One shot changed the course of the game. Until then the Central District Stags were hunting down the Chennai Super Kings with bouncers. Until then the white ball was kicking up at the throats of the Chennai batsmen. Until that shot from S Badrinath. It came in the 11th over and changed everything. Chennai were pinned down by the short ball and had limped to 48 for 3 after 10 overs. You could sense Central Districts' confidence had escalated after Hayden had top-edged his pull shot for a first-ball duck. You could sense they were on top when Suresh Raina gloved a lifter. The situation was ripe for the kill when it happened.
Mitchell McClenaghan, who had given just seven runs from his first two overs, dug one short and it flew over Badrinath's left shoulder. There was no edge. There was a muted appeal from behind the wicket, Badrinath shook his head and the bowler lingered on with the appeal before he went back. You wondered whether the next ball would be another bouncer; Badrinath knew it would be a bouncer. It was a bouncer. Badrinath side-stepped and upper cut it all the way over the fielder at backward point boundary for a stunning six. It was a pivotal moment. "I felt he was going to bowl a bouncer," Badrinath later said. And he was ready for it.
It's a shot that he plays often and plays well. He regularly chips it over the slips but many a time goes for the cut over point. "It's a shot that comes naturally to me. Not that I usually hit it for sixes but that upper cut is a shot I like to play." There isn't much of an arm-extension in Badrinath's play. Even his drives are jabbed out. Punched out. In him, the fluidity in the arm-movement that you associate in a sub continental batsman is conspicuous by its absence. His upper cut is so different from the whiplash cut of a Sehwag; it's more in the nature of a Steve Waugh. For what it's worth, it changed Chennai's approach today.
A couple more short ones came but Badrinath wafted them away to the boundary. The bowling fell away. The bouncers seemingly lost their venom. S Anirudha grew in confidence and started to play the big shots. "It was tough initially as the wicket had a spongy bounce and they had come with a plan," Badrinath said. "I tried to play safe for a while and once I got comfortable out there I decided to play that shot."
Perhaps Central Districts overdid the bouncers. Their captain Jamie How said the plan was to bowl short deliveries and his bowlers were simply sticking to it. "He [Badrinath] played really well. I am happy with my bowler's performance. It's the batting that let us down." True. Another New Zealander would have breathed easy. Yesterday, Stephen Fleming was a slightly nervous man. He wasn't sure whether the five-day preparation was enough. He was concerned that some players like Matthew Hayden were coming out of the cold. He was worried about his team's tendency to be slow starters. He fretted that this short tournament wouldn't allow such lapses.
"If things don't go well [against Central Districts] we have to work very hard to get back into the competition," Fleming had said yesterday. "Tomorrow is a very important day for us." He would have turned more nervous at the tenth -over mark. Hayden , Raina, and M Vijay were back in the hut. An inexperienced Anirudha was in the middle. MS Dhoni, Badri later revealed, wasn't feeling 100% and Albie Morkel's batting is like a lottery. He would have been sweating at that point but Badrinath affected a jailbreak with a shot of confidence.