While the original spinning befuddler Sunil Narine played the game-turning knock with the bat, Varun Chakravarthy with his right-arm mixed bag picked up the gauntlet of adding some mystery to Kolkata’s spin bowling.
On Saturday, the 29-year-old became the first bowler in this IPL to bag a five-for. His 5/20 against Delhi Capitals was also the first such for Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) since Sunil Narine did it eight years ago. Varun accounted for Rishabh Pant and Shimron Hetmyer with wrong’uns. Shreyas Iyer was done in by a carrom ball. A leg-cutter got rid of Marcus Stoinis, while another wrong’un breached Axar Patel’s defence.
When he’s not leaving batsmen dancing to his tunes, Varun strums a guitar or plays the flute. The term, ‘mystery spinner’ is a tad clichéd since Ajantha Mendis spared none but Sehwag in 2008 with his unconventionality, but most mysterious sleights of hands have by now been unravelled.
Varun’s profile has him pegged as a leg-spinner. But his bowling thrives on extravagant use of fingers, and on Saturday his range of dismissals unfurled this ‘mixed-bag’ of tricks.
Outbowling and outperforming his more illustrious spin partner, Narine, this IPL, he has 12 wickets in 10 matches so far compared to Narine’s five from seven. The spinner from Tamil Nadu also trumps the Trinidadian on economy; 7.05 and 8.26 respectively. In fact, after Narine was reported for ‘suspect bowling action’, Varun became his team’s spin ace, with Kuldeep Yadav being peripheral. He’s bowled inside Powerplays, in the middle-overs and also at the death, making a serious impression. Against DC, he was brought into the attack in the 12th over.
In and out of cricket
An architect by qualification and a cricketer by profession, Varun’s trust with cricket started at his Chennai school St. Patrick’s. “They had a very good cricket team and because of that Varun’s interest in cricket grew,” father Vinod tells The Sunday Express.
He played for the school team, but never got picked for TNCA’s age-group teams. “He went to all those trials, but for whatever reasons couldn’t impress the selectors. So, in a middle-class family, he continued with his studies,” Vinod says.
Rejection had paused Varun’s mainstream cricket. He fell back on drawing. “He is a multi-talented boy. He had very good drawing and creative skills. He sensed that he would be more suited for architecture. He went on, and after completing a degree in Architecture from SRM Institute of Science and Technology, he was working for some time. Then, he said he would try to get back into the game,” Vinod narrates his son’s journey.
In 2018 he had his breakthrough. Playing for Siechem Madurai Panthers in the Tamil Nadu Premier League (TNPL), he took nine wickets in 10 matches at a superb economy rate of 4.7. Later that December during the IPL auction, Kings XI Punjab picked him for a staggering Rs 8.4 crore – 42 times his base price of Rs 20 lakh.
Vinod rewinds. “He was playing the (TNCA) fourth division league and was one of the highest wicket-takers. So people started noticing him. Then he went for the TNPL trials, where he impressed the selectors. And while bowling in the TNPL, his performance impressed Mr R Ashwin and Mr Dinesh Karthik. In fact, a lot of people helped and guided him.”
Ashwin was Varun’s captain at KXIP, but the 2019 season didn’t go the newcomer’s way. He played just one game, got hammered and then was ruled out of the tournament due to a finger fracture. And yet, KKR forked out Rs 4 crore for Varun for this year’s IPL despite the spinner’s time in the wilderness. KKR had narrowly missed out to KXIP at the 2019 IPL auction. They outbid Royal Challengers Bangalore to rope in the spinner this term. Karthik, then KKR skipper, wanted him in the side.
“He suffered an injury and naturally he had to work mentally very hard to come out of it,” Vinod says.
Former India leg-spinner Laxman Sivaramakrishnan spotted Varun during the 2018 TNPL and passed on his observations to people in the Tamil Nadu cricket circles. That year saw the tweaker’s promotion to the first division league, for Vijay CC.
“After being taken by the Knight Riders, they made sure that Varun had his rehabilitation properly. He has worked hard, staying fit and practicing his bowling. And I think the confidence shown by Dinesh Karthik and KKR management (helped him). I think he first arrived as a net bowler for KKR and went on to be picked by the franchise,” Sivaramakrishnan tells this paper.
“I won’t say he is a traditional leg-spinner. I think he is a spin bowler who bowls various kinds of deliveries – leg-break, googly, off-break… everything. You might have all the variations, but the cricketing intelligence of when to bowl what is important. A good IPL season will give him confidence and the confidence will stand him in good stead. Once self-belief comes, it can transform you as a cricketer. Varun must continue his good form right through the (IPL) season. He looks to be in good rhythm,” Sivaramakrishnan adds. Varun started off as a medium pacer. A knee injury forced him to switch over to spin. Anil Kumble is a reason why he fell for leg-spin, while Narine’s variety mesmerised him. “He was watching a lot of Anil Kumble videos and Sunil Narine videos,” Vinod says.
Coming back to Varun’s passion for music, as his father informs, he takes guitar and flute lessons on YouTube. The challenge for the spinner would be to build on his IPL success. So far he has played only one Ranji Trophy game for Tamil Nadu, in 2018.
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