Badri battles the nerves and nicks
A day before his expected India Test debut, S Badrinath was put through his paces at the nets. N Hunter witnessed the nerves and nudges, the anxiety and anticipation.
It's palpable, almost visible. The heavy breathing, the inhaling and exhaling. S Badrinath is restless, nervous on the eve of what should be his Test debut. At 29, it's a long-awaited moment; a domestic giant, with 6187 runs and counting, he's played the waiting game for the past two years. Each time the Test door opened, it shut as quickly.
Now the door is ajar once again and Badri's there. He's not alone; he looks around and sees the competition - Rohit Sharma to one side, long-time friend Murali Vijay to the other. Vijay is skipping to ward off tension. Rohit sits, disinterested, shades turned upside down on the back of his head. Badri, almost a different generation, sits down. Then he stands up, does a spot of vigorous shadow practice.
The final net session is on, Harbhajan Singh is hitting audacious strokes. Badri waits, strapped into his pads and with his helmet on. The minutes tick by. He kills time, adjusting and readjusting the protective gear. The gloves go on, then come off. He taps the front of the helmet, hits the pads with his bat, stretches forward and back. Harbhajan hits a straight drive, says "last few". Badri nods, right foot in front, ready to get off the blocks.
Finally he's out there, taking guard, leg stump. First up, Amit Mishra: A nicely flighted delivery, the perfect legbreak. Badri moves forward a bit, is beaten by the turn. Not the best start to his last nets before what should be his India debut.
Then follows a rigorous examination by pace bowling. Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma and Abhimanyu Mithun (the leading wicket-taker this Ranji Trophy season). Mishra and Pragyan Ojha add subtlety to the mix. Badri searches for his groove, the bat starts making the right noises. He's still a little uncertain, though, and the noise is hollow, edgy. Zaheer is nagging at him with accurate inswingers, Ishant is finding a sharp length that consistently kicks the ball over the off stump.
The 15 minutes are over. Zaheer pitches it on the seam, the ball rears up. Badri is unsettled, moves inside the line, turns his hips and jumps. He winces in pain as Zaheer smiles. Harbhajan, Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag share a joke and there's laughter all round. The nerves come rushing back. "Over," Badri says, seeming slightly embarrassed, and walks out of the nets, rubbing his injured side.
A few minutes later, passing Zaheer, Badri makes a shy remark: "[I] like that". Then he walks up to Sachin Tendulkar. The Master is cheerful. He nods, shakes his head, gestures with his hands, keeping the smile on all the time, making suggestions, obviously trying to calm the newcomer's nerves.
When he walks away, Badri stays put. Well, not really; he's in one place but in constant motion. Hands on hips. Hands behind hips, fists clenched. Hands crossed in front of his chest. He tries to speak to Gary Kirsten, tries to get his attention. The head coach, busy with throw-downs to Vijay, tells him to move away.
Eric Simons, the bowling consultant, is ready to give Badri some throwdowns. The confidence has evidently returned; he starts middling the ball. Simons chips in with a few instructions. He points to the advantage of playing with the full bat face open and straight in line, instead of playing away from the body.
The problem isn't sorted, though, and another expert eye picks it up. Kirsten turns his attention to the new boy. He passes on his instructions - play the ball with the head in line with the ball and the torso forward, not away from the ball - and takes over the throwdowns. Kirsten is relentless, firing in volleys and shorts balls with the tennis racket at Andy Roddick pace. Badri ducks, weaves, moving forward and back. Test cricket beckons.