Bengaluru, December 19: Varun Chakravarthy is the latest sensation after bagging a Rs 8.4 crore IPL 2019 contract with Kings XI Punjab. But he is not just a cricketer with big dreams. Chakravarthy owns a design firm and a flutist.
He is a cricketer with difference and read on to find out more about the Tamil Nadu cricketer, who was partcipating in Gethist Creative's Konjam Cricket Konjam Masala touching various aspects of his career and life.
Q: You have been in the radar of IPL teams prior to the auction after making it big in this year's TNPL. And you have made transition from an architect to cricketer. Can you detail this passage for us?
A: Ever since I was young, I've been playing a lot of tennis ball cricket. Cricket has always been my first love. After completing class 12, I didn't have time to continue pursuing my passion. There was lot to study and SRM University was also very far away from my place. After college, I worked for 2 years before deciding to start playing cricket again. Not playing for such a long time made me feel like I was missing something. So, I came back to cricket again.
Q: You began to play cricket after a seven-year self-imposed exile. Then you made everyone sit up notice you at TNPL before making your debut for Tamil Nadu. And you still say cricket was a mere afterthought?
A: Yeah, cricket was not even in my mind then. I wouldn't watch the big games at that point. Everyone used to wait for the India-Pakistan games. Even India-Pakistan didn't interest me enough to watch cricket. Only when I started working did I realise that I liked only cricket. Then, I quit my job and started playing cricket again.
Q: What made you quit a financially rewarding area like architecture?
A: I definitely liked architecture, but I never got the freedom to express my thoughts and ideas in that field. I didn't feel right about working on that platform. I didn't get the satisfaction of achieving something how much ever I worked. But I had this satisfaction even when I was playing lower division cricket. I even had this satisfaction when I was simply bowling at nets. This satisfaction is what drove me to pursue cricket again. If it was about the money, I could have continued pursuing architecture.
Q: So was it a pursuit of inner satisfaction?
A: Definitely. Because whenever I used to play cricket, I used to forget all my worries and get lost in the moment. There's a ground near my house and we had about 5-6 teams. We'd always be playing tennis-ball cricket. We used to play for close to seven hours every weekend. Throughout the week, I'd wait for the weekend to come so that I could play cricket and forget all the worries I have and get that peace of mind.
Q: But wasn't 25 too old an age to restart playing cricket and did you face any discouragement?
A: Whenever I used to talk to other people, they used to tell me that I was too old to start at 25. They even used to call me a senior in cricketing circles. I used to feel bad when that used to happen. I used to feel very bad when people would ask me about my age.
Q: You had such a big gap between playing cricket for your school and playing again after you started working. Where did you start again?
A: After graduating from school, I didn't play for another 5 years. After I finished college, I was working for two years. I started playing league cricket in these two years. That's when I spoke to Abdul Jabbar. He told me he was not interested in training players who were over 20 years. But I somehow wanted to do something only related cricket. I told him I'll bowl for three hours every day to all the batsmen there. I requested him to just have me and told him that I was even ready to pay the fee. That's how I got back to playing the game. This actually happened for close to two and a half years. Till I was 25, I was bowling medium pace. Only after that, I decided to change to spin.
Q: Did you get a chance to play competitive matches?
A: Yes, Prabhu Balachander was working there when I went for practice. He plays for RBI. Through him, I also got to play for RBI. So I played for RBI for about two years. Then, I started playing for Magnet CC with the help of a gentleman by the name Kannan. Then I played for Crombest for about a year. That's when I injured my knee. After the injury, I started practicing spin. I didn't want to be an orthodox bowler. I knew this would be my last shot and I wanted it to be my best shot.
💥🙌 Introducing Siechem Madurai Panthers' MILLION DOLLAR BABY. What an evening for Varun Chakaravarthy! More power to you, champion!— Siechem Madurai Panthers (@maduraipanthers) December 18, 2018
.#maduraipanthers #podusakkapodu #tnpl #nammaoorunammagethu #IPLAuction #IPLAuctions #IPL2019Auction #IPLAuction2019 #IPL2019 #IPL12 #VivoIPL pic.twitter.com/lneaq6Ioyw
Q: How was that desire to be different came?
