Varun Chakravarthy interview: How he developed the back-of-the-hand leg break to come back into India contention


While some star players have the capacity to individuate themselves even in crowds, Varun Chakravarthy, despite his height, can go almost unnoticed. Despite being in the right place and doing the right things, he can easily slip under the radar, much like how his cricketing career has been. After an impressive performance for the Kolkata Knight Riders in the IPL, where he picked up 20 wickets to put the ghosts of the last season behind, Varun is once again back to doing what he feels is essential to remain at the top, which is to reinvent himself.

It was during the last edition of the Tamil Nadu Premier League (TNPL) that Varun felt the need to reinvent himself after picking up just six wickets in 11 matches in the 2022 edition of the IPL. It was a season he still remembers vividly.

“I won’t call it a forgetful season because I learnt so much out of it,” Varun, now busy featuring for the Dindigul Dragons team in the TNPL tells The Indian Express. “The leg-spin which I bowled this season and got a lot of wickets is something I was learning last season. So if I regret whatever happened then, I won’t be standing here as a better bowler. I’m not someone who feels content about something, and I need to keep finding ways to reinvent,” the 31-year-old says.

Those who know Varun have always spoken about how he is very analytical with his own game and doesn’t panic when something goes wrong. There was a phase where he wanted to be wicketkeeper, but only to be rejected every time he attended trials. Leaving cricket behind, he spent five years pursuing a degree in architecture. There was a moment in life where he wanted to be a filmmaker and even spent a few days working as an assistant director in the Tamil movie industry before taking up architecture once again. The 2017 floods in Chennai would cause heavy damage to a site he was working on, but he would still find ways to overcome it. He did all of it, while playing tennis-ball cricket, where he ditched wicket-keeping gloves to become a medium-pacer. But a knee injury would turn him into a mystery spinner.

“I always look ahead, be it in life or in cricket. You can take positives and lessons from the past, but it is always important to look ahead in life. Same when I have the ball in my hand. I don’t worry about the previous delivery, it is up to the next one. And it is all about staying in the moment and doing what it is best for the situation,” Varun says.

When he started off as a mystery spinner, Varun had seven variations: off-break, leg-break, googly, carrom-ball, top-spinner, slider and flipper. But after the 2022 season, where batsmen were able to get back and cut or hit him over mid-wicket, it appeared as if the mystery had been decoded. Such seasons can create doubts even among spinners, let alone someone like Varun, for whom the mystery element is an X-factor.

“I was obviously a little short on confidence after that, but I can’t afford to sit on it forever. As far back as the 2022 IPL, I was working on a new leg spin variation, but I was yet to try it out. So from there on, I was just focussed on getting that right because I knew at this level you need to keep adding something every season,” the soft-spoken Varun says.

The leg-spin he speaks about is the one he releases from the back of his hand that has seen the ball turn a lot more than what he used to do before. With that release, even the googly turned big, and in the recently concluded IPL, Varun found his mystery back. “You can’t try something new straightaway in the IPL and I realised more than the variations, it is the consistency to land the ball in right areas is essential. So to land in an area consistently, you need to go through your motions regularly and be comfortable with it. And I was working on that leg spin for a long time and credit should go to AC Prathiban for helping me get better with it,” Varun says.

Prathiban has played two List A matches for Tamil Nadu, and the 33-year-old who used to be an off-spinner is Varun’s personal coach these days. “It would be wrong for me to take credit,” Prathiban says. “He came to me with the back of the hand leg-spinner and he wanted me to help him to ace it.” He worked at it for a year.

“Mystery spinners don’t think like spinners. For them, they are always looking to add more variations.” With a long run-up, which gives Varun the momentum in his delivery stride, the flatter trajectory meant, if he constantly landed the ball in the right areas he was always going to challenge the batsmen. Prathiban would help him in sequencing the deliveries as it is essential for a mystery spinner to stay effective. With the googly being the one that batsmen are most expecting, it was necessary for Varun not to get predictable.

“When you land all the deliveries in the same spot and deliver a googly, it would make it impossible for the batsmen to pick it. There can’t be randomness to it,” Prathiban says. For Varun it was all about keeping it simple. “Last season I was a bit slow, but this time I went back to my quicker trajectory because it is important for me to not give the batsmen the time to react. With my run-up, I was able to hit the right lengths and with more turn, even on flat decks, I knew I was in with a chance,” Varun says.

His previous stint with the Indian team ended after the 2021 T20 World Cup and with the next T20 world cup in the slow pitches in the Caribbean, Varun is once again back in contention.


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