There is always more than one way to reach any destination. If you need proof of that axiom, look no further than the second ODI against Sri Lanka, which India won by a slender yet reassuring margin.
The struggle to score 143 notwithstanding, India can now look their opponents in the eye and say, "if we play good cricket we can definitely beat you," as M. S. Dhoni rightly pointed out. While Zaheer Khan and Dhoni did what was expected of them as senior pros, India's win was book-ended by two of the newest owners of the India cap — Virat Kohli and S Badrinath.
Kohli, almost representative of the new India, spiked hair and flashy diamond earring, played a brand of aggressive yet efficient cricket that showed him a way to stay at the crease and still score at an acceptable rate. His stroke-play evokes shades of Robin Uthappa, the face of the bat open when driving to the off, sending the ball square rather than straight and contrastingly, the bat face closed when whipping the ball through on around the front pad.
Badrinath is more a throwback to the past. Already 28, with a wealth of domestic and India A cricket under the belt, he began as a batsman who played straight and grafted for runs. Often a century was chanceless, but it took a long time coming. Over the years, though, Badri has reinvented himself, matching the demands of the times. He not only has a wide array of shots, he runs hard between the wickets and is capable of innovation, as success in the IPL shows.
While Kohli set things up with a crucial 37, Badri sealed the deal, with an unbeaten 27. The two could not have chosen more differing paths in their journey to the top of the cricketing ladder. Kohli has played a mere 11 first-class matches, and even leading the Under-19 team to World Cup triumph did not persuade his home state, Delhi, into picking him for the IPL. He had a torrid time with the Bangalore IPL team, scoring just 165 runs from 13 matches. As luck would have it, though, when he was playing in the Emerging Nations tournament, chairman of selectors Dilip Vengsarkar was present to witness his unbeaten 120 against New Zealand Emerging Players' XI.
Sometimes, all it takes is for one influential person, and who more than the Chairman of Selectors, to watch a special innings, and you are pitchforked into the limelight. This is not to say that Kohli has not worked hard at his cricket over the years, but certainly others have worked harder, with better results.
Badri's route has been a more tried-and-tested one, in many ways. Heavy scoring in age-group cricket won him a Tamil Nadu spot. From there, season after season at the top of the charts, or very close, prompted selection in the India A team.
Badri then piled on the runs there as well, only to find, to his mounting frustration, that an India call-up was elusive. The closest Badri came to playing for India was when he was in the squad for the ODIs against Australia in 2007, when Gautam Gambhir was injured, but he never played and soon found others passing him by, even though he was scoring consistently.
It was in this context that the ICL hoped to capitalise on Badri's frustration, offering him Rs 1.5 crore for a three-year contract. To his credit, Badri refused, and told his close friends that he could never throw away that chance to play for India, no matter how much money was involved. "I was part of the dressing-room once, and Sachin Tendulkar was pulling my leg and making me feel at home. I wanted to experience that feeling again," he had said then.
It turned out to be a wise decision as Lady Luck, who had seemingly turned her back on Badri, had a twist in store. With Sachin Tendulkar injuring his elbow in the final Test, Badri made it to the squad. When Virender Sehwag turned his ankle, he won a place in the eleven.
Kohli has age on his side, while Badri has experience under the belt, and the journeys they have travelled are distinctly different. But now that they have fulfilled that burning ambition — to play for India — what they do from here on, will determine if they're just another in the long line of people to play a handful of ODIs for India, or something far more substantial.