Subramaniam Badrinath, born on August 30, 1980, is one of the most prolific batsmen in Indian domestic cricket, but hasn’t been able to make a successful transition to the highest level. Nishad Pai Vaidya profiles the Tamil Nadu stalwart who may still have a lot to offer to Indian cricket.
Some players seem to be born in the wrong era. While their talent is unquestionable and their dominance in domestic cricket merits an international experience, the presence of bigger names at the highest level prevents or, rather, delays a transition. After all, a team can only field 11 on the park and only a small group remain in the setup. India’s Subramaniam Badrinath has been one such player who has been unlucky to miss out on a longer international career.
Born on August 30, 1980, in Chennai, Badrinath took to the sport at a young age when his father recognized his talent. He was there in the Tamil Nadu age group setup early on and made his presence felt at the Under-22 levels. Consistent performances there saw him being promoted to the senior team in the year 2000, when he made his First-Class debut for Tamil Nadu against Colombo District Cricket Association. Later that year, he made his Ranji Trophy debut against Goa.
The initial two First-Class games were a struggle as he scored only 29 runs in three games. In his second Ranji Trophy game, which was against Karnataka, Badrinath was asked to open the batting along with Rajat Bhatia. Against an attack comprising Dodda Ganesh, R Vijay Bharadwaj and Mulewa Dharmichand, Badrinath scored a hard-fought ton to help Tamil Nadu score 477 runs in the first innings, which allowed them to take the lead. At the end of the season, he had played seven games and had scored 363 runs at an average of 30.25 with the lone century.
While it wasn’t a spectacular first season, Badrinath did show that he had the goods to succeed. Yet, the following season, he did not feature in any matches the following season and his appearances were limited to four Under-22 games. Even in 2002-03, he could only play four First-Class matches — one of which was the Ranji Trophy final where he scored 42 in the first innings. In an interview with www.bcci.tv, he called it the biggest disappointment of his career.
It was only during the 2003-04 season that Badrinath gave a glimpse of his humongous hunger for runs. In 10 matches, he scored 822 runs at an average of 54.80 with four tons and two fifties. That season had effectively established him in the Tamil Nadu line-up. The graph only went up from there on. During that season, the biggest highlight was his innings of 100 for South Zone against England A. Chasing 503 in the final innings, Venugopal Rao’s 228 set up an unlikely win. Coming in at No 5, Badrinath also scored a ton and remained unbeaten. That England side featured the likes of Sajid Mahmood, Simon Jones, James Tredwell and Kevin Pietersen to name a few.
Badrinath first came onto the national selector’s radar after a stellar 2005-06 season. That won him a spot in the India A tam for the Eurasia Cup in Abu Dhabi and the Top End series Down Under. In late 2006, there was a bit of talk about his possible selection into the Test team for the tour to South Africa. The Indian batting had miserably failed in the One-Day International (ODI) series and needed stability. In the lead-up to the tour, he scored a brilliant hundred for Tamil Nadu with Dilip Vengarkar, the chief of selectors, watching the proceedings. Coming in at 11 for two, Badrinath’s 136 powered Tamil Nadu to recovery and that sparked murmurs of a possible berth on the tour to South Africa. However, that did not happen. He told Rediff, “All I wanted was to go there and play like in any other cricket match. If I let thoughts like ‘the national selectors are watching, I am in the reckoning and I have to score’, bother me, it would not allow me to play my natural game.”
Badrinath continued to perform for India A and peaked in 2007 when South Africa A arrived in the country. Those performances finally won him a call-up for the senior India team for the One-Day International (ODI) series against Australia. Walking into a star studded dressing room, Badrinath knew his chances would be hard to come by. India did not make too many changes to their line-up and he had to warm the bench throughout. The grind started again at the domestic level.
But, despite good performances and consistency, he was forgotten. In 2008, India tried out numerous fresh faces and Badrinath did not get a look in. During the tour to Sri Lanka, Virender Sehwag injured himself and Virat kohli was called up as a replacement. That was it for Badrinath.
Venting his anguish, he asked why he wasn’t given the opportunity despite performing for India A. He told Times of India, “For god’s sake, allow me to fail. If I am unable to prove my worth at the international arena, I will never say anything and be a fringe player all my life. But I deserve one chance.” Later, the selectors heard him and picked him for the tour when Sachin Tendulkar was ruled out. Was the big moment finally here?
On that tour, Ajantha Mendis was absolutely unplayable. The best in business were tormented during the Test series and not much was expected of the youngsters. The first game was won by the Sri Lankans comfortably. India needed stability and handed a debut to Badrinath during the second ODI.
In a small run chase, India huffed and puffed their way towards the total of 143. Badrinath walked in at 75 for five with the game in the balance and calmly dealt with the spinners to take India to victory. That innings of 27 was worth its weight in gold on a tough track. It was a debut that vindicated his stand in the lead up to the series. The next two games didn’t see him score too many and he had to bide his time for the next shot. The domestic form did keep him in the Test side for a few home series and it was a matter of time before he won the coveted Test cap.
In 2010, India were jolted by injuries to Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman when the South Africans arrived for a Test series. On February 6, Badrinath finally donned the Test cap. Against a rampant Dale Steyn-led attack in the first innings, he scored a composed 56 after India had lost its top order. However, in the next Test, Steyn troubled him again and once the seniors returned, he was back on the bench.
India were defending their number one spot in Test cricket and Badrinath did not get a look in thereafter. They also had a settled one-day unit, which meant that he couldn’t break in. He had to wait until after the 2011 World Cup.
On the tour to the West Indies, India sent a young side as the seniors rested after the World Cup triumph. This was Badrinath’s chance to come good and convince the selectors to persist with him. And he started in some style. In the only T20 international at Port of Spain, his innings of 42 gave India direction and helped them post a good total. That effort won him the Man of the Match award. Was he warming up for bigger things?
Not quite. He failed in the ODIs that followed and hasn’t played for India since. He continues to be called up, but it is almost obvious that he would not be picked. In 2012, he came into the Indian squad for the series against New Zealand. Suresh Raina, a man with an inferior First-Class record, played instead. If only Badrinath had built up on the encouraging starts in the previous years, things could have been different. Yet, the opportunities have been few and far between. A man with 8,238 First-Class runs at an average of 60.13 certainly deserved a longer run. As he turns 33, he is still fit. But, will the selectors deviate and make an exception from their policy of only backing youth? India could potentially miss a good player albeit for a few years.
Meanwhile, for the Chennai Super Kings, he is a dependable force in the middle. In an explosive batting lineup he is the calming influence. Once labelled as a player for the longer formats, he has remodeled his game to suit the modern version. India must give him his due before it is too late.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and anchor for the site’s YouTube Channel. His Twitter handle is @nishad_44)