"Even when I left cricket, cricket didn’t leave me," says architect-turned-cricketer Varun Chakravarthy. But he never really left cricket. Even in the fifth-year thesis of his architecture degree, he chose the design of a cricket stadium.
Chakravarthy's story is one of those awe-inspiring tales that this beautiful sport keeps throwing up. One of perseverance, grit, determination, stars aligning, passion, talent meeting opportunity – the list goes on.
And on Monday, 26 October, it took a new step as he was picked in India’s T20I squad for the upcoming tour of Australia.
Wicket-Keeper Batsman Turned Pacer Turned Mystery Spinner
In school, Chakravarthy was a wicket-keeper batsman. He was good, but not extraordinary, which led to various rejections at the age group level.
At last, Chakravarthy decided to give up cricket and take up architecture as his career.
But things did not fall in place for the Karnataka-born cricketer. In 2016, at the age of 25, he took a leap of faith and quit his job to return to the cricket field.
Chakravarthy had taken up medium pace bowling but a knee injury forced him to reconsider his plan. The all-rounder, in the literal sense of the word, took to spin bowling.
As luck would have it, Chakravarthy, with his assortment of variations, got into the Tamil Nadu Premier League draft and was picked. The spinner helped the Madurai Panthers to the TNPL title in 2018. He picked up just nine wickets in the tournament but sported an economy rate of 4.7 and a dot ball percentage of 52.08.
He made his List A debut for Tamil Nadu in the 2018-19 Vijay Hazare trophy, and beefed up his wickets column with 22 scalps from just nine matches.
Armed with the experience of being a net bowler for a couple of IPL franchises, a successful TNPL season and his Vijay Hazare heroics, Chakravarthy threw his hat into the IPL ring.
First IPL Attempt Gone Wrong
Much to his surprise, the spinner was snapped up by Kings XI Punjab in the 2019 IPL auction. Chakravarthy, who had a base price of INR 20 lakh, went for 42 times his base price at INR 8.4 crore.
The double-edged sword that luck is, life was about to show Chakravarthy a different side. With the tag of the most expensive uncapped Indian player in the IPL, Chakravarthy’s debut was not one to remember.
He bowled three overs for KXIP against Kolkata Knight Riders, going at 11.66 RPO while picking up the wicket of Nitish Rana. Ironically, it was the batsmen from his would-be franchise who smashed him out of IPL 2019.
In fact, it was none other than Sunil Narine, one of the best exponents of Chakravarthy's craft of mystery spin, who pummeled him for three sixes in an over.
He later picked up a shoulder injury and his IPL 2019 season came to a gut-wrenching end. Chakravarthy took a long time to recuperate. He started training just two-three months before the IPL 2020 auction and did not expect to get picked.
A Second Coming
Destiny though had other plans as he saw a fierce bidding war unfold for him in the IPL 2020 auction, as he was finally roped in by Kolkata Knight Riders for INR 4 crore – a cut of more than 50 percent from his first IPL pay cheque but a substantial signing amount nonetheless.
In the time of pujo, Chakravarthy provided the tepid-footed Kolkata Knight Riders with some punch. When the bowler came into the attack in KKR’s crucial encounter against Delhi Capitals, the opposition was still pretty much in the game.
IPL 2020’s First 5-Wicket Haul
DC needed 119 runs from 54 balls, with eight wickets in hand and with Shreyas Iyer and Rishabh Pant at the crease, anything was possible. Mind you, he was tasked with keeping the runs dry on a surface where senior off-spinner R Ashwin had been taken for 45 runs from three overs.
Chakravarthy got to work. When he finished, he had figures of 5/20 from his four overs, the first 5-wicket haul and the best bowling figures in IPL 2020, and Kolkata Knight Riders had bagged a comfortable 59-run victory.
On the same pitch at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi, the senior of the two KKR mystery spinners, Sunil Narine, ended up with figures of 4-0-37-0 and an economy rate of 9.20 RPO.
The Karnataka-born has now become the top wicket-taker for Kolkata Knight Riders in the season with 12 scalps from 10 matches, at an average of 23.50 and an economy of 7.05, which is commendable given that he has been bowling the tough overs.
Not only that, Chakravarthy has conceded 30 or more runs in his 10 IPL 2020 matches on just two occasions.
Team India Call Up
When Chakravarthy said that he wanted to play for India in the T20 World Cup after being picked by KKR in IPL 2020, it seemed a far shot. The mystery spinner had just played one IPL match then and the dream seemed to be a distant one. However, it isn't so any longer.
On Monday, he was picked in the Indian T20I squad for the upcoming tour of Australia and with the next T20 World Cup scheduled to be held in India, the national team needs at least three spinners in their squad.
Yuzvendra Chahal is going great guns in the ongoing season, but with Kuldeep Yadav's form having dropped off a cliff, India do need some mystery in their spin department.
Architecture is all about lines and angles. So is cricket. The architect-turned-cricketer has made good use of his previous vocation to traverse the shortest path to Team India's door.
(Saksham Mishra is a freelance sports journalist, justifying hours of watching sports by scribbling down a few logical lines that might just about hold your interest.)