October 21, 2013

'I'm working on becoming a genuine allrounder'

Subash Jayaraman: You are only 19 years old and you have already been a part of a successful Under-19 World Cup, had an IPL contract with CSK, and you are a part of the Under-23 squad and you are now Duleep Trophy for South Zone. How have you handled this rise, especially all the attention that comes with it?

Baba Aparajith: It has been a really good year for me. I have got into the first-class state teams and the CSK team. It has been a nice journey till now. Hopefully this continues and I keep working on my game, keep performing. It does not add any pressure on me, but it is a really good challenge to play with all these teams in all these formats.

After the Under-19 World Cup win, there was a lot of media. I got used to it. It was a little different for me - so many people gathering for one person, at the Chennai Airport as well. It was... not difficult, I would say, but a little different seeing so many people [come out] for me.

SJ: Let's talk about the Under-19 World Cup tournament itself. That was in Australia. You played a key role and you were the Man of the Match in the quarter-final against Pakistan and you were also in the semi-final and you were quite close to being named the Player of the Tournament itself. What was the overall experience of being a part of a World Cup-winning squad and going through the various stages of the tournament?

BA: It was a very good experience to win a World Cup in Australia against Australia. Winning a World Cup for the country - what more do you want at 18? Those kinds of experiences, going through good phases and bad phases - because we didn't start well in the tournament - it was a very good comeback by us, we all stuck together, we all wanted to win. We really prepared well. It was a one and a half year journey. We started one year before, playing quadrangular series in Vizag. We went to the Asia Cup and a quadrangular series in Australia as well. All these preparatory tournaments helped us to win the World Cup.

SJ: What was your role in the team? Of course, you are an allrounder - you bowl offspin and you bat. In terms of keeping the team motivated and keeping everybody in line in terms of the eyes on the prize, is there any specific role for you? Or do everyone follow what the coach and your captain, Unmukt Chand, say?

BA: I am a quiet boy in the team. But there were a few characters in the team who were really good and kept the team motivated. It is mostly the coach and the captain who tell us what to do. We had a very good support staff. Those five people were the key to our success. They gave really good feedback. If it was wrong, they said, "This is not going well, you can always improve on this."

SJ: There was this one comment made by Ian Chappell - the reason why Indian youth teams, especially, do pretty well is because they play a whole lot of matches, compared to your opponents in Australia or New Zealand. Did you guys feel that when going into the World Cup you had the advantage of having a lot of experience behind you?

BA: Maybe yes, a little bit. Match practice is very, very, very important. Before the World Cup, or before any tournament that we went for Under-19 matches, we had a lot of practice matches at Bangalore before the camps. That really helped us. In the matches, the bonding is more and the team really comes up well. You know everybody's strengths and weaknesses.

SJ: You recently scored your personal best first class score on your debut in the Duleep Trophy - 212. You followed that up with another century, against Central Zone. As a batsman, of your age especially, take me through the mental and physical experience of scoring a double-hundred.

BA: The past one and a half months have been really good. I think it's because I was following good routines. I was in good form. Before that, I played a tournament at Hyderabad, I went for the India A tournament at Bangalore. In these two tournaments, I did well. Next followed this tournament.

Getting a double-hundred on debut is really good. It required good mental strength because after, say, a hundred, you feel very tired and you have to push yourself mentally as well as physically. After 100, 150, you should push yourself a lot. Hopefully, when I get to 100 next time, these experiences will help me.

SJ: How do you set your goals? What is your approach to the wicket? And, once you get your eye in, what is your goal? Let's say, once you go past 50 and then 100, your physical fatigue sets in, your mental fatigue sets in. People who do it for 20 years like Sachin now, they know how exactly it works. But for someone discovering the ability to bat for a long time, how does it work?

BA: Actually, for every batsman at the start of the innings, you just want to keep following a good process and watch the ball and play the ball and keep it as simple as possible. Don't think about runs, just approach the game as it comes. Watch the ball closely, just play the ball. After a few minutes, when you start hitting the ball properly, when you feel confident, from there you take on the game. You assess the wicket properly and know what kind of wicket it is, what kind of bowling they are bowling. The first few minutes are the key moments for the batsman because that is when he assesses the wicket and the opponents' bowling attack.

Once you get to the fifty, you know that the first fifty is the most difficult part and the second fifty will be easier. You should concentrate, but you should not think for too long. I don't think too long, just play one ball at a time - keep playing that ball. Because, when you do well in the present, the future will take care of itself because once you are playing the present, enjoying the present, watching the ball now, that will be the best part of the batting.

SJ: You have played different formats. Is there any particular format that you prefer as a batsman and as a bowler?

BA: I think I like all three formats but I feel I like Test cricket more than the others.

SJ: You are playing with and against a lot of the players that you must have been a fan of growing up. For example, Yuvraj Singh, or playing in the Duleep Trophy final against Sehwag and Harbhajan. Dinesh Karthik is a team-mate, and when you are with CSK there are Dhoni and Ashwin and all these guys. What was that experience like, mingling with all these guys that you were a fan of?

BA: It was a little different from watching them on the TV and a few months later playing with them. It was a little different but it was very nice. We can learn a lot from them - see what they are doing at the nets, what they are doing off and on the field, you can learn a lot of stuff from them. During the IPL, to meet players like Hussey, Dhoni and all international players was a great experience. SJ: How approachable are they, or how ready are they to share their cricket knowledge with the youngsters?

