for the bare minimum amount (Rs 50,000 or 1,00,000 he can't recall). Chakravarthy was part of Karaikudi Kaalai in 2017 TNPL, a year before Panthers picked him at the auctions, but he didn't get to play.
The Panthers' captain, who now plays Ranji Trophy for Puducherry, said Chakravarthy used to practice these mystery spin deliveries with tennis balls.
"He used to practice all these balls with tennis ball before trying it with the cricket ball. That's what he told me. He has three-four variations and slowly got it into the cricket ball," Damodaran explained.
Chakravarthy can bowl the carrom ball which goes away from the batsman, another one is the same carrom ball that skids on to the pads. Then there is the normal off-spin and a googly.
Damodaran said that the carrom ball and googly bowled by Chakravarthy are very similar. "The release is the same, hence it is difficult for the batsman to pick."
The right-handed batsman, who also bowls off-spin, said he was first impressed by Chakravarthy at the nets when he made a 'mockery' of him and other senior batsmen.
He also went to the Chennai Super Kings practice sessions and bowled to MS Dhoni. He got the better of the former India captain 3-4 times out of 10 deliveries. No wonder CSK were desperate for Chakravarthy and fought till the end for the spinner until Kings XI Punjab outbid CSK and others ahead of 2019 IPL, picking him for Rs 8.4 crore.
Chakravarthy, who hails from Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu, had said he would be happy getting his base price of Rs 20 lakh. Ahead of this year's IPL, he was bought by Kolkata Knight Riders for Rs 4 crore.
On October 7, Chakravarthy showed the same class when he bowled Dhoni again, at a crucial juncture, when the CSK skipper was looking to take the team to victory. That wicket brought KKR back into the game and they defeated CSK by 10 runs.
Damodaran further said he always used Chakravarthy as a containing bowler in 2018 when Panthers won the TNPL title. Interestingly, the Madurai franchise had finished eighth in the first two seasons of TNPL, in 2016 and 2017.
"There were better performers in our run to title. But in terms of economy and number of dot balls, Varun was the No. 1. He brought in a lot of dimension to my team. Before the tournament, he told me you can use me whichever way the team wants."
Everyone knew that he can bowl mystery spin.
"So whenever he would come on to bowl, the batsmen would try to play carefully without getting out. So that meant he would end up bowling 3-4 dot balls and end up conceded maximum 3-4 runs. Four overs, 16 runs is what he usually gives. In the final, he conceded just 10 runs. So with him around, I am saving 15-20 runs in a T20 game in comparison to what others would give. That ends up a big margin," Rohit explained.
Damodaran tried another strategy, bringing him in after an expensive over. If any of his bowlers would concede 12-13 runs, he'd bring Chakravarthy on to break the momentum the opposition was threatening to carry.
"Very often you'll see statistically that in T20 games, it is these 12-13 run-overs in succession that can change the course of the game."
At one point in a qualifier during TNPL, Damodaran used the spinner in four different spells of one over each just to break the momentum of the opposition team. Damodaran said it saved him 15 runs.
However, for KKR on Saturday evening, Chakravarthy was used as a wicket-taker and not a containing bowler. By the time he was brought in, the task for Delhi Capitals was arduous. They needed 119 runs from nine overs.
Delhi Capitals' batsmen, in quest of quick runs, tried to hit a bowler, who is not that easy to hit because of the variety he possesses in his bowling, ended up giving five wickets to him.
"He never took these many wickets for the Panthers because we always used him as a containing bowler and the opposition batsmen played him carefully. But yesterday, they tried to hit him despite knowing he is tough to hit," Damodaran said.