Good cricketers come in different categories. Some are naturally gifted, and enjoy being flamboyant with their skills at every possible opportunity. Some are easy-go-lucky, not bothered (at least on the outside) by success or failure. Some go under the radar for the most part, but suddenly when the situation is dire, they step up and thrive under pressure. Regarded as crisis men by their teammates and fans, some players just had the knack to steady a rocking ship.
One such Indian cricketer was S Badrinath. Tamil Nadu fans and Chennai Super Kings’ legion of followers can tell you stories about Badrinath’s performance in a crisis situation for the sides he has played over the years. For a batsman who was considered to be old-fashioned, textbook long-format, he performed rescue acts even in the T20 format. It is for this reason that he remembers being called ‘the umbrella man’ by commentator Harsha Bhogle. It is for this reason that he remembers fondly winning the player of the match in his first and only T20I for India, when he scored 43 with India struggling at 56/4 to walk away with the player of the match award.
“I remember Harsha named me umbrella man,” Badrinath said in an interaction with Scroll.in. “You know, crisis worked in my favour. My dad put this thought in my head as a youngster: ‘you should play when the team needs you. That’s when you should perform. You know, when when others are finding it tough. That’s when you perform and that’s when you will stand apart’.”
That is a mantra that held him in good stead for most of his career. Handling crisis situations requires a lot of mental strength and that is where Badrinath’s focus has turned into, post-retirement. The 39-year-old who retired from all formats of the game in August 2018, has been busy with commentary engagements in the recent past. His attention now turns to a venture called MFore, with which he plans to offer services to athletes regarding the importance of training their mind to deal with the pressures of sport.
Here are the edited excerpts from an interview with Scroll.in where he talks about dealing with rejection, the power of the brain, his time at CSK and more:
In your career, you experience highs and lows. What is your personal takeaway from your time as a cricketer about the importance of mental strength?
Badrinath: Honestly, I’m telling you, with all the things that I know today, if I had known that maybe 10-12 years back, I think I could have taken my game to the next level. I don’t want that to happen to other athletes.
Throughout my career, I faced a lot of challenges, because I never got anything easy. Right from my personal life to my first class-debut; four years after my first year I was dropped; 2006 was a very bad year for me personally; 2014 was a very bad year in my cricketing career when I thought of quitting completely. I did one year mental conditioning program with a mind coach and then I came back, played for RCB and as a outstation professional for Hyderabad, Vidarbha.
That one year mind conditioning program really changed me. I think it brought out the leadership qualities in me; it helped me be a better leader and know what to say at what point and to understand individuals. Whenever I see a cricketer, even when I’m doing some commentary, I can understand what he is going through.
The current crop of cricketers have spoken about it few times: the moment they come out of the Indian setup, maybe the communication sometimes stops with the selectors. Perhaps at that point, negativity starts coming in. You have experienced being in and out of the Indian side. What is your advice in that sort of situation when someone drops out of the team?
When you get dropped from the team, when you’re not playing well, that is when your self doubts and anxiety start coming in.
I think there are two major things: one is to play the game for the right reasons. It’s important that you play the game from the heart, remember why you started playing. Once you do that, no matter where you play cricket, you will play to the best of your ability. And of course, it’s important to stick to the process.
Handling expectations is another huge thing. It starts as a small monkey sitting on your back and you start expecting ‘Ok, I’m gonna get 100’. No, you don’t. ‘Ok, I’m going get selected’. No, you don’t. That is when these things keep accumulating and the monkey gets bigger on your back; keeps becoming so big that it actually weighs you down. Expectation is something that you have to leave it in your car park or in your team bus.
When a youngster is dropped or when they’re out of the team, it is important to still have the belief. Actions will automatically follow your belief.
How are you spending time during this lockdown?
It’s not been easy to be honest. The good thing is we are all safe and well, but I’m an outdoor person. I play a lot of sport even if I’m retired. I love sport, that’s my real emotional out. Otherwise we are all safe and sound. I have been working on a project called MFore for the last eight months or so.
What prompted you to start MFore? What is the idea behind it?
In the sporting fraternity in India a lot has been done with regards to physical training in the gym, athletes are working on their technique as well. But are they really working on their mind which is which is actually a very powerful thing? I think it is the General that actually commands the whole of our body.
