Fearless Sai Sudharsan hopes to emulate childhood friend Washington Sundar
Young Tamil Nadu batter says he has "no stage fright" after scoring a century on Ranji Trophy debut
B Sai Sudharsan knows no fear.
On his Tamil Nadu Premier League (TNPL) debut in July last year, he lined up M Ashwin during his 43-ball 87. Then, on his IPL debut, for Gujarat Titans, he fronted up to Kagiso Rabada and Co. More recently, on his Ranji Trophy debut, he made 179 in the first innings and followed it with a 20-ball 42 that put Tamil Nadu on course for mowing down 144 in 11 overs before bad light stopped them in their tracks.
"I might have had stage fright when I was younger, but I feel that I've learnt to become calmer now and deal with pressure better," Sai Sudharsan tells ESPNcricinfo. "I actually didn't think much about pressure, I was just happy to make my Ranji Trophy debut. I've played Syed Mushtaq Ali and Vijay Hazare for Tamil Nadu but you always dream of playing Ranji Trophy as a kid. I didn't feel the stage fright and only the enjoyment of making my Ranji debut was there."
Sai Sudharsan smashed five sixes during his 20-ball stay in the chase, including one which splintered a seat in the stands. His improved power was also on display during the TNPL earlier this year, when his team Lyca Kovai Kings shared the title with Chepauk Super Gillies. He said that his experience of playing the IPL has accelerated his growth.
"Yes, bringing the IPL experience to domestic cricket has been very useful," he says. "When you handle various situations and pressure at that level, you feel like you've faced these situations [in domestic cricket] before. So, I feel that has given me more clarity playing this season."
Sai Sudharsan credited Tamil Nadu's intense pre-season prep for their positive start to the Ranji Trophy. Before their opener in Hyderabad, Tamil Nadu had played against a Bangladeshi side, which had a number of international players in their ranks, and Chhattisgarh in Chennai. And in Chennai's first-division league, Sai Sudharsan had emerged as the top run-getter, with 686 runs for Jolly Rovers.
Spot differences!-- TNPL (@TNPremierLeague) July 24, 2021
Washington Sundar Sai Sudharsan#ShriramCapitalTNPL2021 #TNPL #NammaPasangaNammaGethu pic.twitter.com/HvxsfA5Ov9
"The pre-season prep was a massive opportunity for us," Sai Sudharsan says. "Before coming into the season, we had already played a stronger, difficult team. The domestic season didn't feel like the start for us - we had already competed against a strong Bangladesh side. I feel that that preparation helped us to stay one step ahead of the opposition in domestic cricket. We were ready once the season started.
"The coaches and the support staff have always given us the freedom to express ourselves and play our game, right from the Syed Mushtaq Ali [tournament]. They have just given us the platform to express ourselves and that has given us greater confidence for the season."
After posting a century on Ranji debut, Sai Sudharsan told Star Sports that he hoped to emulate his state senior Washington Sundar, who had made an early impression in the domestic circles and then pressed on to higher honours. Sai Sudharsan and Washington go back a long way, having first met when the former was about ten and was up against the latter in school cricket.
"There's a little story. I was around ten when I started playing cricket seriously," Sai Sudharsan recalls. "He was playing for St Bedes and I was playing for DAV school. That was the first time I met Washy, and he hit a century. I used to bowl legspin at the time and from that day onwards, I've always liked him and admired him a lot.
"After that game, I remember I was crying and Washy came and consoled me. Enakku Washy na romba pidikkum (I like Washy a lot). I also remember the TNPL put up that social post when I made my debut and then I realised my batting is similar to him."
Bad light denied Tamil Nadu an unlikely win in Hyderabad, but Sai Sudharsan is now looking forward to teaming up with his opening partner N Jagadeesan again in Coimbatore next week for what will be a "home" game for both players. Jagadeesan was born and brought up in Coimbatore while Sai Sudharsan plays for the franchise that represents the city in the TNPL. In July earlier this year, Jagadeesan and Sai Sudharsan had shared the TNPL title in Coimbatore.
"What do I say? I think we have a good understanding and whenever we play together, it's always a two-way communication," Sai Sudharsan says of his partnership with Jagadeesan. "Whatever I feel, I communicate it to Jaggi. Even today during the chase, we kept sharing information and that understanding has got better. Obviously, he's playing monster innings and I'm hoping his dream patch continues for long.
"We're playing the next game in Jaggi's hometown and playing there for Lyca has also been special. Looking forward to another good match there in Coimbatore."
Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo