Varun Chakravarthy’s tight bowling has played a huge part in KKR’s resurgence in the second half of the IPL, and he could well be India’s X-factor player in the T20 World Cup, writes Sarah Waris.
Architect-turned-cricketer Chakravarthy is living his dream. With a host of big names among his victims in the last two seasons of the IPL, including getting MS Dhoni twice in 2020, Chakravarthy has emerged as KKR’s go-to man after they were struggling for replacements following Kuldeep Yadav’s indifferent run of form. The Tamil Nadu player has not only impressed with his wide array of variations but has also mastered the art of bowling in tough moments, which has quickly earned him the trust of his skipper Eoin Morgan.
His showing against Chennai Super Kings on Sunday, in particular, deserves special mention. After the duo of Ruturaj Gaikwad and Faf du Plessis took CSK to 101-1 in 12 overs, with 72 more to get, Chakravarthy stalled the flow of runs, piling on the pressure on the CSK batters, conceding three and five runs each in the 14th and 18th over of the innings. He troubled batters with balls that turned into the stumps and got Dhoni for the third time in the IPL with a wrong ‘un that completely bamboozled the India great. He mixed his lengths and his speeds and brought KKR back into the game when the contest seemed a totally lost cause.
Though a 22-run 19th over from Prasidh Krishna ensured that Chennai eventually won the game, Chakravarthy’s efforts of 1-22 meant that he not only ended as the most economical bowler from the side but also gave evidence of his ability to remain unfazed in pressure situations against the best players.
The bowler, who has picked up 28 wickets in the last two editions of the IPL, has given away less than seven runs an over in both seasons. Despite not playing a single domestic T20 game for his state, Chakravarthy’s stocks are on the rise, and if not for fitness issues, he could have made his India debut much sooner. His absence paved the way for Rahul Chahar’s entry onto the international scene, but the fact that the KKR bowler was India’s first-choice speaks volumes about the skills of Chakravarthy, who only started out in professional cricket three years ago.
With seven variations — the office, leggie, top spinner, googly, carrom ball, flipper, and slider — combined with the extra bounce and the unpredictable angles he bowls at, Chakravarthy keeps batters on tenterhooks. His guile and combination of unorthodox grips and releases, along with the ability to surprise the best batters have earned him praise, as has his calm demeanour on the field. “If I end up celebrating too much, I can forget what I have to do on the next ball. I don’t want to get off from my process,” he recently told Andre Russell.
What sets Chakravarthy apart remains his skills to bowl in any phase of an innings. He has an economy rate of 7.80 in the first six overs and can be counted upon to pick up wickets as well: he has five scalps in the powerplay overs in the IPL. His economy rate of 6.59 in the middle overs remains impressive, and though he gives away runs at eight at the death, his spell against CSK showed that he can raise his game when batters are looking to smash every delivery out of the park as well.
What works for Chakravarthy is his stump-to-stump bowling, which makes run-scoring against him tougher. In the 2018 Tamil Nadu Premier League, he delivered 125 dot balls in 40 overs across the tournament with an economy rate of just 4.7, which was the best among bowlers who sent down at least 15 overs.
Despite the presence of high-end cameras, which could demystify his variations, Chakravarthy has managed to constantly work on his game, and the fact that he still manages to retain that mystery will be a huge boost for the Indian team. With most of the teams in India’s group in the T20 World Cup not having many batters in the IPL, their chances of working out Chakravarthy in time for the event remain low. Chief selector Chetan Sharma echoed a similar thought after naming him in the 15. “The world doesn’t know what Varun Chakravarthy is. If we ourselves cannot understand [how to read him] what will the batsman know?”
A bowler who doesn’t need a turner to excel — he has admitted that flat tracks where he can hustle with his speeds and turn excite him more — and removes the pitch from the equation is a luxury to any side. He can bowl equally well to right-handers and left-handers and brings plenty to the table.
The IPL has thrown up an unlikely hero in Chakravarthy: a bowler who has coped and done exceedingly well against the best in the last two seasons. When he gave up his career as an architect to take up cricket, a spot in the T20 World Cup would have remained a distant dream, but he has managed to carve out his own path, and a memorable performance in the tournament would be the perfect next chapter in his fairytale story.