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Tuesday was an unforgettable day in the life of Tamil Nadu opening batter Sai Sudharsan. Not only did the 21-year-old score his maiden List-A century in his team's 14-run win over Chhattisgarh in Alur in the Vijay Hazare Trophy, but his IPL franchise Gujarat Titans also opted to retain him for the 2023 season.
Sudharsan's innings had an added significance because his mother, Usha Bharadwaj, was also in attendance, having made the 500-kilometre trip from Chennai to watch her son play. She has watched Sudharsan in all three Vijay Hazare Trophy games this season, with the left-hander serving up scores of 121 off 109, 73 off 75 and 49 off 38.
Usha was herself a volleyball player in her youth. She has become a fitness trainer since and guides her son too about his fitness routine.
"More than being emotional, I am quite happy today," Usha says. "The way he [Sudharsan] has been working hard, this century was just a matter of time. He would have got there in the previous match itself but he got run out. He may have got a three-figure score today, but our conversations will be completely normal. We speak to him more on days when he fails to perform."
"I am very happy because I have been looking forward to scoring a century for a long time," Sudharsan says of his knock. "To do it with my mother and brother in attendance just makes it more special."
Sudharsan's entire family has strong sporting connections. His father R Bharadwaj was a sprinter and represented India at the 100m event at the 1993 SAF Games in Dhaka. His elder brother Sai Ram played football and cricket at competitive levels, and was also present at the Alur ground to watch his sibling bat on Tuesday.
The last one and a half year has been surreal for Sudharsan. On his Tamil Nadu Premier League debut in July 2021, he smashed 87 off 43 balls. He scored five half-centuries in eight innings and finished the season with 358 runs, second on the run-getters list, ahead of more experienced batters like Shahrukh Khan, Vijay Shankar, N Jagadeesan, Baba Aparajith and Baba Indrajith.
This performance brought the attention of IPL teams upon him, and he also got his first taste of the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy and the Vijay Hazare Trophy for Tamil Nadu. New franchise Titans picked him at the auction, and he scored 145 runs at an average of 36.25 and a strike rate of 127.19 in his debut season. He didn't have a great Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy (170 runs in six matches at a strike rate of 121.42) but in the Vijay Hazare Trophy, has accumulated 243 runs in three innings so far, at an average of 81.00 and a strike rate of 109.45.
Sudharsan's parents have had a big role in his success. Being sportspersons themselves, they emphasised the importance of "discipline in sports" from his early years.
"He was about eight when he first showed an interest in sport," Usha says. "My husband was an athlete too and we were keen that he should also be associated with some sport. We didn't know then that cricket would be his sport of choice. But we supported him wholeheartedly once we realised it would be cricket.
"My husband and I make sure we take care of his physical and mental fitness. In the past couple of years, there wouldn't have been too many days when he hasn't devoted some time to meditation and yoga. He goes to bed only after preparing a list of things to do the following day. This would be details of meditation, yoga, sprints, on-field training and net practice. He also maintains notes of what he has done well and what he could improve upon."
Sudharsan concurs. "I maintain a note of my daily targets and also what I want to improve upon," he says. "I will also analyse this century, because while I did put up a score, there were areas that I could have improved upon.
"Apart from this, I also write other observations about myself. I do some different kinds of sprints, and also run longer distances for 15-16 minutes every day. My parents guide me through this. My father has represented India and knows what it takes from a fitness standpoint."
Sudharsan understands that his cricketing journey has just begun, and he still has a long way to go. That's why any questions about his IPL future or the prospect of a Ranji Trophy debut this season are met with a simple statement that all he wants to do for now is to help his team win the Vijay Hazare Trophy.
This story first appeared in the ESPNcricinfo Hindi edition here.