January 20, 1989, Woorkeri Venkat Raman set the record for the highest individual First-Class score for Tamil Nadu with a 313 against Goa.
35 years later, on January 26, 2024, 28-year-old Narayan Jagadeesan broke the record with a swashbuckling 321 off 403 deliveries. It is only plain coincidence that Jagadeesan’s Twitter handle is Jagadeesan_200.
Any batter would have been highly confident and even sounded a tad arrogant about boasting their record, but Jagadeesan wasn't of that ilk. He was as far away from that, so much so that he uttered, “More than me breaking the record…” at the start of the conversation.
He is rather more proud that he had faced 400+ deliveries in two games in a row, a byproduct of his endless toil under the scorching sun ahead of the domestic season.
“It feels really good, to be honest. More than me breaking the record, I’d rather be more happy thinking about the discipline I had throughout my innings looking at the scores. I always get a feeling that the scores are just a byproduct of the work you are putting in,” Jagadeesan told Cricket.com in an exclusive interview.
“I'm very proud of the amount of focus and concentration I had for every ball I faced. Before this, I never imagined myself playing 400 balls two matches in a row. So, it was just about the temperament, concentration and focus on every ball,” Jagadeesan further elucidated.
Eventually, three minutes into the conversation, Jagadeesan realised the weight of the record and added that besting his former coach’s numbers meant the world to him.
“When I went past (WV) Raman Sir’s record, it obviously felt great. It is always fruitful when you achieve something, and even better if it turns out to be a record. Raman sir is someone I have looked up to; he has also been my coach, so it feels really good,” he said.
All of this already feels surreal, right? But that’s just one part of Jagadeesan’s record, as the icing on this cake is that he brought up an unbeaten double century and then notched up a triple century in front of his parents at his home in SNR College Cricket Ground, where he professionally picked up a bat way back in 2004. If not for his mom's endless support or his coach, AG Guruswamy, who has been a constant support for Jagadeesan since he was eight, it would all have just been a dream.
“It is special for me to come back to Coimbatore and get this success I got. It makes it even more special because my dad and mom were watching the game. Even my coach (Guruswamy) sir was sitting and watching the game,” he gleamed in joy this time.
Having batted lower down the order in the clash against Gujarat, a rare opportunity at the top presented itself when Sai Sudarshan was called up by the Indian ‘A’ side for the three-match series against England Lions. It was an honest conversation that he had with the Tamil Nadu skipper Sai Kishore that resulted in him finding his hands.
“This season, they made it clear that I wasn’t going to open in the red-ball. After two matches, Sai (Kishore) asked me if I wanted to open the innings, and I obviously said “Yes,” Sai promoted me to go up the order, and it made me feel happy. For Sai to trust me to open the innings, I wanted to give my 100% as well, and the results are there,” Jagadeesan said on his move back up the order.
Tamil Nadu’s last title came back in 1987-88, and ever since, the southernmost state in the country has only chased the title, with their best being finishing runners-up in the 2014-15 season. But last year, at one point, there were signs that Tamil Nadu could yet again return to their glory days before they crashed out of the competition. Despite the exit, Jagadeesan heralded the mood of the camp in the 2022-23 Ranji Trophy season.
“Our initial aim was always to win the game, and we only looked at NRR after that. Last year, I genuinely felt that last year’s (2022-23) brand of cricket was the best year I have been part of in the Tamil Nadu setup,” Jagadeesan looked back on the 2023 Ranji Trophy season.
“But the sad part was that we didn’t qualify, and we were unlucky as well. The weather didn’t support us, be it that Hyderabad clash or the Delhi clash, we could have got through. Last year’s Ranji was the best I have been part of, and this year, we are just trying to replicate that brand of cricket,” he added.
Despite that mixed results, there were plenty of positives from the last season, where Jagadeesan and Sai Sudharsan lit up the tournament. In fact, the duo were a refreshing change at the top of the order, playing slightly freed-up gameplay.
The partnership blossomed to a new level when the duo notched up a record first-wicket partnership of 416 in the Vijay Hazare Trophy clash against Arunachal Pradesh at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore.
“Initially, it was quite difficult for Saisu (Sudharsan) and me in that game. Day games in Karnataka are quite tricky, with the ball seaming around. Also, when you have bowlers who bowl a bit slower, it makes it even harder,” Jagadeesan recalls the start vividly.
As the day progressed, it was almost impossible for Arunachal Pradesh to stop Jagadeesan, who entered the record books with the highest individual List-A score - 277 off 141 balls.
“We were just staying calm and looking to put the bad balls. Before that, we had played four matches, and we both had scored good runs. So, it made it all the more easier to stay calm. Even a good ball could be put away for boundaries when you are in such a form,” Jagadeesan added about his record innings.
