As Chennai Super Kings released him into the auction pool in November, N Jagadeesan had made peace with himself that he won’t be part of the Indian Premier League 2023 season. A T20 strike-rate of 118.61 is not seen as good enough for an opener in IPL. And Jagadeesan believed he won’t fetch any interest from the teams. So his plans for next April and May was to head to the UK and play league cricket. Instead, as Kolkata Knight Riders bought him at the auction for INR 90 lakh, he would once again enter an environment that has pushed him to the extremes. Only this time he has a genuine chance of opening and keeping the gloves for the two-time champions.
When CSK released him back into the pool, Jagadeesan was going through a low run of scores. He has been part of the franchise since 2018, has played only 7 matches and in 2020 when CSK had a season to forget, Jagadeesan got an opportunity to bat only twice in the five matches he played. As questions were raised about Chennai’s reluctance to play youngsters more, MS Dhoni’s quip that “youngsters lack the spark” seemed to include Jagadeesan in that list. No names were taken, but the public perception went thus.
Jagadeesan who turns 27 on Saturday, said there was a point in time in the 2022 season – especially while staying in a bio-bubble environment without playing any games – where he felt like packing his bags and going home.
— KolkataKnightRiders (@KKRiders) December 23, 2022
“It is definitely very hard,” Jagadeesan tells The Indian Express when asked about spending the time on the bench. “There were times I felt really low. To be honest, I have even thought of packing the bags and going home. The only thing that kept me motivated was to keep working so that you get a game. When I was not playing, I thought this is the time you can mentally push yourself, you can’t let your mind drift away. When you are down, work harder. Last IPL season and the previous one in Dubai, I told myself that ‘it is ok not to play any matches, but make sure you work the most at the gym, at a net session…give full effort in the nets’ and leave the rest to others,” Jagadeesan added.
“Last year when I went in, I knew I’m not going to get any matches. If the team does really badly, then I may get a chance to play. So it is hard when you do that, because you want to grow as a player and not get stagnant and be thrown away like how they released me. It was definitely hard. But it was self motivating.”
In the full player auction for the 2021 season, Jagadeesan had gone unsold, only for Chennai to pick him again in the accelerated process. He played two matches in the 2022 season, scoring an unbeaten 39 in one innings and 1 in another.
“As a cricketer you don’t like getting dropped and in the IPL, it is like them literally throwing you away. You don’t want that to happen and it was hard to take for a day. But later, I realised that I have to accept that fact and make peace with it. After I realised, I was happy… because I will get a solid three months to work and improve myself better. And it took pressure off me because there is nothing to look forward to and just going to stay in the present,” Jagadeesan tells this newspaper.
Although young uncapped players benefit out of those two months that they spend in the IPL environment, little is spoken about those who sit in the dug-out season after season – sometimes they are told to stay back in the hotel as usually only 18 players are allowed in the dressing room. In case of Jagadeesan it is harder as he has remained CSK’s back-up opener and also happens to be a wicketkeeper in a team with MS Dhoni.
The end result of it was Jagadeesan, who has been a fluent stroke-maker, tried to be something he wasn’t. With IPL teams preferring to look at his strike-rate more than the runs, it resulted in him trying too hard. While the last domestic season was a forgetful one for Jagadeeesan, he started the current domestic season also on a low note before the tide began to change at the Vijay Hazare Trophy.
“Right from under-13 days I’ve always been a player who used to set targets for myself and aggregate a lot of runs and be the top run-getter. When I was growing up, I used to enjoy the game so much and as I got older and the game became a lot more competitive I’d a feeling that I succumbed to the pressure where I wanted to be the highest run-getter and showcase what I can do and stuff. This (poor run of scores) was the breaking point for me, where I realised it is not about scoring a lot of runs, but how you enjoy each and every time you walk into the field and more importantly do it without any expectations. Of course, you can dream, but you shouldn’t be playing to get picked or prove anything,” Jagadeesan says.
While he went about rewriting records in the Vijay Hazare Trophy – scoring five consecutive centuries including a world record List A score of 277, and his name was included in the final list for the IPL auction, Jagadeesan was still apprehensive.
“After the SMA T20, I was convinced that I wouldn’t be picked for IPL. Last year I went unsold and CSK only picked me later on. I was there one year, played two matches and got released once again. So I really didn’t think of myself as a player who could be part be part of the IPL this season because a) I didn’t have scores to back me. B) This year my strike-rate improved a lot, but the score didn’t improve a lot,” Jagadeesan says.
“Strike rates are over-rated”
With so much fixation towards strike-rate, Jagadeesan even went around looking to improve it, which his coach AG Guruswamy believes is a reason why he drifted away from the basics and ended up getting low scores even in Vijay Hazare and Ranji Trophy last season. While in Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul there are batters who don’t have a big strike-rate in T20s and they happen to be integral part of the teams, Jagadeesan feels the outlook is different for upcoming players.
“I genuinely feel that strike-rates are over-rated in the sense, let us say we play a 20-over game and there are matches where we (Tamil Nadu) have actually won and my strike-rate would have been 120 or something. And the strike-rate at which I would have played is something that is needed by the team. When you look at the overall strike-rate, you don’t look at in what situation he played the knock and in what conditions. These things get buried. For example, this season we played at Lucknow, you could in no way expect batsmen to go a strike-rate of 150 or 160. If everyone wants to go at that rate, then there is no way the team is going to post a total of 100 on those pitches. You want players to be sensible and adapt to the situation and conditions. When we talk about established players the strike-rate doesn’t come in, but when you talk about people like me who are coming into the circuit, they tend to look at it more than the runs,” Jagadeesan said.
With strike-rate being the norm, Jagadeesan like Mayank Agarwal and Dinesh Karthik sought the help of RX Murali, one of the most illustrious coaches in Bengaluru to improve the power-hitting aspect of the game. “What the fixation towards strike-rate did was, it made me work on it as well. It has made me improve my game and add different shots and power-hitting. The flat-bat thing was new to me — horizontal shots that give a lot more power. I’d to learn the technique for that and Murali played a role in that. After coming here, I told my dad this is how we are supposed to do and before Mushtaq Ali, he used to chuck around 300 balls and practiced that. And that helped.”