CUTTACK: “One thing that I have realised is that when you do get a chance, you have to be prepared for it. The desire to do well should be there, but not pressure.” This remark by Baba Aparajith may very well seem like a rehashed pearl of wisdom from a self-help book, but the 23-year-old had literally lived out those words at the DRIEMS cricket ground on Friday, even before saying them.
A century during the second day of a crunch encounter — Tamil Nadu’s fourth group clash against Odisha — definitely qualifies as a reification of that line of thought.
A cricketer notching up a ton during a must-win clash is anything but rare in the sport, but a recollection of Aparajith’s recent past adds a good amount of profundity to his unbeaten essay of 109.
Despite being the batting highlight of Tamil Nadu’s opener against Andhra Pradesh (51 and 108 n.o), Aparajith was shunted to the sidelines against Mumbai, after the completion of his India A obligations. Though this might look like a selection anomaly, rewinding the clock a bit further paints a different picture altogether.
During last year’s Ranji season, the Chennai native’s willow-wielding statistics took a nosedive during Tamil Nadu’s first few matches. That snowballed into a detention of sorts, as he was tasked with Colonel CK Nayudu Trophy duty. He returned to the state’s fold after a few fixtures, but couldn’t course-correct his batting numbers. He ended the season with 153 runs in 11 innings, at an average of 17.
“I’ve been a part of IPL teams and not played in their final XI. So I’ve gotten used to it. I try to enjoy my cricket, and I realised that I needed to enjoy it a little more. That’s when I get the best out of me. Last year was tough, but I came back. I learnt a lot from it, and those lessons are keeping me in good stead,” was how Aparajith synopsised his eventual bounce-back.
This year, a good outing during Tamil Nadu’s Vijay Hazare triumph (he was their third-highest scorer with 282 runs), three back-to-back fifties towards the end of Thiruvallur Veerans’ campaign in the Tamil Nadu Premier League, and India U-23 and India A call-ups served as a tangible indicator of Aparajith’s potential.
That, and the overtaking of his overall Ranji Trophy numbers from last time around in only three innings (268 runs with the same as average).
Aparajith ascribes this turnaround to three factors: mental conditioning, a supportive environment, and hard work.
“I’ve been working with Sujith Somasunder for the past one-and-a-half years. I can’t tell exactly what all he’s told me, but our focus is on mental strength.
“Apart from that, my personal coach, (S) Balaji sir, (JR) Madanagopal sir, Tamil Nadu’s support staff — from (Hrishikesh) Kanitkar to (R) Prasanna to Bala bhai (L Balaji) — have all helped me.”