Badrinath, Yusuf running out of time
It's easy to like Yusuf Pathan. It's easy to grow to like S Badrinath. Yusuf can thrill you with his big hits; he appeals with his primal spirit and gives you instant gratification. Badrinath, with his years of hard toil in domestic cricket, can make you sympathetic to his cause. However, both are guilty of throwing away the great opportunity presented to them in the ongoing ODI series in the West Indies. Especially Badrinath, who is yet to prove that he belongs on the international stage.
It wasn't that long ago when Dale Steyn made Badrinath look out of his depth in a Test in India. Here, in the West Indies, Andre Russell, nowhere close to Steyn in class or pace, made Badrinath hop and jump awkwardly on a docile pitch. Badrinath is not a very wristy player; his strokeplay is all arms. Under pressure, those hands start gripping the bat tighter, the arms start stabbing, and the ball doesn't seem to move off the turf. It looks like a struggle, it feels like a struggle and perhaps, it is a struggle.
He arrived here on the back of a very good domestic season and an impressive showing in the IPL. This series was supposed to be his carpe diem opportunity. Instead, it's turning into a nightmare. He was given a chance to bat at No. 4, ahead of both Suresh Raina and Rohit Sharma - except in the rain-shortened second ODI - but has averaged just 13.33 in four games so far, with a high score of 17. His critics are having a field day: 'oh he is just a domestic batsman and is a misfit. He can't rotate the strike if the bowling is accurate and he will eventually be eaten up by the pressure,' is their line of thought.
It's not that Badrinath is not mentally tough: if he wasn't, he wouldn't have survived the years of rejection and continued reaping runs in domestic cricket to the extent that the selectors were almost forced to pick him. The real question though, and one he has so failed to answer is whether he is international class? This is the same Badrinath who handled the short balls well in South Africa during the second season of the IPL; constantly side stepping to upper cut them. Those deliveries had more pace and bounce than the ones he faced in Antigua. But the pressure of playing international cricket is vastly different from the IPL and it does strange things. Badrinath is a very intense man and by his own admission feels he has to learn to go easy on himself . He has one more game before the Test series to get it right. Will he be able to produce a knock of real substance?
Yusuf, too, is mentally a tough nut. Everyone knows his weakness against pacy bouncers. Batsmen with this problem tend to start expecting it off every ball. They are likely to hang on the back foot or hop and get caught out by the full deliveries. Yusuf isn't one of them; even as he would deal awkwardly with the short deliveries, he has rarely let a full delivery in his arc go unpunished. However, his career is threatening to spin out of control after his showing in this series so far. He has lasted only 17 deliveries in his three knocks. He gave a tame return catch in the first, lapped to short midwicket in the second and was brilliantly pouched by Lendl Simmons, and threw his wicket in the third, slugging to long-off. Each time, he stood there almost in disbelief at what he had done.
Again, like Badrinath, each game had presented Yusuf with a great opportunity. There were lots of overs left, there was no pressure from the run-rate, and he could have played himself in. He didn't. Was it adrenalin kicking in to counterattack and impose himself or were they shots played under pressure? Was it overconfidence or nerves? The former can be easier to correct; the latter indicates vulnerability and is difficult to overcome. Only Yusuf knows the truth.
When the biggies return, both Yusuf and Badrinath will rarely get chances like this. Five ODIs on featherbeds against a team struggling to paper its cracks and compete. Five chances to resuscitate your career and cement your spot. Now both have just one final shot at redemption. They will have to take it. Else, there might not be a second chance. Especially for Badrinath. Yusuf, with his brutal knocks against South Africa in South Africa not long ago coupled with his bowling, is likely to get more chances in the future. If Badrinath fails on Thursday, this could be the last time he plays in coloured clothes. Even his Test chances might be in jeopardy. The stakes are that high.
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at ESPNcricinfo