By Saj Sadiq
Piyush Chawla was only 17 years old when he made his Test debut, against England in Mohali in March 2006. He has, however, only played three Tests, the last of them also against England at Nagpur in December 2012, after which he found himself on the sidelines again.
The leg-spinner, now 24 years old, was a part of India’s World Cup-winning squad in 2011, but hasn’t played a One-Day International (ODI) since being dropped from the playing XI midway through that campaign. In a bid to resurrect his international career, Chawla has signed up with Somerset for the current English season. Amit Mishra, the more experienced leg-spinner, has stolen a march in recent times with excellent performances in ODIs and Chawla knows he has his work cut out. In this chat with PakPassion.net, he reflects on his career so far, and looks forward to the future with optimism.
Excerpts from an interview:
PakPassion.net (PP): This is your second stint in county cricket, after a previous spell with Sussex. What are your specific targets playing for Somerset?
Piyush Chawla (PC): I want a repeat of my performance for Sussex when I played there four years ago. That spell in county cricket really gave me confidence and was a massive boost for my career. I want to do as well for Somerset as I did for Sussex. I’ve not set myself any specific goals or targets in terms of runs or wickets. I would like to do my best and enhance my reputation as a cricketer. It’s an exciting challenge being here and I’m looking forward to the rest of the season.
PP: You must be hoping to catch the eye of the Indian selectors, during and after this stint with Somerset?
PC: Yes, absolutely. After my last spell in county cricket, I received an international call-up and I’m hoping the same happens this time around. I’m hoping that the volume of wickets and runs catches the eye of the selectors back home in India. I think it’s vital to grab this opportunity, perform consistently, and ensure that I make the selectors sit up and take notice of my performances.
PP: Gautam Gambhir and you are playing county cricket. Do you think more Indians will benefit from playing on the county circuit?
PC: I think the issue is that the calendar is very busy for the Indian cricketers. But at the same time, only 15 or 16 players are part of a squad. So, the other players that are not in the squad should be given the chance to play county cricket. The English county circuit is a very good place to get exposure, to mature as a cricketer and to learn. The cricket is of a high standard and very competitive, and there are numerous strong teams like Warwickshire and Surrey. In fact, there are no weak teams in county cricket; all the sides are very competitive and it makes for very tough competition. Overseas players enjoy playing county cricket as the standard is very high and the cricket is intense.
PP: Having made your Test debut at the age of 17, you must be disappointed that you’ve only played two more Tests since then?
PC: It hurts a lot, it hurts a great deal. I never imagined that seven years after my debut, I would have only played two more Tests. My last Test was in December last year and I thought I did well. All I can do is to wait for my opportunity. I’m still young and I have time on my side, but that figure of only three Tests is an eyesore for me. As a cricketer, you continue to learn and develop and I feel that I’m still learning and waiting for my next chance to play for India.
PP: In your last Test, you took four for 69 and were subsequently dropped. That must be hard to take.
PC: Yes, I was very disappointed. That was a very flat deck against England and I was the leading wicket-taker in that match for India. However, I was not selected for the next series. As a cricketer, I was greatly disappointed at not to be given a chance in the following series, but the selectors must have had something else in their minds.
PP: You shot into prominence when you dismissed Sachin Tendulkar in domestic cricket. Talk us through that experience.
PC: I was a 16-year-old kid playing against someone who had ripped apart almost all of the great bowlers. I went into the match with the mindset that I had nothing to lose. I thought if he hits me around, so what, he’s done that to a lot of bowlers over the years. But before the match, I also dreamt of getting him out, which came true. He later told me, ‘Well bowled’. I think he was a little embarrassed at being dismissed by a 16-year-old and I think he was just trying to avoid me.
PP: Is that the most memorable wicket of your career?
PC: Getting Sachin Tendulkar out was a dream come true and is undoubtedly my most memorable wicket. My dream was to just bowl to Sachin one day, but to get him out in only my second List A match was simply out of this world. I cherished it at that time and it’s a dismissal I will remember for the rest of my life.
PP: How vital has the Indian Premier League (IPL) been in the development of Indian cricketers?
PC: The Indian Premier League has helped Indian cricket and Indian cricketers in many ways. The biggest benefit I have noticed is that you have the opportunity to play against and alongside the best cricketers in the world. In Indian domestic cricket, you don’t get the opportunity to face too many bowlers who clock 130-135kph, but in the IPL you are facing bowlers of that pace and on a regular basis. You are facing bowlers of the calibre and the pace of Morne Morkel and Dale Steyn, so that when your chance arrives to play international cricket, you know what to expect as you have already faced them.
The same goes for Indian bowlers at the IPL. You are given the opportunity to bowl to the world’s best batsmen such as Chris Gayle, AB deVilliers and Jacques Kallis. That can only be a good thing, helping your development. In addition, when you get your chance to play international cricket, you will bowl to batsmen who you have already bowled to and so you know what to expect.
PP: What areas of your bowing do you feel you need to improve in to break into and then establish yourself in the Indian team?
PC: I’m honest enough to admit that there are areas of my bowling that I need to improve upon. Leg spin is a very difficult art and I believe it’s one of the most difficult skills to master in cricket. I feel I’m learning with each match. Even during my debut for Somerset, despite taking no wickets, the game was a learning experience for me. I wasn’t up to the mark and watching George Dockrell bowl made me realise where I was going wrong. He bowled at a slower pace than I did and he reaped the benefits. This is just an example of learning from your team mates and picking up tips from each match that you play in and carrying that experience into your next game.
I also feel there are areas of my batting that I can improve upon. My batting record in First-Class cricket is good but I’ve not been able to carry that through to international cricket. This is something I need to work upon. I must ensure that I bat with the same levels of application in internationals as I do in domestic cricket. I definitely believe my best cricketing years are ahead of me. I am yet to reach my peak as a cricketer.
PP: There aren’t many leg-spinners who are automatic selections for their respective international teams…
PC: Leg spin is an art that can win you a game singlehandedly from nowhere. Leg-spinners are match-winners, but there is always the chance that a leg-spinner can go for plenty of runs and perhaps that plays on the minds of some captains and selectors. I think watching a leg-spinner in action, weaving his magic against a top quality batsman, can be fascinating viewing.
PP: Your thoughts on Saeed Ajmal?
PC: He’s a great bowler. I always enjoy watching him bowl and his variations are excellent. What is particularly interesting from a technical perspective is that there is very little change in his grip and action when he bowls his various deliveries. That definitely makes life difficult for the batsmen.
(Saj Sadiq is Senior Editor at PakPassion.net, from where the above article has been reproduced. He can be followed on Twitter at @Saj_PakPassion)