September 8, 2008

Twist of faith

S Badrinath has withstood the slings and arrows of fortune, and added to his game without shaking its base

In his first match, Badri saw India through a tricky chase © AFP

When the selectors did not pick him for last month's ODI series in Sri Lanka, S Badrinath was in agony.

"I was truly disappointed. I was devastated," he recalled of the day he sat in front of the TV along with his wife, expecting his name to flash on the screen. Numbness invaded him minutes later when he realised he wasn't in the side.

The feeling was not alien for Badrinath, who had been there before; only, it was more intense this time. He had been sure his chance had come. So affected was he that he bared his emotions in public. "For God's sake, allow me to fail," he burst out in an interview, unable to understand what he needed to do to convince the five wise men on the national selection panel.

Like in the past, the only pill for the pain was cricket. "That evening I turned up at the ground, did my training," he said. "I had to continue playing the game. I love playing this game and whatever I have in my hand I will do to the best of my ability."

He found support from the likes of Sunil Gavaskar. "By saying what he did... he brought attention to the selectors' wandering minds that here was a player who had done no wrong and needed to be given a chance," Gavaskar wrote in one of his newspaper columns.

Closer home, VB Chandrasekhar, the former national and Tamil Nadu selector, who first saw Badrinath as an upcoming youngster during his performances for Guru Nanak College in Chennai, knew where Badrinath was coming from. "He was pushed into a corner and he was left with no choice."

Badrinath doesn't exactly have age on his side. He turned 28 on August 30. Athletes train all their life to be able to play at the top level, but as the years pass it gets difficult to keep the flame burning when the opportunities don't come along. It's even harder when, like in Badrinath's case, your contemporaries or those younger than you get the breaks ahead of you.

As fate had it, Badrinath was called into the Indian squad as a replacement for Sachin Tendulkar, who was injured. When he was last called up, during the ODI series at home against Australia in 2007, he didn't get a game. This time, though, he made his debut, in challenging conditions against Sri Lanka, and he let his bat do the talking, getting India out of a tight situation and forcing people to sit up and take notice.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni is generally averse to hyperbole, so his words was high praise indeed: "He's very talented, and that's why he is here," Dhoni said.

The man himself was modest about his contribution in his debut game. "I felt really good to be involved so much. I wasn't actually under any sort of pressure. I was quietly confident about myself," Badrinath said. "There is always uncertainty in sport. It is all about taking it as it comes and grabbing the opportunity and doing the job and being a good professional."

Your story, my story
During the IPL, Badrinath had the opportunity to spend time with an individual who had walked a similar path.

As he approached the age of 30, with no sign that he would ever make it into the Australian line-up, Michael Hussey had reason to think he was going nowhere fast. He grew frustrated and distracted and his domestic cricket suffered as a result. But after a period of introspection where he made up his mind about exactly what he wanted, Hussey gathered himself together and started enjoying his game again, and eventually played his maiden Test.

Badrinath developed a strong acquaintance with Hussey in the Chennai Super Kings dressing room and soaked up all the lessons born of experience on offer. "The way they [the Australians] prepare themselves, the amount of dedication they show, the amount of professionalism they have, is totally different," Badrinath said during our first meeting, in Mumbai during the IPL. "I learnt a lot from [Matthew] Hayden and Hussey. I spoke to Hussey a lot, because I was amazed that he made his debut at 30. He helped me a lot."

Hearing from Hussey that he was a good player capable of doing a good job made a world of difference to Badrinath's confidence. "That inspired me, that a player of that class had faith in me and confidence in me. It does matter when someone compliments you or praises you or shows belief in you," Badrinath said.

Hearing from Hussey that I was a good player capable of doing a good job inspired me, that a player of that class had faith in me and confidence in me

He justified that faith, producing important cameos for the Super Kings, batting in various positions, on their way to the runner-up spot. Importantly, he switched gears depending on the situation and the role he was asked to fulfill. Mostly he batted in the middle- and lower-middle order, so his job was that of a hustler or a finisher - which only the experienced or the gifted manage to accomplish consistently.

In the very first game, where Hussey cracked a stupendous 115 not out, Badrinath adjusted quickly, coming in at No. 7 and giving strong support to the Australian with a patient 31 not out. In the middle stages of the tournament, where the Super Kings proved tentative, he calmed nerves more than once, most memorably in the last-ball thriller against Delhi. When he was promoted up the order after Hayden and Hussey had left on international duty, he made two consecutive half-centuries.

