S Badrinath has been a prolific batsman in First-Class cricket, scoring over 10,000 runs for Tamil Nadu, but it was his time with Chennai Super Kings that left an ever-lasting impression among fans. When Badrinath joined CSK, he enjoyed the reputation of being a batsman with solid technique and tremendous grit, which over time, to the batsman’s credit, improved to the ruthless challenges of T20 cricket.
Badrinath ended his IPL career with 1441 runs from 95 matches at an average of 30.65. Initially perceived a misfit for T20 cricket, Badrinath scored 356 runs in 2010 and almost 400 the season after. Badrinath’s role at CSK was to hold the innings together. Even though the first two seasons proved to be a bit of a dampener for the batsman, he made it up in the next two.
However, in hindsight, he needed some backing to prove his point and captain MS Dhoni was there for him. The CSK captain gave the old school batting of Badrinath wings in 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 told Hindustan Times in an exclusive chat. “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 their peak when Badrinath began exploring his T20 calibre. CSK had a surreal pattern where they would win the crucial match out of nowhere, or at times come from behind. Even when the franchise would struggle down in the points-table, the belief was that somehow, they’ll make it to the top four.
One of Badrinath’s many learning was the importance of staying detached, which was possible due to amazing support from the top. CSK was a down to earth side; there was no flamboyance, no crazy parties. Simplicity was a major characteristic of CSK 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.”
Badrinath came into his elements during the 2010 IPL. 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 capture the silverware to match the class they promised. They endured a slump early in the tournament, winning just two matches out of their first seven. 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 the beginning of a hot run for CSK, as few months later they secured a double by winning the Champions Trophy. 2011 was a cakewalk for them, as after losing three of their first five matches, CSK went on the rampage and won the next seven out of eight to finish second and register a spot in the knockouts. It was the year when CSK won all their home matches, becoming the first IPL team to achieve such a distinction. Some even claimed that ‘CSK are the Manchester United of cricket.’
“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.”