A: I was wondering how I could be different from other players, and the idea of bowling the same way I did with the tennis ball occurred to me. Last year when I was playing 4th division for Jublee CC, I bowled the carrom ball in the last 4 games of the season. That's when I took 26 wickets in 4 matches. That's when I realised that this ball would actually work with the cricket ball too. Till then I didn't know the carrom ball would work with the cricket ball. I thought it was a bad idea or a taboo. Because I never used to make use of my wrist. I did not bowl the normal finger spin too. It was the finger flicker types. Since no one had bowled it before, I didn't really think it would prove to be effective.
Q: Did you require a lot of training to master your art?
A: Yes, that's how it had been going for a long time. I had to ask permission to bowl that ball from many people. There was a person called Suresh in FSCA. I used to practice the carrom ball in FSCA only. Mohan Kumar also helped a lot during that period. The confidence they gave me only helped me attempt bowling the carrom ball. Then, I started bowling to first division players. Then I got to know (Baba) Indrajith and Aparajith. So that's how it came about.
Q: When you were playing in the 2nd division you were bowling in seam-up style. Then, you downgraded yourself to 4th division. What did you base this idea on?
A: When I was playing for Crombest after I got injured, I decided to try out the carrom ball. I got a call from 1st division teams too, but it didn't feel right to directly bowl the carrom ball without any experience. I also used to bat pretty decently then. So, they called me based on that. When I was confused on what to do, I talked to my coach, Mohan Kumar. He's like a godfather to me. I told him that I was contemplating moving away from fast bowling. Everyone were shocked. I told him that I was ready to play in the lower divisions to try out the carrom ball. I owe all this success to his constant support.
Q: Did you think of playing at a higher level?
A: I wasn't even sure if any team would pick me in TNPL because last year's TNPL was a disaster for me. I didn't do well at all. So, that idea didn't even cross my mind. Only after I was picked and did well for my team did the idea that I could also go big even sink in.
Q: Playing with the cricket ball is a totally different ball game. What were the challenges you faced?
A: Yeah, it was very painful initially because you can bowl gripping the ball very hard with tennis ball and you can even bend the ball. With the cricket ball, it's covered with thread and it is not hollow. So, when I applied pressure on the ball, it used to pain incredibly to the extent that I couldn't even move my finger. I couldn't do anything for 3-4 weeks. That was a tough time.
Q: Whom did you take inspiration from?
A: I actually got to know these mystery spinners only recently. I started following them only before TNPL. Before that, Anil Kumble was my inspiration. Only Kumble used to come to my mind when you mentioned spin. I used to watch his videos all the time. My youtube history is full of Anil Kumble videos. Because, he's also a bit quick through the air. I am also a bit quick through the air. So, Anil Kumble was my inspiration.
Q: After a low TNPL 2017, what motivated you to work more?
A: After I watched the entire season of TNPL, I got some clarity of what cricket was all about at this level. That clarity motivated me to work harder. After TNPL, for close to six months, I practiced a lot in FSCA. Suresh Sir also helped me a lot. That time was grooming period for me. I learned a lot. I also got introduced to people like Dinesh Karthik and all this gave me clarity for this TNPL.
Q: You met Dinesh Karthik and had a trials with KKR and CSK. So this has been a big year for you. How did it all happen?
A: After taking 26 wickets from 4 games in the 4th division, I came to realise that CSK was coming back again and would be playing in the nets. I actually planned to bowl to the players in the nets. I asked many people for an opportunity but I couldn't get it. Finally, I called TS Mohan sir. I told him that I was only playing 4th division. They usually don't call a 4th division player to bowl at the nets. But, somehow he called me. After I went there, there were 20 first division bowlers. But, I was given the ball first, and I bowled first to Bravo. So, maybe my bowling videos started circulating and KKR's video analyst Srikanth called me to Kolkata. I met and talked to DK there. It was very refreshing to meet him. I also met Carl Crowe (Sunil Narine's coach), Narine, Piyush Chawla, and Kuldeep Yadav. It was very inspiring to meet them.