Chandrasekhar remembered how eyes rolled when he recommended Badrinath as one of the first recruits for the Super Kings. "People wondered why I was picking a grafter for Twenty20. But I felt particularly good when he went out and won matches for us. Finishing ability is what makes a good cricketer."

Technique plus temperament equals versatility
There is nothing imposing about Badrinath in person or physically as a batsman. He is lean, not built to be a big-hitter. His strengths lie elsewhere.

"He has a wonderful temperament," Chandrasekhar said, "not something you associate often with Tamil Nadu cricketers. He transformed from a dour batsman to somebody who was willing to be more creative and allow himself to play shots which were within his framework."

Badrinath himself testified as much. "I've been trying to be more innovative and trying to work out a plan around my game that fits within my scheme of things," he said, when asked if he had changed his technique. "In my domestic cricket I've become more aggressive and that has given me more confidence and I've started to believe I can make a difference."

He is a player in the mould of Rahul Dravid, who is still perhaps the most technically accomplished batsman in contemporary cricket. "Technique is my base and once the base is strong it is easy to work around. Now I'm playing more shots all around the park. I was a dominant batsman on the off side; I've now become strong on both sides of the wicket," Badrinath said.

Even if he does not say much about his expectations of a spot in the Test team in light of the anticipated upcoming middle-order vacancies, his supporters believe he has earned the right to stake his claim by virtue of having toiled for years on the unattractive domestic circuit. After a slow start, following which he was dropped in his second domestic season, Badrinath returned more determined, and soon began to reap rewards.

Not a one-dimensional player, even in the longer form © Cricinfo Ltd

A regular in the A team, Badrinath has been piling up big scores against various oppositions home and away. Before the series against Australia A started, he had four unbeaten hundreds in his last four appearances for India A, including a double-century against South Africa A in 2007. In the 2007-08 domestic season he scored 990 runs at an average of 66 in 12 matches. Recently, in the Emerging Players tournament in Australia last July, he led from the front, cracking 95 and 83 not out.

WV Raman, Tamil Nadu's coach for the last two seasons, wishes people would stop looking at Badrinath as a one-dimensional player fit only for the longer form of the game. By doing well in the IPL, Badrinath has demonstrated that he can play the shorter version, Raman said. "Not the other way round. People maintain that he is a duration game player, but if someone saw him against the South Africa A team last year he would see how he changed as a batsman."

Over the years Badrinath stood by and watched as the likes of Gautam Gambhir, and even younger players such as Rohit Sharma and Manoj Tiwary, got called up into the national squads. He looked doomed to be the good guy who finished last. Now that his chance seems to have arrived, he wants to enjoy the moment.

In Dambulla he walked in with India at a precarious 75 for 5 chasing 143. It was left to him and Dhoni to hang around and make sure the job was done. From ball one he stuck to his captain's brief of keeping it simple. "Dhoni was giving me small tips on how to go about my batting and how to play the likes of [Ajantha] Mendis," Badrinath said. Working the singles and twos, the pair brought India to the brink of victory.

When eight were needed Dhoni was out, and Harbhajan Singh fell quickly soon after. All it would have taken to knock India out cold were three unplayable deliveries from the dangerous Sri Lankan spinners. But Badrinath stayed calm and stuck to his strategy of nudging and steering the ball around, using his wrists to find the gaps for singles. The winning run duly came off a push to extra-cover.

"It is mentally that I've improved," Badrinath said. "Once the player starts to believe he can do it and it starts to happen his confidence level goes up."

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • William on September 10, 2008, 10:34 GMT

    I think this is a good article. It seems that Badrinath is finally starting to receive the public backing that he deserves. With a first class average of 56 which is up there with many all time greats, this recognition is long overdue. Badrinath has been persistent in his desire to improve, this is a quality that has been present in many great players, Steve Waugh, Rahul Dravid, Allan Border. It should not be for national teams to nurture players. This should be the job of domestic cricket, if not then what is it there for. In fact often attempts to nurture players in international cricket can be counterproductive. Players like Sharma, Kohli, and Raina are young so why hurry them into the test team, let them prove themselves and develop their game in a less imposing system than test cricket.

  • praveen on September 9, 2008, 17:56 GMT

    Like Badri himself said, the least the selectors can do is give him a chance to fail. Thanks to IPL he got the change to play alongside international cricketers and he did perform well and showcased his talent to the world. He looks like a solid, dependable guy to have on the team. I wish him all the best.

