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Indrajith rides the highs and lows to lead Tamil Nadu's Ranji Trophy challenge

At the start of the 2023-24 season, he was left out of the team. Now he is their key batter, preparing to play a quarter-final against Saurashtra

Deivarayan Muthu
B Indrajith: I want to play at a higher level, but I'm just going with the flow these days  •  PTI

B Indrajith: I want to play at a higher level, but I'm just going with the flow these days  •  PTI

Since the start of 2017, Tamil Nadu's B Indrajith has averaged 63.60 in 42 first-class games - the highest among all batters in the world who have played at least 40 matches during this period. Pathum Nissanka (61.80), Kane Williamson (61.51), Kamindu Mendis (61.24), Afghanistan's Bahir Shah (60.90) and Rinku Singh (56) slot in behind Indrajith. He wants to step up to the next level, to graduate to international cricket, but it hasn't happened yet, partly because it's been seven years since his team has qualified for the Ranji Trophy knockouts. No big game, no chance to be a big player.
This time though, Tamil Nadu have made it to the final eight and Indrajith will bring his remarkable consistency to a quarter-final clash with the defending champions Saurashtra in Coimbatore later this week. Having racked up 606 runs in seven league fixtures this season at an average of 75.75, this is Indrajith's chance to go bigger and produce a Sarfaraz Khan-like season.
Indrajith enters the quarter-finals on the back of a 98 against a strong Karnataka attack in Chennai and a 187 against a decent Punjab attack in Salem. He will have a stiffer challenge dealing with Jaydev Unadkat and Co. but Indrajith isn't putting too much pressure on himself.
"It's about how you take it [pressure]," he tells ESPNcricinfo. "At the start of the season, I didn't think about these expectations and I was just focussed on scoring runs for the team. I'm not ignoring the expectations - those thoughts will come - but at the same time I tell myself to keep doing the same things which I've been doing.
"Once you go into the middle and play 15-20 balls, you will forget these thoughts and be immersed in the game. And given it's a quarter-final, the adrenaline rush will automatically be there for the players. We also beat Saurashtra the last time we played in Chennai, but a knockout is anyone's game."
The 2023-24 season had started poorly for Indrajith. He was seen as surplus to requirements. After being ignored for the Duleep Trophy, he was left out of Tamil Nadu's squad for the 20-overs Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy.
"It's a part of the journey," he says. "Initially, it [selection snubs] left me dejected. When you perform, you believe you can play at a higher level and people around you will also expect you to make the step up. I feel it's natural to have those expectations. When I'm not there in the team, I've questioned myself.
"But I'm out of that space now. I want to play at a higher level, but I'm just going with the flow these days and hope the timing is right for me. When the [negative] thoughts come again, I share it with Apar [B Aparajith, his twin brother] and even after every match, I discuss [cricket] with him."
Indrajith was Tamil Nadu's highest run-getter in the 50-over Vijay Hazare Trophy, with 330 runs in seven innings at an average of 66 and strike rate of 90. He credits that run and this one in the Ranji Trophy to his pre-season prep, which included working with Arjun Basu, the son of former India trainer Shankar Basu.
"I didn't do anything extra on the skill part, but I did a lot of gym and running," Indrajith says. "Apart from that, I put emphasis on the mental aspect and did a lot of yoga. I also did a spiritual inner engineering course because I felt that if my mindset is right, I will be able to manage anything on the field with my skill-set. I'm at the stage of my life where every match is important for me and I want to make sure I tick every box."
Indrajith hit an unbeaten 103 off 98 balls against Mumbai to lead Tamil Nadu into the Vijay Hazare semi-finals, but he suffered a freak injury before he was due to bat in the knockout game against Haryana, falling face-first while stepping out of the ice bath. With deep cuts on his upper lip, requiring his mouth to be taped, Indrajith walked out to bat at No. 5 in Tamil Nadu's chase, top-scoring for them with 64 off 71 balls.
"I was bleeding, and I went into a shock - my legs started shaking," Indrajith recalls. "I was supposed to go in at No. 3; the doctors then told me I might not be able play after being stitched up. So, I asked them to tape me up and decided to get it stitched up after the match. After the bleeding stopped, I went in, and I couldn't call [for runs] because I couldn't open my mouth. There was no thought for me to not bat for TN because I've not been part of certain teams before. It was a semi-final game - when I was out there with Sai [Kishore], we needed about 100 from ten overs; very upset that we were not able to cross the line."
The ice-bath accident left Indrajith with sleepless nights for a full week, but he overcame it and got into the red-ball grind. He has the reputation of being 'TN's tough runs man' and he enhanced it with 98 in a steep fourth-innings chase, which the team nearly pulled off against Karnataka on a sharp Chepauk turner, in front of India chief selector Ajit Agarkar. He was either right forward or right back and barely got beaten even as Karnataka's spinners challenged his edge.
In one of his Youtube videos, R Ashwin rated Indrajith as one of the best players of spin in Tamil Nadu along with B Sai Sudharsan. Those skills could prove vital against Dharmendrasinh Jadeja on a black-soil track in Coimbatore.
"I usually use my feet well and it's not like every time I step out, I go aerial," Indrajith says. "I try to find the angles and the gaps, and I try to put pressure on the bowler to change his length. I also tend to use my crease - so when I step out, they bowl flat but at that time I try to go deep in the crease. My [personal] coach S Balaji sir [former Railways player] instilled this in me when I was very young. On a fourth-day Chepauk pitch, hitting inside-out with the spin seemed like a percentage shot for me. I'm also comfortable going against the spin, but it depends on the pitch and conditions."
When Tamil Nadu had just one point after two Ranji Trophy rounds, not many expected them to qualify for the knockouts. Now that they're finally here, they want to make a statement.
"After the loss to Gujarat, we still had the belief that we could win games," Indrajith says. "Sometimes you just need that one game to kickstart things. Apart from the batters doing well, the bowlers have stepped up and taken 20 wickets in almost all games.
"Even against good teams like Karnataka and Punjab, we were able to push for an outright win. The fourth-innings chase against Karnataka was almost like a win and that gives us confidence. Our captain Sai Kishore keeps the team positive and always has that winning mentality, which has made a difference."

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo