Eight years ago, when Rahul Chahar reached home from school, the entire family was bursting crackers and distributing sweets to neighbours. “Bhayya ne aath wicket liya aaj,” his father told him. Rahul didn’t exactly get the context, or the magnitude, but he knew his bhayya had made his family proud. The mobile phones kept buzzing and the local news channel kept flashing his bhayya’s picture.
In the evening, dragging his bat into the courtyard, Rahul enquired when his bhai would return home. Celebrations, he thought, were incomplete without him. Someone quipped: “Ab bhai ke sath khelne ke liye Jaipur jaana padta hain.” Still unable to grasp the enormity of bhayya’s feat, Rahul kept banging an abrade leather ball at the backyard wall, looking afar to the fields to see whether his bhai was coming home.
That was the day 18-year-old Deepak Chahar, his paternal cousin, ran Hyderabad ragged with scarcely-believable figures of 8/10 on debut. By the end of the year, Rahul had got accustomed to playing without his brother in the courtyard while Deepak was being raved about as the new kid in the fast lane, an India prospect criss-crossing the country and ending as a Ranji champion. The whole of Bharatpur, a small town tucked 180-odd kilometres off Jaipur, was basking in the new-fangled Chahar identity.
Then on, most parents wanted their sons to follow Deepak’s footsteps, sending them to cricket academies in Jaipur, Agra and Dholpur. But Deepak had a serious advice to his younger brother. “Don’t try to be a fast bowler like me. You are a good spinner and batsmen fear them more than they fear us,” he told him.
Like his bhaiyya, Rahul always aspired to be a fast bowler, but his young shoulders couldn’t propel the ball high up the pitch, almost dying when it reached the batsman. “But somehow I was turning the ball, which my brother spotted and encouraged me to pursue leg-spin,” he says.’
By the time he turned 14 – and just around the time his brother’s career seemed to be plateauing – Rahul was making the red ball as well as head of batsmen turn. Thereafter, their narratives diverged like the Waugh brothers in the incipience of their Australia career. At 17, Rahul made his first-class debut, a largely middling affair, but his brother by then was out of the team, his body ravaged by injuries and mind stung by doubts. “But he always used to guide me and encourage me, correct the small flaws in my action and instil confidence,” he says.
Next year, Deepak came back, while Rahul was dropped, forcing him to retrace the hard yards of age-group cricket. A clutch of impressive performances caught the eyes of India U-19 coach Rahul Dravid first and Rising Pune Supergiant (RPS) next. From Dravid, he learned to put team over the individual.
The lesson came after he took five wickets against Nepal U-19 in the Asia Cup. When he went back to the dressing room expecting high praise from Dravid, the legend gave him a full-on dressing down. “He was furious with me because I was deliberately giving singles to a set batsman to have a go at the No 10. I was undoing all my good effort with this selfish act. He told me he didn’t want a bowler like me in the side,” he recollects.
Dravid’s words rang in when he was on the brink of his fifth wicket in the first innings of the Ranji match against Jammu and Kashmir, that finished in Jaipur on Sunday. “The no. 11 batsman was in the middle, but I was just looking to bowl normally at him. A few leg-breaks, then perhaps a googly or a top-spinner,” he says, after his 9/148 in the match propelled Rajasthan to a 75-run win, in a match closer than the margin of victory suggests. Precisely for this reason, he puts his second-innings effort of 4/89 above the 5/59 in the first, because he struck vital blows at crucial junctures to stall J&K’s victory prospects.
From RPS virtuosos, he learnt to shed fear. “Before my IPL debut, I was nervous and sweaty. But Imran (Tahir) bhai told me not be carried away by reputations. Once Hashim (Amla) and (MS) Dhoni too were debutants. ‘You are good and just bowl normally’, he told me,” Rahul says.
On his IPL debut, he dismissed Amla, in the next match he nailed Brendon McCullum. Thereon, Tahir was to be an on-call mentor, whom he consults before any major tournament. “I called him just before I went to England (U-19 tour) since he has played a lot of county cricket. He advised me to flight the ball more than I generally do because you don’t get much turn off the surface. So you have to beat them in the air, get drift, use your angles and bowl the odd googly,” Rahul recollects. Subsequently, he took 10 wickets in four matches.
Between then and now, Mumbai Indians shelled out Rs 1.9 crore for acquiring him at the last auction. Deepak fetched half the sum – around 89 lakh from Chennai Super Kings. The season, though, ended contrastingly for them. Rahul didn’t get a single game while Deepak earned Dhoni’s trust with a raft of good outings, was picked for the India A tour to England and made his international debut against England, prompting more sweets and celebrations back home.
Rahul can’t hide his awe of Deepak, calls him his inspiration, and in the back of his mind might be harbouring hopes of emulating his bhayya, and like the Waugh brothers for most part of their careers, hang around the national team balcony for a long time. And plunge Bharatpur into a state of perpetual festivity.
Brief Scores: Rajasthan 379 and 219/4 declared beat Jammu and Kashmir 204 and 319 (Parvez Rasool 110 not out, Ahmed Bandy 62; Nathu Singh 4/83, Rahul Chahar 4/89) by 75 runs.