<
>

Out of twin's shadow, Indrajith shines in the TN spotlight

B Indrajith defends B Indrajith

Until recently, B Indrajith was merely the other Baba twin. His brother, Aparajith, was the more recognisable name, given his exploits in India's Under-19 World Cup triumph in 2012, when he was the Man of the Match in the quarter-finals and semi-finals. Aparajith then established himself as a key allrounder for Tamil Nadu in domestic cricket.

Six years on, there's some reversal. Indrajith, who soaked in that World Cup victory in anonymity, is now Tamil Nadu's captain and the bedrock of the state's batting line-up.

Indrajith's rise began last season, when he hit a back-to-the wall double-hundred on his Duleep Trophy debut and later made a remarkable 152 against Mumbai at the BKC ground. In both innings, he marshalled the tail and took calculated risks.

Having supplied the spine into Tamil Nadu's shaky middle order, Indrajith was rewarded with the vice-captaincy of the side. A long-standing shoulder injury, however, forced him out of a large chunk of the 2017-18 domestic season. Upon his return, he struck a century in the Duleep Trophy in August this year and followed it with 401 runs in nine innings at an average of 66.83 and strike-rate of 107.50 in the 50-over Vijay Hazare Trophy. Subsequently, he was elevated to the captaincy and celebrated it with an unbeaten 103 against Madhya Pradesh in Tamil Nadu's Ranji Trophy opener in Dindigul.

"Since we're twins, it's easy for people to compare. He started playing for India; things weren't too different but people tended to compare more. I was something new for me, it was a bit difficult, and it helped me mature. That made me understand we are two different cricketers and individuals." Indrajith on comparisons with his twin brother Aparajith

"I've been doing well in domestic cricket since last year but I had to take the call of undergoing surgery last December because I had been carrying the shoulder injury for a long time," Indrajith told ESPNcricinfo. "Playing in the shorter formats, you need to throw the ball and field. You can't play without a throw. I touched the cricket bat only after three months following surgery. I've never had this long a break without playing cricket and it was mentally tough but spending time with friends and family helped me overcome the stress. Doing the rehab at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bengaluru and in Chennai kept me motivated.

"I was still initially nervous and it felt slightly different to start this season because I was coming back from the longest break in my career. I did well in the Duleep Trophy, though, and was in rhythm in the Vijay Hazare and it has given me the belief that I am closer to playing a higher level of cricket. I was in the India A squad to face the touring Australians in 2016-17 but didn't get to play. I am not part of the India A squad for the New Zealand tour, but I feel I have made an impact and I am getting closer to making it to India A, if I keep performing consistently."

Things were far from rosy for Indrajith, however, during his early years. While Aparajith shot to prominence after winning the Under-19 World Cup, Indrajith, who was in contention for selection but missed the final cut, was "let down" by the snub for about six months.

"His parents asked me to deal with the situation," S Balaji, former Railways player and the twins' personal coach, said. "Inder was let down by the Under-19 drop and I could read it in his face that he was upset. I had one-to-one sessions with Inder, tried to make a few jokes, and change the topic. But every time I met him I could see the disappointment on his face, and it took about six months for us to get Inder right."

Aparajith had made his Ranji Trophy debut for Tamil Nadu at the age of 17 in November 2011, before the Under-19 World Cup. Indrajith had to wait two more years to break into the Ranji side. While Aparajith went on to have stints with India A and Chennai Super Kings in the IPL, Indrajith was struggling to nail down his place in the Tamil Nadu XI. He scored only 1124 runs in his first 33 innings in first-class cricket across three seasons, and doubts began to creep into his mind.

"I put too much pressure on myself, and I wasn't able to focus on my batting," Indrajith said. "Initially, I had a lean patch and that taught me what not to do. I was focusing too much on my numbers and doubting myself back then."

Comparisons with Aparajith continued, but Indrajith is now mature enough to understand that they are "two different cricketers and individuals".

"Right from the young age, there have always been comparisons with Apar," Indrajith said. "Since we're twins, it's easy for people to compare. Till the 2012 Under-19 World Cup, we used to play all tournaments together and there was never a difference. He started playing for India; things weren't too different but people tended to compare more. It was something new for me, it was a bit difficult, and it helped me mature. That made me understand we are two different cricketers and individuals. He could play Ranji first, I might play some other tournament first. We both are different, and we don't have any egos. Whatever others might say, we can't go in the same direction throughout our careers but we always help each other."

So, who's the better cricketer? "We both are equally good…but when it comes to FIFA on PlayStation, I'm the best," Indrajith quipped.