Editor's Note: As the anticipation for IPL 2020 gathers steam, a bunch of cricketers recall their IPL debuts for our latest series, My First IPL Match. Over the next few days, you'll read tales of unexpected joy and nervous expectations from these sportsmen. Some of these interviews were published earlier this year; they are being republished as we build towards the marquee event.
An IPL contract is one of the most sought after entities in cricket, whether one is a fan of the shortest format of the game and its leagues or not.
What was BCCI’s answer to the privately-owned Indian Cricket League has turned out to be a raging success for more than a decade, and not only has it brought players from different nationalities closer by getting them to share a dressing room, but has also had a role in cementing India’s status as a powerhouse in the sport.
For the players who were part of the first-ever edition of the lucrative league back in 2008, the tournament was something of a first step into uncharted waters, with cricket’s shortest format still very much in its infancy. And for those who were not regulars on the international circuit yet, the idea of sharing the locker room with foreign players came across as revolutionary.
Subramaniam Badrinath, who was an integral part of MS Dhoni’s Chennai Super Kings in the first half of the 2010s, said it was ‘a strange feeling’ to be in the same side as international stalwarts such as Matthew Hayden, Michael Hussey, Muttiah Muralitharan when he joined the southern Indian side in the inaugural season.
“I felt a little strange, but it was good. It was a little different in the sense that foreign cricketers were playing on my side, something that I was struggling to come to terms with.”
Badrinath, however, was all praise for the sense of professionalism they brought in and their ability to adapt to the new environment quickly.
“They were complete professionals, and they adapted so quickly. I wasn’t in awe of them or anything like that, but something that I really adored about these cricketers was how quickly, as professionals, they adapted to the system immediately."
“They came and spoke to the Indian cricketers out of their comfort zone. They were gelling in beautifully..”
The CSK camp wasn’t entirely an unfamiliar one for him though, for Badrinath had crossed paths with Dhoni when the two were representing South Zone and East Zone respectively in the Duleep Trophy in the 2003/04 season.
“It was a game that happened in Dharamsala, so both the (team) buses went together, and the first time I saw Dhoni was in a dhaba where we stopped to eat,” recalls Badrinath.
The Tamil Nadu batsman was included in the playing eleven in Chennai’s first game of the season, against Kings XI Punjab at Mohali. Given the wave of success that Dhoni was riding on as captain, whether leading India to the title triumph in the first-ever ICC World T20 or winning the Commonwealth Bank triangular ODI series in Australia in early 2008, expectations of him carrying that success over to the IPL couldn’t be termed unfair.
Badrinath remembers being in a positive frame of mind on the day of the match, having been in stellar form with the bat in that domestic season, and was looking forward to making a similar impact in the yellow jersey.
“I remember I was feeling really good on the morning of the game because I was in good form that season, I was playing really good cricket. So I was really happy and I was raring to go.”
Chennai opted to bat on what was a belter of a track at Mohali, and despite scoring runs at a brisk pace, the home side were able to snare wickets at regular intervals. Hussey had been holding the Super Kings together but needed support at the other end if he was to help the side post a total that could be considered safe on the flat surface.
At 167/5 in the 16th over, Punjab still had hopes of restricting them to less than 200; all they needed were a wicket or two, preferably that of the Aussie southpaw.
Thankfully for the Super Kings, Badrinath indeed was able to carry his rich domestic form over to the ‘international arena’, coming in at No 7 after Jacob Oram’s dismissal and blasting an unbeaten 31 off 14 balls. Hussey at the other end, remained unbeaten on 116 off 54, a second century in the IPL in as many days with Brendon McCullum smashing 158 for the Kolkata Knight Riders just 24 hours earlier.
“In the last three to four overs, we got some 75 runs. It was a very good batting track. Still, I remember Mohali is one of the best tracks (in India). Even though Hussey got a hundred, we knew that it was a very good track, and we had to keep going.
“So I was there, hit a couple of sixes. I got a really good knock. Got close to 30 off some 13-14 balls or something. I remember the first ball that I faced in IPL was of Brett Lee (sic), and of course, it was a bouncer. I got it for a four and it was a great start for me. My first ball in the IPL was a four. It was a bouncer, and I played an uppercut.”
Batting alongside ‘Mr Cricket’ can be an enriching experience for a youngster, and Badrinath remembers deriving a lot of confidence as a batsman from the partnership, which was unbroken at 73 runs and helped CSK post a daunting 240/5 from their quota of 20 overs.
“It gave me a lot of confidence. Hussey really helped me in that innings, I really loved playing with him. Straight away we struck a chord, and till date, we are good friends. So that bond lasted a long while,” said Badrinath.
The match wouldn’t have held the kind of special status it does today had it not been for Punjab’s spirited response, and the pair of James Hopes (71) and Kumar Sangakkara (54) had the visitors worried at one point in the game. Chennai however, were able to stifle the flow of runs and tighten their grip on the batsmen, with KXIP eventually falling 33 runs short despite losing only four wickets.
“I remember Dhoni talking to us just before we went in to field. He mentioned to us: ‘See if we can get 240, they are also a good team, they have good players, Sangakkara, Yuvraj Singh and all these big-hitters, so they can also get the runs.’”
“We were just waiting for that one miscue, one shot, one wicket is all we need, and the momentum will break. As a team, we collectively believed in that, and once that wicket fell, they were out of the equation.”
Would this IPL classic, however, feature in his personal top three from the 95 matches that he has played in the cash-rich league? Badrinath responds in the negative.
“Definitely not in the top three, but I think it was a very crucial game for me personally because it gave me confidence that I can play T20 cricket, I can play the format. Because I had played a bit of state-level T20 cricket, but this was like an international arena, playing with the best in the world.
“That game personally was like a big switch for me. Mentally, it gave me the confidence that I can play T20 cricket because I was always looked at a cast where I belong in Test cricket. So I think that game gave me confidence that I belong in T20 cricket,” he signed off.
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