In 2002, a skinny kid became India's under-12 chess champion, winning the 16th National Children's Chess Championship in Kolkata. The boy, Yuzvendra Chahal, went on to become the only Indian to represent the country both in chess and cricket.
Chahal has always been associated with having a big heart. Despite being taken for a couple of sixes, he continues to flight the ball and makes sure to induce an error from the batter. But, what is not often stressed upon is the skill and the mental acumen of arguably India's best white-ball spinner at the moment.
Certainly, you cannot keep producing match-winning performances at the postage-sized Chinnaswamy Stadium year after year just on the basis of a big heart. You do need truckloads of skill and brains to make that happen.
The 30th match of IPL 2022 between Rajasthan Royals and Kolkata Knight Riders turned out to be a run fest which saw as many as 417 runs being clubbed in less than 40 overs. At most venues, a target of 218 might prove more than sufficient but not at the batting fairyland that is Brabourne Stadium.
With 40 runs needed off the last four overs, six wickets still in hand and captain Shreyas Iyer blazing away, it was KKR's game to lose as Yuzvendra Chahal stood at his mark, twirling the ball while fine tuning his field.
At the other end was Venkatesh Iyer, going through a slump in form this year and having been demoted in the batting order. It was his opportunity to turn hero against a bowler who was having a rough night.
Chahal had been taken for 38 runs from his first three overs including a 17-run first over when Aaron Finch carted him all around the park.
The thought process from Iyer was right. Most wrist spinners would look to settle into the over with regulation leg spin. As a result, the left-hander decided to give the charge but showed his cards a bit too early as a cunning Chahal tossed up the googly liberally and wicket-keeper Sanju Samson completed the formalities.
But the real sucker punch for KKR came on the fourth ball of the same over when after bowling a flatter one, quick and outside the off stump, which was called a wide, Chahal decided to change his modus operandi and attack the stumps. His quick leg spinner trapped Iyer, one of the best players of spin in India, plumb in front of the sticks.
In a bid to save Pat Cummins for the pacers, the KKR management sent Shivam Mavi ahead of the Australian quick, but all he lasted for was one delivery.
On the last ball of the over, Cummins had every reason to expect a googly, but Chahal, hardened by his years in the IPL, instead chose the safer option of the leg spin but got the hat-trick nonetheless. The pint-sized spinner set off with a celebration which culminated in a hilarious pose.
Purple Cap Holder
With the hat-trick and his maiden IPL 5-wicket haul, Chahal not only retained the Purple cap, having taken 17 wickets from just six games at 17.35 and a brilliant economy rate of 7.33 but also took Rajasthan Royals very close to their fourth win of the competition.
In just one over, the spinner had turned the game on its head. More so, he had done it at the death, a phase of the game traditionally considered to be pacers' territory in white-ball cricket.
Spinners bowling in the slog overs more and more is a trend worth following in T20 cricket and something perhaps Chahal can do in the India Blues as well.
Chahal did concede 40 runs while picking up IPL's 21st hat-trick and only the 5th by a Rajasthan Royals bowler but in a match where KKR were faced with an asking rate of 10.75 from the outset, it was still above par.
As it is, if anything stops the flow of runs in T20 cricket, it is wickets and if you have the ability to do that consistently, you might as well go at 15 RPO.
The T20 WC Axing
It was this wicket-taking ability that India missed in the last T20 World Cup. It came as a shock when Chahal did not find a place in the India's 15-member squad which included as many as five spin bowling options.
Understandably, Chahal was distraught at the snub. "I was not dropped in four years and then I got dropped for such a marquee event. I felt really bad. I was down for two-three days," he later said.
But, the axing did not come without reason as Chahal had been struggling in T20I cricket. In the two marquee series against Australia and England before the World Cup, he gave away runs at 9.75 and 9.92 respectively without picking up a lot of wickets.
There was not enough zip in his bowling and the spinner wasn't taking wickets either, with his stock ball against the right-hand batters being the leg spinner teasing the tramline, a ball which travelled and how. Chahal had a pretty poor first half of IPL 2021 as well before bouncing back in the UAE leg.
Back to strengths
However, since his return to international cricket, Chahal has gone back to the things that worked for him splendidly during the Kul-Cha prime.
He is mixing up his pace well and not shying away from giving the ball ample air. Chahal has started bowling a lot of googlies as well which always keeps the batters honest. Most importantly, the leggie is attacking the stumps which invariably translates into more wicket-taking opportunities, like was the case with the Shreyas Iyer dismissal against KKR.
Yuzvendra Chahal (17 wickets), Kuldeep Yadav (11 wickets), and Rahul Chahar (9 wickets) are India's top three spinners in IPL 2022 as of now. And, if things continue to progress in the same manner, Chahal might well be one of the first names on India's team sheet at the upcoming T20 World Cup in Australia.