New Delhi: Having picked up eight wickets in the recently concluded Nidahas T20 Tri-series, the joint highest wicket-taker with Washington Sundar, Indian leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal is high on confidence. His three wickets in the final paved the way for India towards the trophy. Not just that, his performance on the South Africa tour, including a match-winning five-wicket ODI haul, helped India dominate the six-game series. In an inteview to Zeenews.com ahead of the eleventh season of the Indian Premier League (IPL), Chahal discussed a variety of issues, including Royal Challengers Bangalore's chances this year.
Q: What are your thoughts on the current composition of RCB as a team?
Compared to the last season, RCB is a much better side this time because we have a better pool of batsmen such as Quinton de Kock, Brendon McCullum, Sarfaraz Khan, Manan Vohra and Mandeep Singh etc. In the bowling department too, we have so many options like Nathan Coulter Nile, Tim Southee, Chris Woakes and Washington Sundar. So this time, we can say it is a stronger team beacuse it is perfectly balanced.
Q: Do you think this team is on a par with the team that lost the final to SRH in 2016?
This is definitely the best side we have got as we have more bowling options with us. In the past, we have been winning because of our heavy batting. In the T20 format, it is the bowling which wins you games, so bowling needs to be strong. Now with 3-4 good bowlers joining in, the bowling has started to look much better. Chris Woakes, Umesh Yadav and Coulter-Nile have played before and are experienced.
With such a powerful mix, we aim to win the IPL this year. Last to last year, it was our outstanding batting that led us to the final but this time the bowling will also be as strong. On paper, our batting has names such as Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers, Brendon McCullum, Quinton de Kock but now our bowling is worthy to be rated equally.
Q: This year Washington Sundar will be bowling in RCB colours. How confident are you having him as your bowling partner, considering he played with you in Sri Lanka?
I would say he has the ability to create pressure with the new ball, which gives me the license to go for wickets right away. In the Tri-series, his 3 powerplay overs proved really crucial for us in every game and it really helped me bowl with a big heart. His biggest strength is that he keeps to his strength. He bowls accurately without thinking too much about variations or more spin. He finishes his job very well.
Q: RCB mentor Daniel Vettori has had a big role in your development as a spinner. Could you elaborate on what makes him special?
It has been four years since I am training with him at RCB. His best thing is that he doesn't force me to change much in my bowling and has been a great help. But at the same time, he keeps providing me with important inputs regarding match situations and makes sure he doesn't flood me with suggestions. He takes it slow and cautions me if I am going wrong somewhere. For example, he will caution me if my bowling stride is getting too big and constantly pushes me to reduce it as it could affect my balance at the crease. The body can tend to fall over. So he is always careful about that. Not just cricket, he helps me a lot off the field as well in my personal life, guides me and cares for me. Even after the IPL gets over, I am constantly in touch with him over the phone.
Q: While a lot was discussed on the timing of the Nidahas Trophy, especially when Team India is supposed to travel abroad for the large part of this year. In hindsight, do you think it turned out to be a good practice before IPL?
I think the Tri-series was a good practice just before the IPL. We did really well in Sri Lanka and it will give us a lot confidence going in the IPL. If you see we performed really well in South Africa and that confidence was carried into the Nidahas Trophy. So before any tournament, it is important to have confidence coming from good performances.
Q: There was a change in your line during the Tri-series. From bowling outside off, you often kept it tight and got wickets bowling in the stumps. What are your thoughts on that?
Actually, I was aware that the opposition knows if they stepped out I would bowl outside off, so they had prepared for that variation. Probably they were also expecting me to bowl less within the stumps. But this time even I wanted to play with their mind and kept bowling tightly. Anyway, had they stepped out, I would have definitely slipped one outside off but this time I wanted to tell them if they stepped out and missed, they would end up giving away wickets. When we needed to go for wickets, my aim was to keep my line as accurate as possible and keep varying my pace and line.
