S Badrinath has been a terrific batsman in first-class cricket, scoring over 10,000 runs for Tamil Nadu, but it was during Indian Premier League when he managed to leave an everlasting impression on his fans. When he joined Chennai Super Kings, he enjoyed the reputation of being a batsman with solid technique and tremendous grit, which over time, improved with ruthless challenges thrown at him.
S Badrinath ended his IPL career with 1441 runs in 96 matches at an average of 30.65. Initially assumed as a misfit for T20 cricket, he scored 336 runs in 2010 and almost 400 in the season after.
The right-handed batsman’s role in CSK was to hold on to the innings together. Even though the first two series were a downhill, he made it up in the next two.
However, in retrospect, he needed some support and MS Dhoni was there for him. The CSK captain gave the old-school batsman new wings of T20 cricket.
“Dhoni always felt that roles are very important, and most of the time, mine was to get the team out of tough situations,” Badrinath said. “My role was there in the middle order. The biggest strength of Dhoni is that he gives players that extra chance. If Dhoni believes Badri is good, that’s it. Badri is there. Once he believes it’s right, he sticks to the process. ‘I will give him chances, let him prove himself.’
“Similarly, if he believes you are not good enough, even god cannot help you. He has his own mindset and sticks to it no matter what.”
CSK were at peak when Badrinath started his T20 journey. CSK had a strategic pattern where they would win the most crucial match effortlessly. Even when the franchise would be struggling down in the points-table, they would somehow make it to the top four.
One of Badrinath’s major learnings was the importance of staying grounded, which was possible because of the support from the top. CSK has always been a down-to-earth team, with zero flamboyance and no crazy parties. Simplicity was the major characteristic of the team and Badrinath fit in the culture just well.
“Irrespective of how we’d performed, the owners treated us the same. Plus, we always had an amazing camaraderie and team environment… our get togethers, the bosses would always be like ‘we know you’re a champion side’. We had MS Dhoni as our captain so it flowed from the top to Dhoni and to the team,” Badrinath said.
“One thing that I learnt from Dhoni was that if something is going well, it’s important not to tamper with it. Even we don’t know, but something is working. And it’s better to not touch it. CSK is one of the most grounded franchises because we always went there and did our jobs.”
The middle-order batsman came into his elements in the 2010 edition. It was a very crucial year for the franchise because in 2008 they reached the final and lost in the semifinal the year later. CSK needed to win the gigantic trophy to match their class, as promised. To make matters worse, Dhoni copped a blow off a Shane Bond delivery and missed about five-six matches due to a broken forearm. But with Suresh Raina in charge, CSK roared back to win the next four games out of five and eventually took the title.
“It was very tough but somehow there was some energy within us that kept us going. We came to Dharamsala to play a must-win and that match gave us momentum. We believed that we could win. We played another tough match against Deccan Chargers in the semifinal. With that confidence, we sailed that year, winning the Champions League,” Badrinath said.
“My first IPL fifty is quite memorable. I got a 64 against Kings XI Punjab in 2008. That was a very important knock for me because back then I wasn’t believed as a T20 cricketer. That knock showed to the world and made me also believe that ‘Ok, I’ve got a nice knock in IPL and now I know that I can succeed in this format.’ My close friend L Balaji also got a hat-trick in that game and we won it. It made a huge switch in my mindset.”
Being someone who’s followed Dhoni from such close quarters, Badrinath weighed in on his former CSK captain’s future, admitting it ‘doesn’t need a rocket scientist’ to determine Dhoni doesn’t have much left to offer. Badrinath recalls interacting with Dhoni during CSK’s preparatory camp before the lockdown, and believes his body will be a crucial factor in deciding what lies ahead for the former India captain.
“It’s important he chooses. His body is also something that has gone through quite a bit. There’s a reason why he doesn’t play First-Class cricket or Test cricket because his back has also troubled him. It happens with any keeper, once you’ve played so much cricket under so much stress,” Badrinath said.
“He’s probably taking stock of how much he’s left in him. A player of his calibre, nobody should decide whether he should play the T20 World Cup, he should play IPL. It’s upto MS to decide what he wants to decide. Right now, there is too much speculation going around as well, most of it is not true.”
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