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N Jagadeesan steps up at the top for Tamil Nadu

He has rattled off four successive fifties and is only four runs short of being the top scorer in the Syed Mushtaq Ali trophy

Deivarayan Muthu
N Jagadeesan forces one away

In the absence of a few Tamil Nadu seniors, N Jagadeesan has made good use of the opportunities available to him  •  BCCI

Before the start of this Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, N Jagadeesan had opened only in five out of 22 T20 innings, and largely floated in the middle order. In the absence of a number of senior Tamil Nadu players, Jagadeesan has enjoyed an extended run at a top, rattling off four successive half-centuries. Only four runs separate Jagadeesan (322) from this season's top-scorer Punjab's Prabhsimran Singh (326).
Jagadeesan's reunion at the top with his childhood friend C Hari Nishanth - they had played junior cricket together in Coimbatore and have also opened together for Dindigul Dragons in the TNPL - has been central to Tamil Nadu's unbeaten run in the tournament. The pair has struck up three fifty-plus opening partnerships, including an unbroken 128 against Assam.
"Me and Hari have batted a lot together, right from Under-13 cricket," Jagadeesan told ESPNcricinfo ahead of Tamil Nadu's semi-final against Rajasthan on Friday. "The understanding between me and Hari is slightly higher than any other player because we've been playing together since childhood. It's been a great run, we're very hopeful and we wish to continue the same."
In the match against Bengal at the Eden Gardens, Jagadeesan had gotten off to a sketchy start, with Ishan Porel threatening both his edges under lights, but he managed to ride that spell out. He then pressed on to hasten Tamil Nadu's victory by hitting Porel himself over the top in the company of his captain Dinesh Karthik.
"He's [Porel's] a bowler with experience and also other bowlers were also pretty quick," Jagadeesan recalled. "So, I think when they were bowling good lengths, it was important for us to give them some respect and we also knew there was something on the wicket - it was seaming a bit and swinging. So, as an opener, I just thought of going through that phase somehow without losing my wicket. Obviously, when the ball is not going to do much and once you get to know about the bowler more, it's going to get much more easier for you towards the end, especially when you're settled."
Jagadeesan isn't quite a power-hitter, but he has thrived by lofting and chipping the ball over the infield against the pacers in the powerplay. He reckoned that the time he had spent with Chennai Super Kings batting coach Mike Hussey in the IPL has helped him grow as a batsman.
"We're not someone who're totally dependent on power; we're players who look more for timing and the gaps you get in the field," Jagadeesan said, "Personally, it has been a great experience to have good conversations with Hussey and he's helped me a lot. Moreover, you don't get a lot of time to work on your technique during the [IPL] season. It's more about the mental ability to handle the bowlers; the kind of ideas and clear thoughts you can get while playing. These are simple mental thoughts that he gives me and coming from a player from his stature, it has been good for me."
After warming the bench in IPL 2018 and then 2019, Jagadeesan was handed his IPL debut in the UAE last season. He was an uncertain starter, though.
"I was looking forward to my debut because I've been warming the bench for a few years before that," he said. "Just two weeks before we were going to Dubai, I was playing basketball and the post fell on my head and so I had to do a surgery on my forehead. I wasn't completely fit [to start] to be honest, but thanks to the quality of physios, the recovery was much better. I was totally fit once the matches started and I was eager to make my debut."
He eventually made his IPL debut against Royal Challengers Bangalore in Dubai, with captain MS Dhoni handing him his maiden IPL cap and easing him into the CSK XI.
"He [Dhoni] did tell me since it's an IPL match, 'I don't think you should be nervous right now and I think you should recall your first-ever game - how you enjoyed and you just wanted to play and express yourself'. Yes, it did help a great deal for me.
"Obviously, very special feeling because everybody idolises him [Dhoni], but not everybody gets to share the dressing room with him. So, extremely privileged and whenever I go and ask for any doubts, he's always there to help and the door is always open. It's not just about wicketkeeping, I also talk to him about batting as well. The way he's off the field - jovial - it makes your life much easier."
In a chase of 170, Jagadeesan made 33 off 28 balls, with his reverse-swept four off Yuzvendra Chahal being the highlight of his IPL debut. Jagadeesan has unveiled a variety of sweeps to unsettle the spinners in the Syed Mushtaq Ali tournament as well.
"Before your debut, you ask questions to yourself : 'do you belong here or can I score runs here?' After the first innings, my confidence grew and it's about carrying through. Sweep is also something I've been playing for a long time. Even in TNPL and first-class cricket, I've score a lot of runs with the sweep. So, it is something which comes naturally to me, I guess, so I don't give a lot of thought about it. I just pick the right ball to be swept."
Jagadeesan also hailed Tamil Nadu's camaraderie and Karthik's leadership as they look to win the domestic T20 title, having narrowly fallen short at the final hurdle in 2019-20.
"We're missing out on a lot of names, but the same time we have a good bunch of [young] players, and the team atmosphere has been really, really great," Jagadeesan said. "Everyone is very hungry and wants to do well. We're all aspiring to become Indian cricketers one day and that's something that drives us. And Dinesh Karthik is someone with tonnes of experience and he has managed the team really well."

Deivarayan Muthu is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo