Deepak Chahar pulled a rabbit out of the hat in the second one-day international against Sri Lanka at the R. Premadasa Stadium in the outskirts of Colombo on Tuesday. Turning out for the men in blue in just his fifth match, the strapping seamer who fancies dissecting the top order batsmen with the white ball, and engineer breakthroughs, came out with flying colours with the willow and steered India to a memorable victory, that also sealed the fate of the three-match ODI series.
By hitting the winning runs, a lifted boundary shot off fast bowler Kasun Ranjita to the long-on picket, the right-hander finished at an unbeaten 69 (82b 7 x4s 1×6) that straightaway went into the record books of Indian cricket. He became the highest scorer for India, batting at No. 8, and also winning the match that drifted tantalizingly to the 100th over of the match.
Chahar broke a 21-year-old record that was held by former India seamer, and now commentator on SONY pictures, Ajit Agarkar. The Mumbai all-rounder who has batted at No. 8 for India a hundred times, made 67 not out against Zimbabwe at Rajkot in December 2000. Agarkar struck seven 4s and four 6s in his 25-ball unbeaten 67 which enabled India to post a high total of 301 for 6, and put it across Zimbabwe by 39 runs. Agarkar’s seventh-wicket ally was Reetinder Singh Sodhi, who scored an unbeaten 53, and raised a partnership of an unbroken 85 runs.
The present coach of the Indian team in Sri Lanka, Rahul Dravid made six runs in that match, falling to left-arm seamer Bryan Strang. Chahar’s heroics placed him behind Zimbabwe’s Heath Streak (79 not out) and Bangladesh’s Naeem Islam (73 not out) as the third highest scorer at No.8 in a winning match, while chasing.
Chahar’s big-batting effort on a pitch described by skipper Shikhar Dhawan as “better" than the first ODI that India won at a canter (by 7 wickets), came about while chasing a stiff 275. He raised 84 runs for the unbroken seventh wicket — 193 for 7 in the 36th over (35.1) to 277 for 7 in the 50th over (49.1). The Rajasthan and Chennai Super Kings seamer, took guard at the fall of Suryakumar Yadav in the last ball of the 27th over, when India had declined to 166 for 6.
India pinned its hopes on left-handed Krunal Pandya, the fastest half century-maker on his ODI debut, to show the way. But as it transpired, it was destined upon Chahar to write a glorious script for himself and his side. He had scored 18 runs in his four previous outings, the first of which was against Afghanistan at Dubai in September 2018. Then after one year, he played two matches against the West Indies at Chennai and Visakapatnam. His highest in four matches was 12 against Afghanistan. There are 65 batsmen who have scored half century at No.8 in 4310 ODIs.
Chahar must consider himself lucky that the BCCI scheduled a white-ball series against Sri Lanka. After his debut, Chahar was not picked for 44 matches because India’s regular seamers were given the preference. As a new ball operator, he has sent down his full quota of ten overs, only in one match, and that was against the West Indies at Chepauk. Even in the first ODI in Sri Lanka, he was seen in action in only seven overs. He has taken six wickets at 36.50. Chahar though has been more effective with the white ball in Twenty20 internationals, taking 18 wickets at 20.11.
The Agra-born Chahar has been around the BCCI domestic circuit for a little over a decade, plying his trade for Rajasthan, for which he has taken 126 first class wickets. As a batsman, he is 35 runs shy of 1000 runs. Among the three forms of the game, he has been exemplary in Twenty20 matches, taking 120 wickets in the BCCI senior tournaments, including the IPL.
As a batsman, he is yet to make an impact, notching a half century only on five occasions across all formats. So his display with bat, against the run of play of the match at Colombo has to be put down as a magnificent one.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who saw all the exciting action from close quarters, revealed that coach Rahul Dravid took the decision to send Chahaŕ ahead of Kumar whose average is 14.42 in 113 ODIs. It was a gamble that clicked, but with the batsman demonstrating a fierce determination with his limited batting talent.
It was a match that Manish Pandey and Yadav threatened to take it away from the home team, but after their dismissals, Chahar turned out to be the braveheart when the chips were down.