'In the zone' Aparajith aces the Vijay Hazare Trophy with his all-round show

The Manchester United fan put up a stellar performance despite a family bereavement midway through the tournament

B Aparajith knocks the ball to the leg side  •  NurPhoto/Getty Images

B Aparajith knocks the ball to the leg side  •  NurPhoto/Getty Images

Five hundred-plus runs with the bat. Ten-plus wickets with the ball. And if he doesn't get you with bat or ball, he gets you in the field. Case in point: his direct hit to run out Gujarat's Piyush Chawla in the Vijay Hazare Trophy semi-final on Thursday. All of this, despite a family bereavement midway through the tournament.
B Aparajith's paternal grandfather passed away on the eve of Tamil Nadu's Group C clash against Railways in Jaipur. But he stayed back with the team and produced a brilliant, all-round performance - 4 for 30 and 111 not out - to trump Railways.
Aparajith downplayed it, saying, "I was just in the zone and things happened."
He brings up "I was just in the zone" quite a few times during this conversation with ESPNcricinfo even as R Ashwin engages in some friendly banter, screaming: "Come on, Apar."
Much like his batting and bowling, Aparajith's fantasy football team is on the rise as well. His only worry for now is the form - or the lack of it - of Manchester United.
"I'm still a fan of Manchester United, but I don't boast about it much these days," Aparajith laughs. "But [in] these 11 games in the Vijay Hazare we've done well as a unit and I'm personally happy with my form as well. When your contributions result in victory, it obviously brings more satisfaction."
While Aparajith has been one of the batting leaders of Tamil Nadu's middle order for a while, it is the way his bowling has come along that has been a surprise. Given Tamil Nadu's wealth of spin options, Aparajith was often deemed surplus to the side's requirements, but the team needed him this season, especially when Ashwin was unavailable and Washington Sundar was recovering from a niggle.
Aparajith explained that captain Dinesh Karthik had "defined his role" during the pre-season camp in Tirupur and credited his senior for making him dig deep into his reserves.
"I have got good feedback and confidence from the captain when I'm bowling," he said. "Dinesh anna [brother] has helped me, and even before the start of the season he told me 'you will have a role in the bowling department as well'. So he asked me to be prepared for it. I trained hard in Tirupur and I had awareness about my bowling.
"Dinesh anna not only gives confidence, but he'll also push you. He'll tell me paravala [it's okay], even if he [the batsman] hits a four, you back yourself and bowl that ball. Sometimes he tells you have to go defensive. So he also gives me freedom and challenges me as well."
A couple of seasons ago, Aparajith was struggling for form, shunting up and down the batting order. He now seems to have nailed down the No. 3 spot, having struck four fifties and hundred from there in this season's Vijay Hazare Trophy.
"Batting has also been going well. Touchwood! I'm very confident with my batting rhythm now," he said. "To do well in both centres [Jaipur and Bengaluru] on challenging wickets is pleasing. You have to keep performing to stay in your position. Even if I'm the captain, I may bring somebody else to this situation if you don't bat well and score runs. If I keep doing well at No. 3, I will stay at No. 3. I'm ready to take another role for the team as well, but sometimes when you don't perform well, you will not get the slot you might want."
Aparajith attributed his all-round success to his off-season training, which included gymming, running and batting stints at Chemplast, his local club in Chennai.
"Fitness is a must in modern cricket and I had placed a lot of importance on it before the season," he said. "I feel those fitness sessions have helped me play back-to-back games in different cities. The sessions are like a school timetable - from Monday to Friday. I have three days of strength training and maybe two days of running. And on every morning at 6.30am I make sure I'm batting at the Chemplast nets."
Aparajith, though, is missing his twin brother B Indrajith, who had led the state last season and is now recovering from a shoulder injury.
"We're all missing him in the team, and I'm missing him even more. He follows every ball on our app, and we generally talk a lot about cricket. It's not easy to be at home watching your friends play. Last time when we won Vijay Hazare [in 2016-17] he was also with the team. We're sure he will come back soon."
Tamil Nadu, who are unbeaten in the tournament, will run into an equally formidable and star-studded Karnataka side in the final at M Chinnaswamy Stadium on Friday. Aparajith said he wasn't putting "too much pressure" on himself and looking to go about things calmly just like he had done in the 11 games leading up to the final.
Batting: check. Bowling: check. Fielding: check. Big points in fantasy league: check. The Vijay Hazare title?

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo