'I'd pick Test cricket over the IPL'
Subash Jayaraman: How is the season with Vidarbha going?
S Badrinath: It has been really good so far. From my point of view, it has been a great season for me. In six matches I have scored 500-plus runs. Even in the one-dayers, in the two games that I played, I got one century and one 86. It is not just the runs but also the way I am batting that is satisfying for me. I don't see the volume of runs but the way I am batting and the things that I am working on in the past one year - they have been coming good. That is what is making me really happy.
SJ: What are you working on now?
SB: As a batsman it is important to constantly keep evolving, keep working on things - small technical things, small adjustments. After playing cricket for so long, it is impossible to make a radical change in the way I am as a batsman and as a cricketer. Small things keep creeping up in your game. I had an opportunity last year because I had a lot of time on my hands to work on my game and fitness. I have worked with a few coaches in Chennai and Bangalore. It was the homework that I did, a lot of video work, learning about what is going on in the game. I don't want to go into the actual technicalities of it. Basically I had a lot of time to invest in my game and fitness, and also a lot of mental coaching and conditioning.
This season I am much fresher and feeling really good about myself. Every day I am excited about what the day is going to bring. That is what you need as a cricketer at this stage. A lot of passion has come into my life. These are the things that I am really happy about at this point of my career.
SJ: What made you shift from Tamil Nadu to Vidarbha?
SB: Basically it was all about the freshness I needed. I made my debut in 2000. I had been playing cricket for TN from then. I enjoyed every bit of it. I enjoyed contributing to my home state. I have grown up playing my cricket there. It made me a cricketer.
But I needed some change and freshness in my life. You have to keep looking for newer challenges. I needed something driving me from behind to get the best out of me. It was at that point that I got a call from Vidarbha, and I thought it was about the right time for me to take up a new challenge and move ahead.
SJ: How different is it captaining these two teams?
SB: Every team in India is talented. The only thing that differs is the mindset. Playing for TN, seven or eight guys would be aiming to play for the country, or going for higher honours. But I think when you play for a smaller state like Vidarbha, it is important that they too start believing. For me, the challenge was also to change the mindset into playing more positive cricket - playing to win. Once you start playing to win, you can't go back to playing negative cricket.
That is something that I worked on as well. With these boys here, I have been empowering them. Rather than feeding fish to a man, if you teach the man how to fish, you are doing more help to him.
I think there are two ways to play this game - playing not to lose and playing to win. There are small teams that sometimes play not to lose. Since I have been here, I have tried to change their mindset to play to win. That is where the major difference is between the two sides.
SJ: Hemang Badani, who also played for TN, moved to Vidarbha. Did he have any input in your move?
SB: Yes, certainly. I wasn't sure what I was going to face here. He had been here for three years and played as a pro. It was important for me to get some inputs from him about things here, and how the people are, the atmosphere etc. He had a lot of good things to say. That definitely helped me decide.
As a player I have really enjoyed myself so far. I have a lot of space to do whatever I want. Being a professional, it is important to take up the responsibility. While batting, there is more responsibility in professionals and seniors to perform. There are some youngsters in the side who haven't played much cricket. It is important for me to guide them and get a few cricketers to play good cricket. That is my challenge. I think batting-wise, I am really enjoying it. I think it helps to get the best out of me.
SJ: A question from a listener, Srinivasan: Given the current state of cricket in TN, where there is a desperate need for an experienced batsman in the top/middle order - and you had mentioned needing fresh challenges - there was a fresh challenge in TN. How do you see it being more challenging with Vidarbha?
SB: To be honest, this was a decision purely based on my cricket. It was about my time and where I thought my career was. It was not a question of whether TN was going to miss me or not. At that point, it was purely about how I could get the best out of myself. This was a decision taken purely based on a lot of relationships that I had with Tamil Nadu Cricket Association - I spoke to them. It was a very smooth process, which happened after a lot of discussion.
SJ: You had said in an interview earlier that the TN state cap is being given away too easily. Do you think that has affected TN's performance and did it have any role in you moving out?
SB: I just want to make a correction. I said that the TN state cap is actually earned. I didn't say that it was thrown away. I am a firm believer that any cap, state cap or national cap, has to be earned, it has to be given to performers who have served. Only then can you get the best out of them. If something is given away too easily, people don't know the value of it. The important thing is, playing for a first-class team or a national team or for an IPL team, it should be based purely on performance, not just a lone performance but a consistent performance. A lone performance here and there and you get recognised - then that is not a fair call for anyone.
SJ: Did it have any role in you choosing to move out of TN?
SB: Like I said, it had nothing to do with TNCA or IPL or anything like that. In the last 15 years, I have played for TN. I have had only one thing - my team, TN - on my mind. I have given 100% for the state. I have never thought of anything else. At certain points, I might have thought about what I would like to do. It was about the right time when I got the call, and it was about time that I moved on for my career.
SJ: What do you think has held TN back from accomplishing as much as Karnataka in the recent years?
SB: I think it is only the mental ability. I would say that is what has held TN back. There has always been talent. It is all about handling pressure. When you go out there and face a bowler who bowls really well, is consistent, and when you see a track which is helping the bowlers - you have to forget everything else and just watch the ball. It is easier said than done.
