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The rise and rise of B Sai Sudharsan

He got his chance because of an injury to Kane Williamson, and B Sai Sudharsan had done the work to make the most of it

Deivarayan Muthu
On his IPL debut last season, he hooked Kagiso Rabada over the boundary. On Tuesday, he scooped a 144kph delivery from Anrich Nortje off the stumps for six over the wicketkeeper, and went on to ace the chase for Gujarat Titans. He's only seven matches into his IPL career and 21-years old, but there's something special about B Sai Sudharsan.
R Ashwin wanted him to be fast-tracked into the Tamil Nadu side after he had played just one TNPL game in 2021. It was after that TNPL season, in which he scored 358 runs in eight innings at a strike rate just under 144, that Titans bought Sai Sudharsan at his base price of INR 20 lakh for IPL 2022. Then, despite a bright start to his IPL career, he got only five games last season.
Sai Sudharsan returned to domestic cricket and shattered List A records along with his opening partner N Jagadeesan. But he still wasn't a sure starter for Titans this season as Kane Williamson slotted in at No.3 for the season opener against Chennai Super Kings. However, an injury to Williamson while fielding gave Sai Sudharsan an opportunity during the chase and he contributed 22 off 17 balls as the Impact Player. In Titans' second game against Delhi Capitals, he was in the starting XI, and cemented his spot at No. 3 with a match-winning 62 off 48 balls.
Nortje had bowled both Wriddhiman Saha and Shubman Gill with express pace in the powerplay, but Sai Sudharsan seemed to have that extra split-second to deal with that speed. His Tamil Nadu senior and childhood friend Washington Sundar, too, often has that extra split-second to play his shots. Sai Sudharsan's dream is to emulate Washington and swiftly make the transition from domestic cricket and IPL to internationals. His Titans captain Hardik Pandya believes he can make the step up in about two years.
"He has been batting terrifically," Hardik said of Sai Sudharsan after the match against Capitals. "Credit to him and the support staff as well. The amount of batting he has done in the last 15 days … the result you can see is his hard work and going forward, if I'm not wrong, in two years he will do something great in franchise cricket and hopefully for Indian cricket as well."
Sai Sudharsan rated his knock against Capitals as one of his best. "I think it is one of my best so far because it was a difficult situation, and from that difficult situation we rose to the occasion," he said. "We made the team win; so this has been one of my best knocks in domestic cricket."
He is also adept against spin and has added more power to his game. It was on display when he hit a six and splintered a seat in the stands in Hyderabad during his 20-ball 42 in a chase last December.
"It [the confidence] actually started from last IPL … because of the confidence that we got after winning the IPL," Sai Sudharsan said. "It helped me a lot to get better and even prepare for the domestic season. I think the domestic season has given me a lot of confidence, coming into the IPL, and we had two small camps and a great ten-day preparation ahead of the IPL and that has helped me a lot."
Those who have followed Sai Sudharsan's progress in Chennai's cricket circles vouch for his work ethic. He didn't take fitness too seriously during his age-group years - he was Yashasvi Jaiswal's Under-19 batch-mate - and slipped down the pecking order at the time. However, during the Covid-induced lockdown in 2020-21, he shed weight and got into shape. His father Bharadwaj, a former athlete, and mother Usha, a former volleyball player who has worked as a strength and conditioning coach with the Tamil Nadu cricket team, have transformed his attitude towards fitness. Sai Sudharsan is now more agile on the field and while running between the wickets. Following a strict diet plan has also helped him.
"The kind of work ethic that Sai Su has got, it inspires me," Jagadeesan told ESPNcricinfo ahead of IPL 2023. "When I say that my work ethic is good, and when I came across Sai Su's work ethic, I somehow got the feeling that he's working harder than me and maybe this is what it takes to be more successful. The way he was batting and the way he was going with his game was just beautiful to watch. It was just poetry in motion. He inspires me. We started talking a lot about cricket and once we stepped onto the field, we always had an open discussion as to how we needed to counter the bowling."
Sai Sudharsan is only 21, but he is already an IPL champion, Syed Mushtaq Ali champion, and TNPL champion. In the inaugural TNPL auction in February this year, he earned a deal worth INR 21.60 lakh, which is more than his IPL contract of INR 20 lakh. He won the Player-of-the-Match award on Ranji Trophy debut last December and was named Tamil Nadu's vice-captain in his maiden season. Having won his first Player-of-the-Match award in the IPL against the Capitals, Sai Sudharsan is now ready for the big time.

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo