Indrajith, the crisis man, prefers doing the job quietly

PC – Indrajith. The Tamil Nadu batter has been in a rich vein of form in first-class cricket

“I love listening to music, and that includes any song in Tamil,” says Baba Indrajith in an exclusive interview with RevSportz.

The rhythm of music also connects with how Indrajith goes about scoring his runs in first-class cricket. A case in point would be the 2024 Ranji Trophy semi-final between Tamil Nadu and Mumbai at the Sharad Pawar Cricket Academy Stadium, where Indrajith’s willow seemed to be in tune with a mixture of intense and soothing music.

Tamil Nadu were three down for just 10 in their second innings and were already in arrears by more than 200 runs. Indrajith, however, was a picture of calmness. On a green seamer, he was watchful while facing the pace duo of Shardul Thakur and Mohit Avasthi. Only when he was gifted with a full toss, did Indrajith bring out the cover drive. He also essayed some delightful flick shots while facing the two spinners, Musheer Khan and Shams Mulani. 

Yes, he eventually edged a probing delivery bowled in the one-square-foot window outside the off-stump by Awasthi. But his knock of 70 was an extension of how Indrajith has gone about soaking up the pressure since the start of 2017; a period in which the middle-order batter is consistently averaging in the 60s in first-class cricket. 

“It is important to build partnerships, we were about 220 runs behind. We didn’t want to lose the game very badly. My goal was to give them a good fight. There is scoreboard pressure, knockout pressure, but it is important how you channelise your thoughts. I have a pattern of playing and I try to focus on that. So that these kinds of thoughts die down soon.”

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It has to be remembered that just one small mistake would result in a batter taking a walk back to the pavilion. Simply put, a batter’s struggles are with himself/herself as much as it is related to the bowler that he or she is up against. Even the great Don Bradman once noted that batting is “a nerve-racking business”, as quoted in The Art of Cricket. And that is where mental toughness comes into the equation.

Indrajith has this to say about how he worked on the mental aspect of his game. “I haven’t added anything new to my skill. But I have focused a lot on my fitness. Fitness aspect, I was training with Arjun Basu sir’s son, former Indian trainer’s son. From the mental aspect, I did a lot of courses. I did an inner-engineering course from Isha Foundation. I did a lot of yoga, I also went to Isha Foundation for 4-5 days. It is important for me to work on my mind, whenever I get the time before the season (starts).”

The 2023 Vijay Hazare Trophy gave further confirmation of how Indrajith continues to win his mental battles. The No. 3 bat had guided Tamil Nadu to the semifinals by notching up a superlative 103 in the last-eight. In the subsequent game against Haryana, Indrajith suffered a freak injury before he was set to bat. While coming out of the ice-bath, he fell and sustained deep cuts on his upper lip. He still went out to bat with his mouth taped and composed a valiant hand of 64.

“Yes, I was upset that a freak incident happened as I couldn’t go out to bat at my designated position at 3. We were in a spot of bother again when I went into bat. There was a deep cut, but it was important to contribute to the team’s cause. I asked them to tape me, and I will take stitches after the game. I was very determined to do well for my team, because I know the struggles that I have had in the past. 

“I was not part of the team for the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy when the domestic season started. I was a bit upset about all those things, so I was working really hard. I didn’t want to leave out any opportunity. I wanted to make every opportunity count. It was difficult for me to call for the runs initially, because of the bandage. But once I played out 20-30 balls, I got used to it. For the next 15 days, it was very bad. These things happen in cricket. One freak incident that didn’t happen on the field but off the field,” he pointed out.

The domestic season also witnessed Indrajith composing a backs-to-the-wall 98 against Karnataka. In pursuit of a target of 355, it was yet again the crisis-man, Indrajith, who took on the gauntlet of facing a formidable attack. At one point of time, Tamil Nadu were in trouble at 199 for five, but Indrajith and Vijay Shankar didn’t just prop up the side but put them on course for a momentous win. 

Unfortunately, Indrajith was run out with the score reading 324 and his side had to settle for a draw. “The recent game against Karnataka. It would have been a historic chase, but that kind of experience is something that I haven’t had before. It felt like we won the game.”

A profile on Indrajith can’t just be on the highlights of his cricketing journey. He has a twin brother, Baba Aparajith. As the two have carved out fine careers in the same profession, it has naturally aroused a sense of curiosity. The brothers are identical, and stories abound as to how people have failed to identify who is Indrajith and who is Aparajith. 

In fact, many years ago, in a junior game played in Hyderabad, the scorer had requested their parents to assist him in differentiating between the twins. Intriguingly, even their parents had found it a bit difficult in helping the scorer perform his task. 

This writer had encountered an interesting incident surrounding the identity of the twins. In 2016, while covering a Ranji Trophy game between Gujarat and Tamil Nadu, yours truly had requested the manager to arrange for an interview with Aparajith. Ultimately, the manager obliged. When the supposed interviewee came out, the manager said, ‘here is Aparajith’. But the aforementioned person turned out to be Indrajith, who duly corrected the mistake. In a nutshell, the striking similarities between the pair have puzzled one and all.

So, how does Indrajith look at his bond with Aparajith? Perhaps comparisons and competition are inevitable for the twins? “Right from a young age, we have played the same game, we have played with the same set-ups. But once the U-19 World Cup came, we were part of different teams. He was selected for the Indian team, but I wasn’t there. 

“Automatically, people started comparing. We have a very good rapport, there was no competition between us. When you’re sitting at home and your brother is playing at a higher level… that kept me pushing. Comparisons are normal when you’re twins, when you’re on the same path. Sometimes he might click, sometimes I might click. Those two years, I learnt a lot, because even after the U-19 World Cup, we played the Ranji Trophy, (and) everything was happening for him. Looking back, those years helped me to become who I am today.”

Having played together for long, the twosome would have stitched numerous partnerships of substance. Indrajith picks out one game, where the brothers exhibited their skills. “Apar and I got hundreds in the same game (versus Chhattisgarh in the 2021-22 Ranji Trophy) and that was a special moment for us,” he quips.

Indrajith, who will be 30 this year, is at the peak of batting prowess. Just like any other athlete, he would have ambitions of wearing the India cap and playing top-flight cricket. But even if that dream doesn’t materialise, you expect Indrajith to quietly go about his job of collecting runs, an activity synonymous with the melody of music. 

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