BA: They are very, very, very nice to us because whenever we go to them they are very much approachable. They talk. When we ask something, they explain without any queries. Players like Hussey... I was a little scared to talk to him, but when I talked to him I felt really good because he was talking as if he was at my age, 18-year-old boy. It was really fun to work with them.

With Ashwin and Badri I have played with in the Tamil Nadu team. So I know them personally well. I can always approach them. The others, I haven't spoken too much, I have not communicated much.

SJ: I read this one report in the newspaper that you had played in the same team during a TNCA first-division match with Rahul Dravid. What was that experience like, interacting with an absolute legend of the game? I believe you also fielded alongside him in the slips.

BA: It was a dream come true for me. It was the final of the first division and I got a hundred in that game as well. He congratulated me - that was one of the best moments for me. He has always been my idol. Playing with him, being in the same team, sharing the dressing room with him was one of the best matches. And fielding with him at the slips was also great. We didn't interact much, but a few little inputs he gave when I came in and shared the dressing room. I was cramping up a bit and he said, "Push harder, this is where your mental strength lies." And those kinds of words from a player like Rahul Dravid whom I idolised really motivated me.

SJ: You played for India A v West Indies A, one of the one-dayers recently. You scored 78 opening the batting in 90 balls or so. What modifications did you do to your game when playing a one-dayer, as opposed to, say, a four-day game? Or do you approach the same way?

BA: I approach them the same way. At the start of the innings, keep one ball at a time, watch the ball, play the ball, and keep it as simple as possible. But obviously, in the one-day game, the game plan is a little different. You are looking for runs always and the settling time is a little lesser than the four-day games.

SJ: You bat up in the order a lot of the time, and you bowl offspin. Do you consider yourself to be a batsman who bowls or do you consider yourself a full time allrounder?

BA: I just want to be a genuine allrounder. I am working on it. At the moment I am a little higher on batting than bowling, but my aim is to become a genuine allrounder and contribute in both ways - batting and bowling.

SJ: There is a question from a listener, Sankar Anand, and this relates to your preparation. You have to focus on your batting and your bowling probably equally to be an allrounder. What preparation work goes into that? Do you work twice as hard as every other player in the team? What is the approach?

BA: As you say, it takes a little more time, but not much of a difference in it. For a pure batsman, you can bat longer periods but for an allrounder, you must separate the time for batting as well as bowling. If you are interested and passionate about it, you have to do that.

SJ: There is a question from another listener, Srinivasan. How has your life changed after you got an IPL contract for the 2013 season? You were in the squad but didn't get to play. Were you just happy to be there or were you slightly frustrated that you weren't getting a chance?

BA: Not really. I was just happy to be there. I knew it was a little difficult for me to get a chance. It was a nice start for me. It was a good experience at the IPL - playing and travelling with the team and seeing how it goes. It was a very nice experience and now I will be more prepared for it next year. Last season, I just saw what is going on, what is happening, what I need to improve, what areas I have to strengthen myself. It was a nice experience, it was a good start.

SJ: Are there times when you are sitting on the bench and you thought "Hey! Maybe I could do better than the other guy that is playing"?

BA: That, at some points you get. But I always feel that everyone has a bad day, everyone has a good day. You can't judge them really well on a particular day. Even I have a bad day and sometimes I have a good day. You can't judge anyone and say, "I am better than him." or "I could have done better than that."

SJ: There is a question from a listener, Arjun Ashok. What do you think of your brother Indrajith as a cricketer? He is a leggie, and you are the offie. So who is the better spinner and who is the better batsman of the two?

BA: I can't judge, but we both are good, I would say. He has done really well this season. He has been working really hard this season, he has been picked in the Ranji side. Hopefully he does really well this year.

SJ: So you are not going to say who is the better batsman?

BA: I am not able to judge. Someone else will have to tell. I can't tell about my brother.

SJ: So when you guys come home, is there is a continued discussion on cricket or do you stop discussing it when you leave the field?

BA: We discuss a lot of cricket off the field. He gives me a lot of inputs, I give him a lot of inputs. That is more reliable. Apart from our coach, my brother is the most reliable person because he can easily sense what I am doing, what I am not doing, as he is always there at the practice. He has seen me from childhood days so he knows what I am not doing right, am I out of my zone etc. Even for me, I can always tell him if he is not doing right. We discuss a lot of cricket off the field.

SJ: Your father, Dr Baba, is currently the media manager for the Indian cricket team. Does that bring any additional attention on you? Are you scrutinised or criticised more than others because you are son of the media manager?

BA: Not at all, because not many people know that he is the media manager. As I said, my part is to just perform, and the other things, the uncontrollable things, I just don't care about. I just want to perform and keep control of myself and do what I am doing. I just try and keep performing as long as possible.

SJ: Are you continuing on to college? How much does education feature in your future plans?

BA: I have joined college already. I think education is one of the most important things. Side by side, I will be doing something that is also a key part. I am not sure what I would be doing, but I would be doing something.

SJ: In terms of cricketing goals, do you have things in mind? You are 19. Do you have a goal of "Hey, I want to break into the Indian team by the time I am 22 or 23"? Do you have any short-term or long-term goals?

BA: Not at all. Main ambition is to play for the country, but no aim in short-term or long term. There aren't any goals like I have to play like this or that. Whenever it happens, it will happen. My thinking is not like that, to get into the Indian team at 21 or 22, nothing like that.