A long wait it was

“I have plenty of experience under my belt playing so much of first-class cricket. Hopefully, all this will be of some use when I play international cricket consistently. I have put in a lot of hard work,” says Subramaniam Badrinath in this interview with G. Viswanath.

Subramaniam Badrinath made his first-class debut for Tamil Nadu against the Colombo District Cricket Association in September 2000. He opened the innings, faced five balls and was dimissed for zero. More than nine years after this match the right-hander was capped in Test cricket against South Africa in Nagpur. This is a record in recent times, though statistician Mohandas Menon points out that there are a number of Indian players who have been capped after playing first-class cricket for 10 years. Menon also said that Badrinath is the oldest Indian batsman to be capped since Thirumalai Srinivasan’s debut against New Zealand in 1980-81.

In this interview the Tamil Nadu middle-order batsman recalls Sachin Tendulkar’s advice to him a day before the first Test against South Africa in Nagpur. “I spoke to Sachin and a few other guys before the match. They said it’s only normal to be nervous. I was really pleased with what Sachin told me: ‘Even after playing for 20 years, I am nervous about tomorrow. It’s is good to be nervous, so just accept it. End of the day, this is where you want to be. So train and cherish the moment,’ said Sachin. That’s what I did. ‘This is it,’ I told myself when I went out to bat. Once I went out, I just focussed on the ball.”

Excerpts from an interview:

Question: You are one of the rare instances in Indian cricket in recent times, capped after more than nine years of first class cricket…

Answer: If one sees the trend in Indian cricket, many are brought up in such a way that they are introduced in their early 20s. In my case it may have been rare. I did not play much in the under-19s. I was a late bloomer. I have plenty of experience under my belt playing so much of first-class cricket. Hopefully, all this will be of some use when I play international cricket consistently. I have put in a lot of hard work. I am a middle-order batsman and in an era when the ‘fab four’ — Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, V. V. S. Laxman and Sourav Ganguly — were around, I had to wait. No other middle-order batsman was able to cement his place because they were simply the fab four. Put together, they have scored more than 60,000 runs. Now that’s huge. It’s tough to compare anyone else with them. My plan is to try and cement my place in the Indian team in the next two years.

Eventually there was plenty of joy when you played your first Test in Nagpur against South Africa…

Honestly speaking, it had occurred to me many times whether I would ever get to play Test cricket. Such a feeling is natural when one has been around for a long time and sitting out just being part of the squad. It’s normal for any human being to feel that way, but I was always putting in the hard yards and trying to prepare myself for my first Test. I tried to gain whatever I could when I was playing first class cricket and while in the India squad. I was very much prepared for my Test debut. I utilised the time to put in the best possible effort.

The good thing that happened in between was that I had opportunities to interact with a lot of Australians, mainly Mike Hussey and Matthew Hayden (both Chennai Super Kings). Australian cricket is different from Indian cricket. Hussey made his Test debut when he was 30 and Hayden made a comeback when he was not very young. He was dropped; he went to first-class cricket and returned to stay with the Australian team. So interacting with the Australians gave me the confidence that I could be something different from the cricketers who come through the under-19 ranks. It made me feel that I could make my Test debut at some point of time, as was the case with Hussey, which is unusual in Indian cricket.

One thing I always had in my favour was fitness. I see one common factor in all the players who make their debut late; they are supremely fit. If you have fitness on your side, particularly if you are a batsman with experience, it’s a deadly combination. I see that happening even among the Indian greats. Sachin (Tendulkar) is playing great cricket now because of all his experience which he is putting to good use. I think it’s all going to be good for me in the end.

You say Australian cricketers are different from the Indians?

It’s the matter of how they are as cricketers on the counts of professionalism, fitness, physical and mental make-up. Why was it that some Indian players who were old were not selected? It’s only because of their declining fitness. As you play more cricket, you are going to gain experience. But once your fitness declines, that’s when people start saying that you are getting old. No matter what their age is, the Australians are supremely fit. They are either natural athletes or put in a lot of hard work. I can be proud of saying that I can stand on a par with any youngster in the Tamil Nadu or National side on the fitness count. Their (Australian) perception is also different. If an under-19 player does well, they will not select him in the national team. They will make him play first-class cricket for three or four years and see his performances there. In India there is perhaps a feeling among under-19 cricketers that they stand a chance of being picked for the national side. There can be exceptions though. There’s a huge difference between under-19 and international cricket and even Ranji Trophy. There are instances of India under-19 players not being considered even for the Ranji Trophy. Test cricket is for men, not for kids or boys. So, I think, for batsmen, two or three years of first-class cricket is a must. It could be different for fast bowlers.

You touched on the subject of how difficult it was to get a chance with the ‘fab four’ around. But there is also the case of Mahendra Singh Dhoni getting the break and progressing to become the India captain when most thought that the tussle for the wicket-keeper’s position would be between Parthiv Patel and Dinesh Karthik…

Yes, Dinesh and Parthiv one imagined would contest for that spot. But Dhoni has just gone from strength to strength. He has improved tremendously as a cricketer. I have seen his growth. He was always fantastic as a Twenty20 and one-day cricketer, but the way he’s batting in Test cricket as well is something to be proud of. He’s getting runs consistently in all formats of the game. It does not really matter how he gets his runs: hitting fours, sixes or singles.

The little master, Sachin Tendulkar, has given Badrinath some sound advice.-

You have been extremely consistent in the last three years in domestic first-class cricket crossing the 800 mark each time and scoring a double century too each year?

It’s very demanding mentally because I have been part of the national squad many times and I had to come and play domestic cricket. When you are part of the national squad, you never really know when the chance is going to come. So it was important for me to maintain the good form. This kept me on my toes and it was not easy at all because I had to make those adjustments. It’s important that I took responsibility for Tamil Nadu in the Ranji Trophy. The pressure brought the best out of me.

The IPL must have been of great help to you to progress as a batsman?

The IPL was a boon to me. It gave me a taste of international cricket without even playing for the country. I had the chance to face Brett Lee, Shaun Pollock and all international bowlers. It may have been Twenty20, but it was a fantastic experience. They were much more intense in their four overs. I got a lot of confidence that I belonged to the international arena and that I could do well. I had a good IPL I, the second one was a mixed bag. Just the fact that I was playing with and against the best gave me the confidence.

Your mindset must have been different before the Nagpur Test against South Africa? Especially when you were alone in the room and perhaps contemplating?

Well, two days before the Test match I could not sleep after the early hours. I got up at 5.30 or 6 in the morning, there was so much going on in my mind. It was always like a constant recorder playing as to how Dale Steyn or Morne Morkel would bowl at me and how I was going to face them. I was visualising all this. No one can compare Test cricket to other forms of cricket. That’s why it’s the ultimate one. Even more exciting for me was that I was going to play South Africa. India was No. 1 in the ICC rankings and South Africa No. 2. There was so much hype around the series.

Dinesh (Karthik) was not part of the first Test. Vijay was there. I told him that I had been getting up at 5.30 in the morning and yet was not able to see the sunrise. He said the same thing happened to him and that I had to accept it and that when I entered the field it would be a tremendous feeling.

You got a chance as Yuvraj Singh was ruled out because of injury. You could face the uncertainty when he returns. Just like circumstances created an opportunity for M. Vijay against Australia because of the ICC ban on Gautam Gambhir for one Test. Vijay had to wait for 12 months to play his second Test…

Luck plays a role in all these things. No one can do anything about it. At the end of the day all I can say is that a few things were happening and I got my chance to play Test cricket for India. Certain things are beyond my control. My mindset has changed. I have played two good Test matches for India. It’s just that I have got to wait for further opportunities and whatever happens, wait, and when given a chance, grab it. The important thing is I have to be part of the system and be there all the time. One never knows what can happen with so much cricket being played. Another good thing is that they have not ruled me out of the one-day scene. I have got to keep my form going. It was a nice feeling getting messages after the half-century. They were happy about it, mom and dad. I had waited for so long, so it was all the more sweet.