Q: Tell us how you decide to vary your pace? Is it according to the nature of the track or is it bowling with a new or semi-new ball?
If the wicket is slow, as it was against Bangladesh in our second game, the batsmen crave for pace. My idea was to bowl as slower as possible and even if I bowled outside off, the idea is to block the cut shot behind point. That way you can adjust the sweeper slightly more towards cover. So even if you drop short, it goes to cover and not behind point. On the other hand, during powerplay, you know the batsmen will go after you and you just can't afford to give loose balls as there are only two fielders outside the circle. So I want to keep it tight and make sure I mix up my bowling so as to keep the batsmen guessing. If I bowl six balls, 2-3 out of those would be bowled slower than usual.
Q: In the first game against Sri Lanka, you got hit for 27 runs in the first two overs. Kusal Perera was the batsman who was taking on you. What helped you get back?
Undoubtedly, he was batting really well and he played good shots against me in the first two overs. But I thought I still have two more overs and wanted to go with a positive mindset. Had I thought that I have got hit for 27 and it could get 50, I would have become negative. But I thought I had 12 balls and I have to get back. I told myself that if I get two wickets here, the team will be back in the game and forgot what happened in the past. That confidence really helped me a lot as from 27 in two overs, I gave away just six runs in the next two and also got one wicket to cap a good spell.
Q: Were you missing the advice of MS Dhoni from behind the stumps?
Obviously, in his absence I had to use my brain a lot. With Mahi bhai in the team, I have to think only 50 per cent. He would provide us with important inputs in tense situations. But this time, I had to think 100 % about everyhting. From setting up a batsman to planning and execution. In hindsight, it was a good challenge for us as in the IPL, he will not be there keeping for us, it's high time we started thinking on our own.
Q: And then the final happened. Were you expecting that kind of a finish? What was the dressing room like when Vijay Shankar suffered a minor brain fade?
We must know that Vijay Shankar was batting for the first time in an international game and pressure could affect anyone. He is a youngster and he has to learn a lot. Even we have gone through such situations. In his case, nobody appreciates the crucial boundary he hit in the last over which brought the equation to five runs in one ball but everybody keeps discussing those five dot balls. You can't blame him for that. As teammates sitting in the dugout, we knew we couldn't do much about it and it has been a learning curve for him. And then Dinesh Karthik batted. For me, he was Man-of-the-Series because whenever he batted, he played differently and looked in a diffeerent league. This tells you how focused he is.
Q: How do you compare Rohit Sharma's captaincy with Virat Kohli's?
I would say both let me enjoy my bowling and motivate me to go for wickets. They give me the freedom to set my own fields. Both tell me that my job is to keep looking for wickets.
Q: You and Kuldeep Yadav bowled well in tandem on the South Africa tour. Did you miss him in Sri Lanka?
I really missed Kuldeep a lot as we both know how to adjust if either of us gets hit for runs. We both know how to attack and keep building pressure from either end. And it is not always that we go for wickets, at times, when the situation is crunch, you can't attack much. You have to go on the back foot and bowl defensively to create pressure. So if I get hit, he knows he will have to keep it tight and create pressure. In the next over, if I make a strong comeback, he can always go for wickets and vice versa.
Q: Last but not least, tell us about your experience bowling to South African wicket-keeper batsman Heinrich Klaasen. He proved a tough nut to crack, didn't he?
According to me, Heinrich Klaasen was the best South African batsman against spin. The way he batted with that long reach, his accurate reading of variations – googly, side spin, back spin – was really commendable. Also another plus in him was the way he batted staying in the crease. Any batsman who plays from the crease is very difficult to bowl to because he judges the line and length really well. Yes it rained in both the games, the ball got wet and it was difficult to grip but that is not an excuse and admit we didn't bowl well. He batted outstandingly well.
On the other hand, I knew it wasn't my day and I immediately thought to bowl my over quickly with a defensive approach. On such days, it is better to build pressure and let others take wickets.