CHENNAI: Since being dropped from the India A set-up in 2017, Tamil Nadu's Baba Aparajith has seen others go up the pecking order. Part of India's Under-19 World Cup-winning team where he had an outstanding tournament in Australia, the all-rounder has been on the fringes before, most notably with India A teams – considered the feeder system. In no time, he almost disappeared from the national radar, not even finding a place in the Duleep Trophy teams. And on Tuesday, Aparajith received news that he least expected -- he was named in the India A team for the upcoming tour of South Africa.
Aparajith was in Lucknow, preparing to head to Delhi to feature in the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20s, where Tamil Nadu are scheduled to play in the quarterfinals. Instead, as the city was receiving a heavy downpour, he landed in Chennai on Wednesday with just a few days left before he joins India A team. “I can't even say I was expecting or surprised,” Aparajith said. “Because I didn't even know such a series is lined up. So this was totally out of the blue for me.” One can understand why he says. Although he has received the call-up, Aparajith hasn't had a standout season in the Ranji Trophy, but in the 2019/20 Vijay Hazare Trophy he sent a strong reminder tallying 598 runs and backed it with 217 in only five matches last season.
It can be a hard place for cricketers when they totally slip out of the national radar. When state teammates move ahead, staying back and doing the hard grind in nondescript city grounds, turning up in the TNCA first division, can be hard at times. Apart from slipping down the pecking order, Aparajith has also lost the state captaincy and to be back in the reckoning in itself sounds quite an achievement, especially when all of these things happened even before he turned 24.
“There was no bigger motivation than playing,” Aparajith said of those tough days. “The whole aspect of playing the sport is because you love the sport. If you don't do that, you won't find motivation elsewhere. The selection and all these things are recognition of playing well and you will feel happy about it. But even when those things are not there to look forward to, to keep growing and develop as a cricketer, you need to have love of the sport. I believe that is the biggest motivation.”
The right-handed top-order batsman, who bowls off-spin, also banks on spirituality and enjoying the odd day out with close friends. That his close circle of friends also includes the likes of Dinesh Karthik, Abhinav Mukund, Malolan Rangarajan and his twin brother Indrajith too have helped Aparajith shape himself better. A keen observer, who prefers not to ask questions, Aparajith said his main focus is to continue what he has been doing now.
“I know it has really been a very long time since I was part of A tours. But at the end of the day, I was clear in one aspect. I'm extremely driven when it comes to getting better in whatever I do. I wanted to be equipped better to face the different situations that come my way. So be it first division or Ranji Trophy… I wanted to just get better as a batter or as a bowler. When you keep it simple, it is also easy to follow it as a process,” said Aparajith.
With the national team short of top-order batsmen who can bowl, the likes of Aparajith would be keenly watched by the selectors. Though he is more of a batter, Aparajith can be counted on to bowl his quota of overs and keep things tight. In List A and T20s, his economy rate of 4.81 and 5.85 shows how bankable he is with the ball, especially in limited-overs. At India A, Aparajith will get opportunities to show his worth, and it is something he is looking forward to.
“I know these things are there. But it will be far-fetched for me to think about those things right now. My priority with the bat and ball is to perform to my abilities. Now that I've got a break, it is important to take one step at a time,” he said.