Q: When you were bowling to Bravo, didn't you feel any kind of stage fear?
A: The first two balls I bowled were full tosses straight to his head. Everyone behind me had their hands in their head. Then, I calmed down and bowled.
Q: So how did you impress when bowling to CSK's players? Did anyone come and talk to you?
A: Bravo talked to me. I also talked to Watson. The man who gave me a lot of advice was Imran Tahir. He took me aside and talked to me for an hour. He was telling me about his journey. How much he struggled. It was very moving to listen to his story. He told me that I had the skill to play higher level cricket and asked me to keep working. He told me, "I want to see your progress". He even gave me his personal contact number. He keeps in touch with me.
Q: And KKR called you for a trial when CSK's matches were shifted out of Chennai...
A: I was upset that there were not going to be any games after the first match. I didn't even know if I would be called to Pune. For 20 days, I had nothing to do. That's when KKR called me. Initially, I was called only for three days. I guess they were happy with me and extended my stay to 10 days.
Q: Sunil Narine is a lot like you from a craft perspective. What did you learn from his coach Carl Crowe?
A: Carl Crowe was mainly trying to condition me mentally. I had never played in the big league before. He was telling me what Sunil Narine used to do and what his lifestyle was and how hetrained. It was very helpful.
Q: Could you please tell us a few things you learnt from him?
A: Narine visualises the game before it begins. If the ball goes for a six, he has a plan in place for the next ball. There's a chance it might not occur to you in the match. So it's better to visualise and prepare before the match itself.
Q: Karthik has been a mentor too. What did he tell you?
A: We spoke to close an hour in a flight once. He told me about focus and how he rediscovered himself while working with Abhishek Nayar. How personal values and fundamentals were very important in life. I hadn't played TNPL at that point. He told me how to bowl in TNPL and the lengths to bowl on smaller grounds.
Q: How was your experience with Siechem Madurai Panthers in this year's TNPL?
A: I knew KB Arun Karthick. I have bowled to him at nets. I also knew Thala (Thalaivan Sargunam). I also knew Shijith Chandran, SP Nathan, and Rahil Shah. I'm very grateful to the Siechem Madurai Panthers management for picking me in the first round. What everyone told me was I can reach higher levels with this skill. I'm trying to do justice to this skill. If it had been for my personal benefit, I wouldn't have struggled this hard. I'm a very lazy person. I did this keeping in mind that there was a higher purpose to serve.
Q: You ended up the second highest wicket-taker in the Vijay Hazare Trophy. Did you carry the same amount of mystery with you there too or did you take it to another level?
A: I made a lot of changes. In the first match against Gujarat, I bowled like I bowled in TNPL. It wasn't that effective for me. I worked on improving my air speed. After working on that, I took 5 wickets in my next match. The quality is definitely two-three notches higher.
Q: Do you consider the word mystery spinner as a tag, baggage, or a burden?
A: I consider myself as just a normal spinner. After TNPL draft, some newspapers started calling me a mystery spinner. Up that point, In my mind, I was only a leg-spinner.
Q: You neither watched much cricket nor had such big aspirations to make it big. What do you think helped reach this position today?
A: At some point, everyone undergoes self-realization. You'll know when you reach that point. I had a lot of options - film editing, guitarist, flautist. Cricket was just one of the options. But one key difference is it was in cricket that I saw a lot of failures. Even when I started out as a wicketkeeper in my age-group levels, I have never been selected for the round-robin of any selection. Somewhere someone told me that where there are a lot of failures, there'll be your biggest success.
Q: Have you thought about how you'll handle the fame and fortune with an IPL contract?
A: I don't think anything is going to change in my life. It's just a bigger stage and a learning curve. My personal life will remain the same. I'll still go at night and edit my short films.