It is important to develop mental skills. It is definitely lacking in TN cricket. When there is pressure and when the conditions are difficult, when playing in the north, in bowler-friendly conditions, it is not the talent but the mental skills that need to be developed. I don't know how it can be inculcated or brought in.
SJ: A listener, Anantha, asks: You were sent in if there were early wickets down for Chennai Super Kings, to steady the ship, while if the openers did well or the top three did well, then a lot of the times you didn't even get to bat. Do you think this sort of shuffling affected your prospects with other IPL teams?
SB: No, I think it was just my role with CSK. I don't think I am a player who can just do that role. If you have seen my knocks, it is a tough thing to do. When the game is at 0 for 2 or 5 for 2 or 10 for 2, I don't think it is easy to go out and bat. But I have played knocks and I have a strike rate close to 120. It is just that in CSK it happened to become like that. I don't think I am a player just for that role. I have my skill sets, and I have proved quite a few times that I can play any number and play in any situation. I have played crucial knocks when we chased down 190-200 runs. It is just the mindset, the way it has become. If any team is thinking that I can do only that role, it is definitely not valid. I have proved otherwise. In CSK it became like that because of the players who were ahead and behind me - I had [Suresh] Raina ahead of me and [MS] Dhoni behind me, followed by [Dwayne] Bravo, and we opened with [Matthew] Hayden. I am a multi-specialist player as a batsman.
SJ: Let's say you are not sure where you are going to bat that day. T20 moves so fast, you don't have much time to think about what is happening. But at the same time you have to stay focused and be ready to go in whenever required - whether it is 5 for 2 or 150 for 1.
SB: Like I said, it was definitely not an easy thing to do. I remember Stephen Fleming, the CSK coach, speaking to me quite a few times, where he told me that what I did for the team was invaluable and not an easy thing to do. Many times I had been upset, not in the best frame of mind. I think it was very hard, but I was really proud of myself that I had fulfilled that role to the best of my abilities. I had to work harder, had to practise playing defensively and aggressively as well.
SJ: You did this for five years.
SB: Six years, actually. Yes, mentally too, it was not an easy thing to do. I had to pad up with the openers, but I didn't know when I was going to go in to bat. I had to prepare myself for multiple situations.
SJ: Did you feel let down by CSK when they didn't pick you in the auction last year?
SB: To be honest, yes. Immediately after the auction, I felt a little let down, with CSK being my home team and being with them for six years. I have moved on. That is done and buried, it has almost been a year now. I have worked hard on my game and it has taught me so much. Over the last 15 years, the last year has taught me the most with regards to my mental ability, my training skills, fitness, batting, everything. I am more mature now. I am more equipped to handle anything, both in my life and in my game. My next phase has come, and I am preparing myself for what is to come ahead.
SJ: In one of your two Tests against South Africa, you scored a fifty when none of the other batsmen made any runs. Do you feel that justice wasn't done?
SB: I have scored over 9000 first-class runs, with an average of close to 60. That speaks, I don't need to say anything else. That I have played only two Tests is not anything I - or anybody - would be happy with. But I think it is something beyond my control. I cannot select myself. I am just focusing on my career, on whatever I have at hand and trying to play the best cricket I can for whichever team. I am burying the rest of the expectations.
SJ: What was the feeling when you finally got to wear the India cap, facing the No. 1 team at that time and Dale Steyn? What was it like when you got to your fifty?
SB: It was a dream come true. I still remember the day before the Test match, I was really nervous going to practice. I was hyped up, looking forward to the game. I couldn't wait for it to happen. I had a nice chat with the maestro, Sachin Tendulkar. I told him that I was nervous and I didn't know what to do, and I had a Test debut ahead. He said, "It is okay. Just relax. Even I am nervous before every game. I have played over 100 Tests and even I am nervous. It is normal to be nervous." I needed to accept that I am nervous. He said, "This is where you want to be - among the best, facing the best of the bowlers, the best team in the world. That is what you want and look forward to as a cricketer, looking to be among the best." That is what I learnt from him.
The next day, when I was facing Steyn, I wanted to focus on the ball and forget everything else. I remember when I spoke to [Michael] Hussey before, he had told me that when he played on his debut, he told himself, "Okay, I have played Test cricket." That is what I thought as well - now I have played Test cricket as well. I think it is something that I have achieved. I wanted to leave everything behind, and just go there, relax, watch the ball and play. When I went in to the middle, I was so serenely relaxed. Only the day before, I was nervous. That really helped me, being relaxed. I batted really well and got a fifty.
SJ: Do you take inspiration from players like Hussey and Chris Rogers, who made their debuts late?
SB: These are the cricketers who have played really good cricket, in tough situations. When people do things like this, you can't help but be inspired looking at these people going out there and doing it for their country in the later stages of their career. Like I said, I have not ruled anything out. I do not have any expectations. I am just trying to play my best cricket, whatever I can do with whatever I have in my hands. Whatever comes my way I will take it.
SJ: What would you prefer - a contract with an IPL franchise or another opportunity to play Test cricket?
SB: It has to be Test cricket. It is a very easy question. From my childhood I had been dreaming of Test cricket. There was no IPL or anything like that - it happened only seven or eight years back. Since I was a kid it has always been a dream to play for India. Like a kid who wants to be a pilot, I wanted to play Test cricket. I am a greedy person as a cricketer, if I could, I would want to have both. But if I had to pick only one, it would definitely be Test cricket.