Much of Jagadeesan’s recent success could only be attributed to how he unlearned, unwired and untangled his brains with an eye on keeping up with the pace and demands of the game's shortest format.
“Many things were happening behind the scenes; I always wanted to improve my game. T20 formats have evolved so much, so you also need to evolve as a cricketer; you can’t always be the same cricketer,” he had to add, with a slightly serious tone.
Rajan Narayanan, his dad, has always been an inspiration for Jagadeesan in his early cricketing days, and it was quite fitting that he helped the 27-year-old ‘reinvent’ his game and wake him up from a slumber.
“That inspiration has always been my dad, to be honest. He was in Mumbai, playing for the Tatas and stuff. He was a wicketkeeper himself, and when I started playing cricket, I was also bowling. After a point, my dad made me switch my role to being a wicketkeeper. He is my inspiration, and I have lived through with my inspiration,” he added.
“There is a lot of credit to be given to my dad as well; he chucked around 10,000 deliveries for me to practise my power game, and we knew we had to put in a lot of work and effort. For me to improve, there was a lot of work to put in.”
It was only one half of the story, then, a 27-year-old Jagadeesan’s ‘power-searching’ soul journey landed him in Bangalore, where he took the guidance of one of India’s power-hitting coaches, RX Muralidhar.
“Even RX Murali Sir, I just had to go and learn the basics of power-hitting, we play a lot of horizontal shots, even on the front foot. Back-foot horizontal shots are something I play a lot: the cuts and the pulls. Playing the same shots on the front foot is something that I had to learn,” he recalled.
“Murali sir was helping me get into a good position and have a strong base. Once I went back home, I practised this a lot. Definitely, it is not just about power-hitting, it is also about the basics like defence. I just wanted to improve and learn every single day. It wasn’t like I couldn’t play those shots; there is a method to play them, and that’s what I wanted to learn,” he added.
For a 28-year-old, Jagadeesan has his shoulders in quite a mature branch, intertwining his cricketing journey with the fear of failure. While it has consumed every cricketer at some point in their career, all that the Tamil Nadu batter wants to do is ‘embrace it’.
“There will always be pressure of failure, irrespective of how big a player you are. Every time you step on the field, there will be pressure. The best thing I can do is embrace the fear of failure, if you let it consume you, it will be very difficult,” he had to add.It is one of those things that the Coimbatore-born cricketer has learned from the Indian Premier League, where he has immensely benefitted mentally from both his stints with the Chennai Super Kings and Kolkata Knight Riders.
“I think it is more about the exposure, you brushing shoulders with many legends. It was more about mental learning, I guess, after a point, it isn’t a lot about technical learning but more about your mental learning, how they prepare ahead of a game and what makes them successful,” Jagadeesan answered when asked about what IPL taught him the most.
So, does MS Dhoni really practise wicketkeeping?
“I have never seen Dhoni do wicketkeeping drills. During my last stint with the CSK team, he did little wicketkeeping practice. So, I went and asked him if is this how you have always been, but he actually said, “Only now, I’m not doing a lot of practise, during my young days, I have kept a lot of wickets, and have practised day-in and day-out,” Jagadeesan recalls.
Earlier this year, Jagadeesan was also consumed with the dedication of Dinesh Karthik, who returned from a commentary stint to be part of the Tamil Nadu setup for the Vijay Hazare Trophy. In that camp, Jagadeesan was left in awe of Karthik’s ‘dedication’.
“One thing that I learned from Karthik was dedication towards wicketkeeping. You see him doing a lot of commentary and stuff, but the moment he puts his cricket gear on, he’s always practising. When someone like him is so dedicated towards wicketkeeping and wants to practise a lot, it made my thoughts very clear. So, I had to do the same,” he added.
With 600 runs in the ongoing season, Jagadeesan has most definitely left a mark on the Ranji Trophy-philes in the country, with an average of 200, including two daddy hundreds. It is natural for someone to hope their selection is around the corner with such numbers.
“I can only hope that I’m in the mix for an Indian call-up. The reality is that there’s so much competition around you that you don’t know what’s happening. All you can do is stay in the present and perform. Everyone has the motto of ultimately going and playing for the country. I feel that if it has to happen, it will happen,” Jagadeesan firmly stated.
But time and again during this almost half an hour conversation, Jagadeesan zeroed back in on the ‘fear of failure’ and insisted that he always wishes to stay in the present and put in the hard yards instead of living in an utterly ridiculous fairy dreamland where only promises are made.
“You have to be dedicated and be in the present. The moment I start thinking about the selection, me going and playing for the country, I will put a lot of undue pressure on myself, where I will keep thinking about scoring runs. You are going to create a fear of failure. I like to stay in the present and approach every game as if it were the last game.”
Over the last year and a half, Jagadeesan has successfully managed to
learn relearn, rewire, and rewrite the history books.
(Cover Image Courtesy: The Hindu)
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