The independent voice of cricket

Indian Premier League 2023

Piyush Chawla deserves recognition as one of the IPL’s greatest – and he’s not done yet

Piyush Chawla, IPL 2023
Aadya Sharma by Aadya Sharma
@Aadya_Wisden 5 minute read

Piyush Chawla, one of the most successful IPL bowlers of all time, might not have played for India in over a decade, but continues to stay among the wickets this time in his new stint with Mumbai Indians. It’s another name on this season’s list of unexpected comeback stories.

Piyush Chawla is one of the rare active Indian cricketers whose T20 debut came before the IPL. That game in April 2007, a dull domestic inter-state fixture, had among others Chawla’s India teammate Praveen Kumar opening (!) the batting. Chawla himself came in at five and hit a 25-ball 33. He later returned with figures of 4-0-23-3.

It’s April 2023, and Chawla is still playing T20s. He’s still only 34 somehow (and I say somehow because he’s been around seemingly forever). Only five bowlers have taken more wickets than him in IPL history.


When Mumbai Indians acquired him in the 2023 auction (a year after he went unsold), the decision was met with a few eyebrow raises. He played seven games in 2020 and just one in 2021. The decline of one of IPL’s premier spinners was evident, and a regular spot in a starting XI did not seem likely. But here we are, three weeks into IPL 2023, and in the tournament’s true spirit, Chawla is currently Mumbai’s leading wicket-taker (7 wickets @ 20.43, ER: 7.15).

Against the Delhi Capitals, Chawla’s 3-22 came after the powerplay, when he mixed up his leggies and wrong ‘uns well to keep the middle order guessing. Against KKR, his former team, Chawla was the most economical bowler from either side (1-14). The wrong ‘uns are still as potent – it’s the same delivery type that once led to Chawla’s omission from the India team. “You bowl too many googlies”, he was told.

Speaking to Wisden.com in 2020, Chawla had called the googly “his strength”, clarifying that he’s not dependent on that variation for success.

“It’s not that I am dependent on the googly, it’s a variation,” Chawla said. “If a batsman plays a very good flick shot, you won’t say he’s dependent on the flick shot, right? If I am picking up wickets off a wrong ‘un, it’s… at the end of the day, what matters? It’s not my dependency, it’s my strength.”

It definitely is a delivery that is associated with Chawla. It was the same one that gloriously undid Ricky Ponting during Australia’s 2008 tour. Three years before that, a 16-year-old Chawla gained national attention after doing the same to Sachin Tendulkar in a domestic game.

There have been several ups and downs since. He won the ODI World Cup at 22, but hasn’t played for India since 2012, featuring in a total of three Tests, 25 ODIs and seven T20Is. You would think Chawla was a player trusted for the big occasion – along with the ODI World Cup medal, his T20I career was spread across two T20 World Cups (2010, 2012).

In fact, Chawla could have probably been a fine T20 prospect (as he proved to be in the IPL), if not for the duopoly between R Ashwin and R Jadeja, and later Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav.

The tipping point for Chawla came in 2008 when a chat with Shane Warne seemingly turned things around. Before then, his IPL wasn’t going to plan – he gave away 19 in his only over in the first match, and 27 in two in the next. Then came a 40-minute chat with Warne – Chawla ended with 17 wickets in 15 games.

“T20 is the kind of format where…my funda [thinking] is… I become more attacking because as it is, runs are going to go [be conceded], batsmen are trying to hit everything out of the park, so I take that as an opportunity,” Chawla said in 2020. “There’s always a chance that the batsman is trying to hit you, always a chance to end up getting wickets.”

It was the year he became the auction’s most expensive Indian buy, a surprise to many, given that there were younger, more exciting options available. Chawla, though, had been silently doing his thing all along – in the 2019 Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, he picked up nine wickets at 13.77 (economy 5.16) for Gujarat. He continues to play domestic cricket – this season’s Syed Mushtaq saw him take six wickets at 22.66 (economy 6.80).

The numbers might be slowly dipping as years pass, but Chawla continues to be a dependable workhorse, a canny middle-overs operator with a big bag of tricks and a bigger appetite to bowl. Not many would have given him a chance this season, but he relentlessly continues to do his job.

The IPL, tagline “where talent meets opportunity”, is a springboard for young souls waiting to be seen by the world. But it’s also the playing field for the forgotten or nearly-forgotten, who continue to remind the world of the magic that remains in them. Ajinkya Rahane, Amit Mishra, Mohit Sharma… this season has been abundant with unexpected reappearances. Chawla is one of them.

To bet on the IPL with our Match Centre partners bet365, head here.

Have Your Say

Become a Wisden member

  • Exclusive offers and competitions
  • Money-can’t-buy experiences
  • Join the Wisden community
  • Sign up for free
Latest magazine

Get the magazine

12 Issues for just £39.99