Leading up to the 2019 World Cup in England and Wales, there was a lot of debate on the kind of wickets that will be on offer. Some even went to the extent of judging from India's tour of England last summer and said that Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav would rule the roost.
But the wickets in the first few games of the showpiece event haven't been turners at all. While there has been some assistance for the spinners, nothing to write home about. Even as critics are now contemplating on how effective India's spin attack will be, leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal isn't perturbed. These are the exact wickets that he had hoped for when boarding the flight to London.
Speaking to IANS, just before leaving for the showpiece event, Chahal said that while people on the outside may think that all spinners want rank turners, he likes wickets which are flat and have a bit of bounce on offer -- just like the ones being prepared in this World Cup. In fact, he made it clear that he has more faith in his own abilities than looking at tracks for assistance.
"There was a bit of turn for the spinners even during the England-Pakistan series before the World Cup. But a lot will depend on the overhead conditions. Personally, I don't like rank turners. I love bowling on flat wickets with a bit of bounce. That personally suits my game. Also, as a wrist spinner you do induce turn irrespective of how the wicket is and I have never believed in looking at tracks for assistance.
"Bowling on rank turners is also an art, but if you ask me, I would love flat wickets with a bit of bounce and that gets me going. You can't bowl fast on flat wickets and you need to give it loop so that the ball takes turn. On turning wickets, the pace has to be increased since you already are getting turn," he said.
And going by the looks of the wicket in Southampton for India's opening game against South Africa on Wednesday, Chahal must be waiting to see skipper Virat Kohli signal towards him to mark his run-up and unleash himself on the Proteas batsmen.
While his own form leading to the World Cup was brilliant, captain Kohli had a slightly rough outing in the Indian Premier League, scoring just 464 runs from 14 games. Hundred of those runs came in one game against Kolkata Knight Riders. But Chahal feels that one shouldn't confuse the skipper's IPL form with what is in store when he takes strike in the World Cup.
"You do have an off season and that is only human. The World Cup is a 50-over tournament and the mood will be different. He has got a break and is now all fresh for the World Cup. One bad series doesn't change what Kohli has done over the years. Say for example, if I had a bad IPL and you asked me, I would say that I have picked 80 wickets in 40 games for India and now I have had a bad IPL season, but that is okay," he explained.
Asked if the favourites tag is well-deserved, Chahal said that for him the word 'strong' is closer to the heart. "Favourites tag comes from the outside. This is a big tournament and yeah overall if you look at how we have played over the past couple of seasons, we can say that this is a strong team. I prefer the word strong over favourite. Also, there are quite a few good teams apart from India and to be honest, a lot will depend on how a team plays on the day," he said.
From playing chess to now leading India's spin charge in the World Cup, it has indeed been a dream journey for Chahal and the leg-spinner says that he started aiming for a spot in the World Cup team only after performing well on foreign soil.
"The journey from playing chess to the field of cricket, it is like a dream. When I would see India's World Cup games on television, I would also think that one day I want to be a part of this. Then, when I became a regular in the team from 2017 onwards, I started to aim for the 2019 World Cup and looked at being consistent with my performances. Today I feel a dream has been fulfilled. Doing well outside India gave me the confidence that I can compete with the best on the international stage," he revealed.
But a sportsperson's life is a mix of highs and lows. So, while on one day he is on top of the world with a match-winning performance, there are days when he has been tonked all over the park. How does he take this ride? For Chahal, having understanding teammates helps.
"The more you play together, you get to know each other and it becomes like a family. We spend a lot of time off the field as well and when one of the players has a bad day, we as a team look at ways to motivate him. Say, if I had a bad day and then if coaches start scolding you, the morale goes down further.
"But in this team, you are given confidence and told that you have proved yourself in the past and you can do it again. There are times when you are alone and you need some motivation as you are on the go (playing and travelling) and this team is really good in this," he smiled.
Another thing that keeps Chahal going is his love for bodyart. While he has only five tattoos at present, the journey to get inked has only begun for the 28-year-old.
"I always wanted to get piercings and tattoos done from a young age. Got my first tattoo in 2012 and then I got a Lord Shiva and that made me feel good as I feel very connected to him and to get to look at his tattoo whenever I open my shirt it gives me a positive vibe. I spend a lot of time thinking and conceptualizing before I get a tattoo made.
"I have a complete temple of Lord Shiva. I have Shivansh written on me and that is the name of my sister's son. I am a Leo so I also have a lion. I also have a warrior type tattoo as that gives me the spirit to fight when I am on the field. The pain of getting inked gives me joy.
"I think every person has a personal life. What I do on the field is what I should be judged on. Some people like to go to mountains, some love beaches and these are all personal choices. We don't get judged in our team. Earlier people would judge you for having a tattoo, but times have changed and so has perception," he said.