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Ranji Trophy: B Sai Sudharsan scores 113 vs Andhra to put Tamil Nadu in driver’s seat

To say B Sai Sudharsan is an extrovert would be a massive understatement. During his first Indian Premier League (IPL) season with Gujarat Titans this year, the southpaw, who had not even turned 21 then, didn’t even hesitate before walking into the hotel room of other illustrious names because he doesn’t like being alone or in the same company for long.

It is the case with the Tamil Nadu team as well, especially this season, where the bio-bubble restrictions have been lifted and players have gone back to sharing hotel rooms. In a Tamil Nadu side that is filled with youngsters, he is already a popular boy, earmarked as a batsman who would carry the legacy of some big names to have donned the state cap. He is the latest left-hander who everyone is expecting to go the distance. After scoring a century (179) on debut against Hyderabad last week, he followed it up with 113 against Andhra in the second round of Ranji Trophy on Wednesday at Sri Ramakrishna Arts and Science College grounds. Tamil Nadu, after dismissing Andhra for 297 in the first session, ended Day at 273/4.

These hundreds have not really come as a surprise for anyone within the team setup. If anything, the only disappointment among a few players was he missed an opportunity to make it a daddy century. These expectations come with a reason. In the first Tamil Nadu Premier League (TNPL) season he played in 2021, he scored 358 runs in eight innings, finishing the season as the second-highest run-getter which resulted in him playing five matches for Gujarat Titans. In the recently concluded Vijay Hazare Trophy where his fellow opener N Jagadeesan hogged all the limelight, he tallied 610 runs in eight innings. There has been considerable build-up to see how Sudharsan goes about his business in the Ranji Trophy, and if anything, he hasn’t let anyone down as of now.

“Actually, I’ve been craving for this,” Sudharsan told The Indian Express. “Growing up in Chennai and listening to coaches and watching Test matches, this is a very special format. Last season I thought there would be an opportunity but since it was a short Ranji Trophy, I had to wait until this season. So more than the expectations, I was actually waiting for this moment, visualising it and practising for months,” Sudharsan said.

Visualisation and planning are two words that Sudharsan uses often. When Gujarat Titans bought him at the IPL auction, Sudharsan joined the team with a belief that he would get an opportunity. There is a very thin line between overconfidence and confidence and Sudharsan looks more a part of the latter. “Obviously I was excited, but I didn’t go there thinking I won’t play ahead of others. Even before the tournament started, I was preparing as if I’m going to play the game and I wasn’t awestruck by anything. So when I got the chance, I was ready even to the extent that I know what Kagiso Rabada would bowl,” Sudharsan said.

In one of the team meetings, Sudharasan remembers someone telling the players that Rabada often bowls full-tosses to left-handers to target the pads with one that swings in. Although it was not directed at Sudharsan, he remembered it when he took guard against Rabada. “That is the visualisation I’m talking about. When he bowled, I was ready and I just hit it for a boundary on the leg-side.”

The visualisation and planning became a part of his routine after he was dropped from Tamil Nadu under-19 team in the 2019/20 season, one which saw him ultimately miss the bus for the under-19 World Cup in South Africa.

In fact, TN had only benched him so that other players would get an opportunity. But Sudharsan was having none of it. “I was not angry. Maybe they thought they should see how another player performs. They told me it is rotation, but I took it as a drop. That is when I became extremely meticulous with my planning- from diet to writing daily on what needs to be done and what I did on a particular day. If I’m part of the team, I should be in the XI, and helping my team win.”

Sudharsan’s father Bharadwaj represented India at the SAFF Games and his mother Usha was a national volleyball player, and they also happen to be his trainers. While many young players tend to go over awed by the situation and walking into star-studded dressing rooms, Sudharsan comes across quite different. In fact, some of Tamil Nadu’s senior players privately reveal how the 21-year-old felt confident that he belongs to this level from the time he walked into the dressing room last season.

“I don’t know where I got that confidence or that attitude from, but I know when I’m ready. To be honest, my first IPL net session gave me huge confidence and that sort of took any apprehensions I had over my own game. I adapted very quickly to the pace that some of them bowled. When I played my first IPL game, it was the first time I’d played in front of a packed stadium and I wanted to enjoy and experience it rather than think about the pressure,” Sudharsan said.

On Wednesday, Sudharsan was on his usual elements, fully in control of what he did. Setting the ball rolling with a 65-run stand for the opening wicket with Jagadeesan he stitched 163-run partnership for the second wicket with Baba Aparajith (88) as the hosts ended Day 2 at 273/4.

R Ashwin, Dinesh Karthik, Abhinav Mukund, have all been giving constant encouragement. “They have been supporting me a lot. Be it with a phone call or with a message, they have been very supportive, in fact the whole team. It might look like added pressure, but I see it as all of them having their best interest in me doing well. When I have such teammates, why would I feel like an outsider,” Sudharsan said.

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