He has been called ‘Baby AB’ by his captain. Experts are praising his temperament. Stories are being written about how his talent was ignored, nay, continues to be ignored by Delhi selectors. He gets a big break in Indian Premier League and celebrates that with a half-century any established player would be proud of. His team loses the game. But the kid has left a deep impression.
Lucknow Super Giants regroup and take on the might of Chennai Super Kings in what is their just the second match in IPL. The debutants are hoping to get off the mark. They are chasing 211. Deepak Hooda, who scored a fifty in his last innings, has just been dislodged and LSG still need 40 runs to win from 16 deliveries with six wickets remaining.
Out walks 22-year-old Ayush Badoni. An unassuming figure. He had shown a matured mindset against fellow debutant Gujarat Titans with his team in deep trouble. He didn’t have the time against CSK to build an innings. He did have the temperament to not go for wild swings from the word go. Two doubles and a single off his first four deliveries.
And then comes a casual, nonchalant sweep off Shivam Dube in the 19th over. The ball has sailed over the boundary for a six. His batting partner Evin Lewis starts feasting on the rattled bowler and LSG have creamed 25 runs in the over.
In the final over, LSG need 9. Badoni pulls and deposits the ball into the stands for six. And picks the gap at midwicket for an aerial shot for a single to take his team over the line. For a moment you would forget he is a batter who is just playing his second IPL match and in both the innings, had to guide his team out of stormy waters.
Badoni’s troubleshooting is a reflection of his professional career. Despite the abundance of talent he boasts of and bucketful of runs he keeps scoring in age-group tournaments and U-19 level, the Delhi cricketer’s progress was stonewalled for years with recommendations from coaches falling on deaf ears.
“Delhi ignored him,” Devendra Sharma, a coach at Delhi’s Sonnet Cricket Club where Badoni honed his craft under his watchful gaze alongside the late Tarak Sinha, tells News18.
Sharma claims to have received a message from none other than Rahul Dravid enquiring about Badoni. Such was the impression the young batter had left on the current India head coach during U-19 trials at the National Cricket Academy.
“When Rahul Dravid became the coach of the Indian team, he texted me asking about Ayush Badoni – ‘What’s he doing?’” Sharma recalls.
“When a player works hard and is denied opportunities, he’s bound to get disappointed but we made sure to keep his spirits high and tell him that his time will definitely come,” Sharma says of the time when Badoni repeatedly was ignored for selection in Delhi’ Ranji team.
Badoni’s childhood coach Balraj Kumar echoes the sentiment.
“I have been with Ayush for a long time now and I have noticed he never got an opportunity directly. He used to score plenty of runs during age group days but would only get a chance only as replacement to an injured player. But we have tried to make the most of each and every opportunity. He should have gotten his chance (with Delhi) long time back. You can look at his record. This kid has a lot of potential – his shots are a proof of that. Did you see his shot to fine leg (vs Gujarat Titans)? He has been hitting these since he was a kid,” Balraj, who runs an academy in Punjab, said.
“It’s ok the break came too late but we don’t have any complaint with the system,” he added.
It’s a curious case indeed. Badoni was part of Delhi’s T20 squad for the 2021 Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy but he got to bat just once out of five matches. He was part of their squad for the 201-22 edition too but this time, didn’t get a single game.
At the IPL auction, LSG picked him up at his base price of Rs 20 lakh. Gautam Gambhir was sitting at the auction table for the IPL newbie.
Badoni impressed Gambhir during practice games for Lucknow and the former India opener backed him. Even sent him down to bat ahead of Krunal Pandya in both the matches for LSG. Obviously, the youngster has repaid the faith.
So why didn’t anyone in Delhi put faith in his ability? Sharma has a sharp response. “Why he wasn’t given a chance? Only Delhi guys (selectors) can explain,” says Sharma.
He explained, “In 2022 Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, he was dropped without getting a game. It was a bad phase. I spoke to selectors and coaches but they didn’t play him. He then scored a 200 in a trial match. Delhi’s Ranji team was announced and his name wasn’t in it. A dejected Ayush came to me and said they (selectors) have told him he would be made coach of the U-25 team. As a coach, I told him to look at the positive side – he’s still getting a chance. Make runs in U-25 team and we will aim for Ranji again.”
Badoni is a student of the late Tarak Sinha, who, as per Sharma, rated the kid highly. “He (Tarak) rated him highly. We used to discuss about his game. We used to feel sad when Ayush wouldn’t get chances. We wanted to see him play for Delhi’s Ranji team,” Sharma recalls.
Balraj, who shaped Badoni’s game early on, ensured the kid didn’t copy anyone and instead developed his own style. “He’s a natural stroke player. His strength is his timing, he has quite sharp hand-eye coordination and has his own style of batting. Often we see players basing their styles of greats but I deliberately told him to not copy anyone. You must have seen his shots – so much grace in them. His timing is impeccable,” says a beaming Balraj.
He added, “He plays as per the situation. He can mould himself accordingly. Like against Gujarat Titans, he was quite settled early one – content with singles but later on, he started smashing. He can gauge the situation quite quickly and play accordingly. He has the mindset of a big match player – the bigger the challenge, the better he will perform.”
When Sharma first saw Badoni, he was impressed by his technique. “He was technically sound. He scored plenty of runs in local tournaments and dominated bowlers. Prior to IPL, he played in around five league matches for the club and he scored 160 off 90 in one of them,” he said.
Badoni has given a glimpse of his ‘360 degree’ strokeplay. But there’s another area where his coaches feel he can prove to be a more than handy option.
“I have asked him to bowl more. He has the potential to be a good bowler.” says Balraj of Badoni who bowls offspin.
He even claims that had Badoni’s skills as a bowler were utilised , LSG might have even beaten Gujarat Titans.
Sharma thinks Badoni can be a threat on turning pitches. “He’s a more than capable bowler. He can be a handful on turning tracks,” he says.
While two innings aren’t enough to gauge the capability of a player, Badoni sure has raised expectations. And judging by how quickly players these days are being fast-tracked into national reckoning, an impressive IPL season could very well throw open the path to the international stage.