For example, if you watch someone play street cricket where they hit every ball for six but put them before a crowd of 50,000 and ask them to play the same shot, they will probably crumble under pressure. What is changing? Everybody has a skill set. But its the mind that changes. Is the sporting fraternity in India actually doing enough to train the mind across all sports, not just cricket?
An Olympic athlete might break records in training but has to be peak for a few seconds in the final. One should have run the Olympic final in their mind already many times. You should have won it in your mind. Usain Bolt, for instance, is of course blessed with talent but he believes that he is best, he knows that he is the best.
Okay, so this is something that you’re planning to do across sport?
We will focus on not just young athletes from young, amateur to professional; we want to we want to give our services to everybody. When we actually do the programs, one-on-one sessions etc, it will be with mostly with professionals; from state level or national level and all that. For creating the awareness, it will be across the sporting fraternity; the kids, parents, coaches — what we call stakeholders for an athlete.
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Another theme of this lockdown for sports tragics has been nostalgia. Everyone has been looking back at memories, with no live sport happening. Any particular moment that has popped up for you? High points, low points?
Don’t ask me! So many things have been coming in my mind actually, you know, like they say the idle mind is the devil’s workshop.
But I think all top athletes will be facing this. It’s important to look back at the at the positive things. It is easy to get caught away in the negativity and not be motivated enough. I’m making a conscious effort to look at the positives of my career. My Test debut, my T20I debut and man of the match when nobody believed I could play that format, playing about 120 games for CSK.
And I’m really proud of my leadership qualities. I faced a lot of challenges regarding my move to Vidarbha because I couldn’t talk in Hindi properly. So before I went there, I made a conscious effort to learn Hindi for six months. Instead of telling someone “bowl on the off-stump”, if I said “offstump mein daal, accha ja raha hai,” the connect is immediately better...
So learning Hindi more than just “ek gaaon mein ek kissan raghu thatha” (popular Tamil comedy)...
(Laughs) Yeah, I got much better than “ek gaaon mein ek kissan raghu thatha”. I was like that once, but I consciously made an effort to become so that I could connect with the boys there. So, I have been looking at all those positives in my career.
Every time someone thinks about your role at CSK, the phrase ‘crisis man’ comes to mind. Even for Tamil Nadu. Do you think there is a role still for an anchor, crisis-only batsman in the shortest format in the modern game?
There is always room. Even today, you see Kane Williamson. He’s a proper cricketer, not the biggest hitter but he’s very successful in T20s. Steve Smith, Joe Root. There is always room for that sort of a batsman in the lineup. Of course, not all of them can be like that but one batsman in the middle order who can handle a crisis will give a lot of stability to the side in a team of big hitters.
At CSK, it suited me and the team really well. From top to bottom, I was surrounded by hitters like Matthew Hayden, Suresh Raina, MS Dhoni, Albie Morkel. My role was to play around them.
Right from my early days in cricket, crisis brought the best out of me. When the team is struggling, the way I used to think was that the only way is up from there. Usually in those situations, I faced really attacking fields so I knew I just had to play out 10 balls or so and then I can open up. After a while, I just started loving a crisis. I didn’t want to go into bat when the scoreboard read 150/2!
Your take on Tamil Nadu cricket. Last domestic season, they made it to two white-ball tournament finals but Ranji Trophy season was disappointing. What is holding Tamil Nadu back in the red-ball format?
Discipline in the cricket. It’s not just about sleeping at 9 pm or waking up at 7 am. By discipline, I mean not playing a cover drive when the wicket is helping the bowlers. You cannot play your shots when the conditions don’t call for it. Same with bowling, fielding. Discipline is everything. First-class cricket is not easy.
Set a goal, as an opener ‘I am going to bat out a session’ even if you are not that kind of a player. Your team and the situation demands something else out of you. Do it for your team, for Tamil Nadu. Even with bowling; need to avoid temptations and keep bowling good length, over after over. That is the discipline Tamil Nadu cricket needs that approach. Talent-wise, TN doesn’t probably have the same level as it was maybe 10 years back. We had five-six players in and around the Indian team. But still, they can do much better.
MFORE will partner with Star Sports to launch a series called ‘Mind Masters by MFORE’ on Star Sports 1 Tamil. The five-episode series will begin from May 10th.