Tamil Nadu has produced some world-class opening batsmen over the years. Sadagoppan Ramesh, Murali Vijay and Abhinav Mukund have all represented India in Test cricket this century.
Even in the upcoming Indian Premier League, 13 Tamil Nadu cricketers will turn out for their respective franchises - more than any other state in the country. One among these 13 is opener C Hari Nishaanth, who was snapped up by the Chennai Super Kings late in the auction.
Hari Nishaanth's path to the IPL hasn't been straightforward. He has been in the mix for a couple of years now, but brief dips in form haven't helped his cause. The classy left-hander needed a solid Syed Mushtaq Ali campaign to truly catch the eye of the CSK management.
Hari Nishaanth kicked off this year's Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy with scores of 92* and 47*, and played a crucial 35-run knock in the final on a rank turner in Ahmedabad.
In an exclusive interview with Sportskeeda, he opened up about his preparations for the tournament, which was his first taste of cricketing action after the lockdown.
"I've always wanted to be consistent. I worked a lot on my batting during the lockdown. I got to know that T20 was going to be the first tournament after the lockdown, so I was quite aware of what to do and what not to do."
Tamil Nadu clinched the title under the captaincy of Dinesh Karthik, and Hari Nishaanth was certainly one of the standout performers. But he sets high standards for himself, and believes that he should've scored around 100 runs more in the tournament.
"Luckily, I got a good knock in the first game of the tournament. It was a good start, and I wanted to capitalise on it. I feel I should've scored 100-120 runs more but it was quite a good tournament."
Karthik's men started the Vijay Hazare Trophy with a superb win over Punjab, with the Punjab Kings' new recruit Shahrukh Khan playing a key role in the run-chase. When asked about the team's morale for the List A competition, Hari Nishaanth expressed optimism and outlined his own plans.
"Preparations are going well. I have this determination to tick all boxes. Fielding, training and gym - tick. Batting - double tick."
The Tamil Nadu Premier League (TNPL) has been a major reason behind the state's resurgence at the domestic and IPL level. Many stars like T Natarajan, Varun Chakravarthy and N Jagadeesan have made their IPL debuts after excelling in the T20 competition.
Hari Nishaanth is another player who has taken the same route. While he was decent for his first franchise, the VB Thiruvallur Veerans, a move to the Dindigul Dragons truly brought out the best in him.
Hari Nishaanth finished the 2019 edition of the TNPL as the fourth-highest run-scorer, paving the way to the state team across formats. He elucidated how his performances in the league gave him self-belief, and drew parallels between the TNPL and the IPL.
"The TNPL itself is a high standard of cricket. Many players who are playing in the TNPL are dreaming of playing at a higher level. But if you perform in the TNPL, you will be high on confidence. The size of the crowd may be different in the IPL, but everything else, including the ball, is the same. I have felt that. As I did well in the TNPL, I got so much confidence in myself."
"Everyone wants to play for the country, and it's the same for me" - Hari Nishaanth
Hari Nishaanth made his first-class debut for Tamil Nadu in December 2019. Although he got starts in both innings, he couldn't convert either knock into a big score (22 & 23).
Hari Nishaanth is aware that he needs to pile on the runs in red-ball cricket, and has been religiously training for any challenges he might run into.
"I have to be consistent in red-ball cricket. I'm hoping for the best in the coming years. The red ball swings as long as you maintain it, while the white ball doesn't after a while. So in my training sessions, that's how I approach it. I prepare for the red ball's swing, and if the white ball doesn't, it only gets easier for me in the middle."
Hari Nishaanth's ultimate goal, like any other aspiring cricketer, is to play for India. He has a clear vision for himself, and he's putting in the hard yards with this goal unwaveringly in his mind.
"Everyone wants to play for the country, and it's the same for me. I have to represent my country. I'm working towards that, and this is the first step at that level. I have to sustain myself, pushing myself harder and training harder."
But Hari Nishaanth hasn't always had this level of hunger and drive. He believes his preparation wasn't as intense as it should've been in age-group cricket, and he has sincerely attempted to correct this over the last couple of years. When asked about how and when the switch in his brain flipped, Hari Nishaanth said:
"I started focussing on my batting a lot more. In the ages 16-19, my preparation wasn't as keen as it should have been. From 19, I attempted to bring that back. The last two years have been so good, and I got confidence. As I said earlier, I should tick every box - that's my objective. I have made clear plans for each day and I've worked hard."
Dips in form and lack of confidence have occasionally crept in for the opener. When the going gets tough, he opts to divert his mind from cricket at home while training as hard as he possibly can on the field. Hari Nishaanth said:
"When I'm going through a rough patch, I try not to think about cricket too much. Of course, I train properly and practice hard. But outside practice, I try to switch off. I've been in many rough patches, and this is what has worked for me. Nowadays, it's more about the mind than skills. It isn't easy to get out of rough patches, but this method will give you peace."
"When you have a job and it goes well, it's fun to talk about. But when the job itself isn't going well, it will only increase stress to talk about it more. You should go about your business in practice and do what you need to do. But at home, it helps me to not talk about cricket."
"I have to thank my coaches and parents for supporting me" - Hari Nishaanth
Hari Nishaanth hasn't forgotten the people who've helped him get to where he is today. He explained how he was flooded with calls after being picked by CSK, and said that day only reinforced how much support he has from friends and well-wishers.
"I've always believed that people liked me. But once I was picked, I was flooded with calls and messages. I could truly see that so many people have supported me. Whoever called me and wished me, I am really thankful for them. I couldn't have come this far without their prayers and strength."
Hari Nishaanth made it a point to thank the coaches who've helped him become the cricketer he is today. He also expressed his gratitude towards SNR Sons Managing Trustee and President of the Coimbatore District Cricket Association, D Lakshminarayanaswamy, for his constant support over the years.
"I have to thank my coaches and parents as well for supporting me. When I was in Udumalpet, Ethiraj sir and Prabhakar sir helped me a lot. And in Coimbatore, Guruswamy sir has been the main coach for me. I've also worked with Vinod sir. I have to thank the SNR management and DL sir (D Lakshminarayanaswamy), who made me study with a scholarship from Class 6."
Hari Nishaanth illustrated how A.G Guruswamy, who is one of the finest cricketing minds in Coimbatore, has made minute adjustments to his technique and truly unlocked his potential with astute observations. He added that it's important to take feedback from childhood coaches, as they know your game inside-out.
"Guruswamy sir helped me a lot in terms of technique. Many people say that it's not possible to make changes to technique at 24-25 years old. But if you've been with a coach since childhood, he knows you well. All we need is discipline with our goals in mind."
The road to the IPL hasn't been easy for the 24-year-old Hari Nishaanth. But the obstacles he has had to overcome have given him the strength he needs to face any challenge head-on. The only way, henceforth, is up.