  • Sumeet on September 9, 2008, 6:52 GMT

    He is one player who definitely should be the first in line for a place in the India test middle order, now that Ganguly has been shunted out, perhaps one last time, of the team. He has good temparament, sound technique and years of experience in first class. It is nice to have young talents like Sharma and Raina around. However, they must be made to go through the rigours of first class cricket for a few seasons, before they can be considered as finished products. It would not be good for Indian cricket if Raina, Kohli, Sharma or Tiwari are fast-tracked into the test team, ahead of Badrinath. He really deserves a go.

  • Koripella on September 9, 2008, 6:00 GMT

    A very good article. I have a message for Badri "Dont lose heart. You will get there. We believe in you"

  • Dinesh on September 9, 2008, 2:27 GMT

    Indian selectors somehow dont trust that experience can counter youth.

    Michael Hussey and many other players peaked only due to experience. Even take Robin Singh, when he made his debut he was oldest of the team but still he was the fittest member in the team. He put his experience to save India many times.

    For some reason selectors have overlooked Badrinath in the same way they overlooked another prolific scorer Sharath.They picked Sadagoppan Ramesh inspite of his techincal shortcomings, but didnt think about picking the hardworkers.

    Taking examples of Sachin/Sourav's health and expecting everybody in their 30's arent fit to play cricket is ridiculous. These players have been playing decades of cricket and worn out. Whereas players like badrinath are keeping themselves fit just to make it to the Indian team.

  • P Subramani on September 8, 2008, 15:49 GMT

    When I see the way Badrinath is being treated by the selectors, the case of T E Srinivasan comes to mind. He was like Badrinath is, sound of technique and temperament. Perhaps Srinivasan was more gifted. I may be wrong there. But the selectors should realise that age has no relevance if one is supremely fit. One does not have to have the ease and grace of the Rohit Sharmas or the media appearance of a Yuvraj Singh. Gundappa Vishvanath never had any presence. Yet his eloquence in cricketing terms was what Indian cricket looked for in those years when the dominance of Australia England and the West Indies was all too accepted. Michael Hussey's case is a great comparison. Not fortunate to be the one the media supports his relevance in the Australian team should bean eye opener. We need someone who can score relentless double hundereds if we have to sustain our standing as the No 2 in Tests. I hope the selectors realise this and select this excellent batsman from now on till he fails.

  • Naman on September 8, 2008, 12:30 GMT

    Badrinath has been a great player for tamil nadu and india A over the years. He has piled on the runs in the domestic cricket. However he should not lose heart from the fact that he has not played for India much.Players like Micheal Hussey started their career at the age of 30. I expect Badrinath to be regular batsman for india in the test side after the retirement of Rahul Dravid as he is the only batsman in that mould for the coming future in the indian test team.

  • William on September 8, 2008, 8:50 GMT

    Cricket is a game in which mental fortitude is significantly important. For this reason India has often got its selection policies incorrect. They consistently pick young "talents" over consistent performers. If mental fortitude is of as much importance as past greats would have us believe, then what comparison is there between an experienced first class player and a 19 year old fresh out of school? The answer is simple, however it often seems to elude the Indian selectors. If you have a look at the most recent successes in international cricket,the majority have had extensive domestic experience. Michael Hussey, Phil Jacques, Simon Katich, Kevin Pietersen etc, were all introduced into international cricket in their mid to late twenties, in Hussey's case 30. It is no surprise that these players were more capable of adjusting to the step up given their experience. Why then has India not learnt from this? Especially given that Dravid and Ganguly had 6 years of first class experience.

  • ajay on September 8, 2008, 8:37 GMT

    Badrinath deserves to be in the indian test squad for the australian series. After all the hard work he has put in, after all those centuries he scored in domestic cricket, he must be picked. The selectors must take notice of Indian domestic cricket's 'Mr Cricket'. He has all the attributes necessary for a place in the test squad. Great article by the author.

  • Sajin on September 8, 2008, 4:51 GMT

    Badrinath, he is a forgotten player by Indian Cricket, all these years his performance has never got in the eyes of Indian selectors. Though we cannot match him with Rahul Dravid, however, he is the best available cricketer in India who can nearly fill the gap of Dravid in one day cricket and a supporter in Test cricket. It was highly disappointing to see his exclusion in last one-day match in Sri Lanka, which really smells foul. He is a good leader in cricket as well as able to bowl some good overs. We should include him in all forms of cricket and give some opportunities to show his ability, if we fails, that will be a disastrous attitude towards the upcoming players. I really appreciate the author for narrating such a good feature about Badrinath on this special moment where India is going to face a tough task from Australians.

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