Who is Sai Sudharsan, and what's his back-story?

The lowdown on the 20-year-old Tamil Nadu batter who has debuted for Gujarat Titans at the IPL

Deivarayan Muthu
Sai Sudharsan hits out for Lyca Kovai Kings at the 2021 TNPL  •  TNPL

Sai Sudharsan hits out for Lyca Kovai Kings at the 2021 TNPL  •  TNPL

Sai Sudharsan made his IPL debut for Gujarat Titans on Friday after Vijay Shankar was ruled out with a back spasm. Here's a lowdown on the 20-year-old left-handed Tamil Nadu batter.
Who is Sai Sudharsan?
He was the breakout star of Tamil Nadu Premier League (TNPL) 2021, where he was the second-highest run-getter with 358 runs in eight innings at an average of 71.60 and strike rate of 143.77, in Lyca Kovai Kings' run to the Eliminator. Sai Sudharsan was previously part of Chepauk Super Gillies at the TNPL, but didn't make his debut until last year. After impressing in TNPL 2021 with his strokeplay, Sai Sudharsan was fast-tracked into Tamil Nadu's white-ball and Ranji Trophy sides.
Okay, tell me about his background...
Sai Sudharsan comes from a fairly strong sporting background. His father Bharadwaj is an athlete who represented India at the South Asian (SAF) Games, while his mother Usha Bharadwaj represented Tamil Nadu in volleyball.
Sai Sudharsan brings with him the reputation of being a heavy-scorer in age-group cricket and league cricket in Chennai. He subsequently climbed through the ranks to open the batting for India A alongside Yashasvi Jaiswal in the Under-19 Challenger Trophy in 2019-20. The likes of Tilak Varma, Ravi Bishnoi and Priyam Garg were all part of that tournament.
More on his TNPL stint...
Sai Sudharsan kicked off the season with 87 off 43 balls against a Salem Spartans attack led by G Periyaswamy, T Natarajan's protégé from Chinnappampatti, and M Ashwin, Tamil Nadu's premier legspinner. Sai Sudharsan was fluent either side of the wicket on debut, with his high-elbowed drives and slog-sweeps having shades of his state senior Washington Sundar.
Over the course of the season, Sai Sudharsan showed that he could construct an innings as well as hit out in the middle overs and at the death, something that attracted the attention of the Tamil Nadu selectors.
How did he fare at the Syed Mushtaq Ali and Vijay Hazare tournaments?
In a powerful Tamil Nadu white-ball side that had M Shahrukh Khan, Vijay Shankar, Dinesh Karthik, B Aparajith and N Jagadeesan, Sai Sudharsan was largely a failsafe at No. 3. He bedded into domestic cricket with 35 off 19 balls against Maharashtra in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy and then hit higher notes against Kerala with a 31-ball 46. He took on legspinner Sudhesan Midhun and offspinner Jalaj Saxena, with the pick of his seven fours being a precise back-foot late-cut off Saxena. During the Syed Mushtaq Ali and Vijay Hazare Trophies, Sai Sudharsan also rolled out some eye-catching scoops and sweeps.
Can he bowl?
Yes, he can bowl legspin, though sparingly. Sai Sudharsan pitched in with an over of legspin - and took a wicket - against Bengal in the 50-overs Vijay Hazare Trophy when M Ashwin was unavailable.
During the domestic white-ball season, Sai Sudharsan's part-time legspin was often used at the nets to help Shahrukh tune up against the slower bowlers, Tamil Nadu's assistant coach R Prasanna had said. Now, on his IPL debut, Sai Sudharsan will be going up against his TNPL captain Shahrukh, who is playing for Punjab Kings.
How much he did he earn at the IPL 2022 auction?
He was picked up by Titans at his base price of INR 20 lakh (USD 26,000 approx.)

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo