Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
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Since the start of 2016, B Indrajith has racked up 2512 runs in 33 first-class games at an average of 66.10. Among those to have played at least 25 first-class games in this period, no Indian batter has a better average than Indrajith's. Globally, Afghanistan's Bahir Shah, New Zealand's Devon Conway and South Africa's Obus Pienaar are the only three with better averages.
Indrajith began the 2021-22 Ranji Trophy season with a counterattacking 117 off 149 balls against Delhi and followed it up with an even punchier 127 off 141 balls against Chhattisgarh. The first century helped Tamil Nadu snatch the first-innings lead after they were 162 for 5 in response to Delhi's 452, and the second gave Tamil Nadu a shot at an innings victory before Chattisgarh denied them in the final session.
Before that, however, Tamil Nadu had dropped Indrajith from the season-opening Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy T20s, which he says "hit me hard". He returned to action in the 50-overs Vijay Hazare Trophy and played a significant part in Tamil Nadu's run to the final, scoring four fifties including knocks of 50 and 80 in the semi-finals and final. Indrajith pins down his early-season success to his off-season work.
"I have to put it down to the back-end work," Indrajith tells ESPNcricinfo. "I've been working really hard. From the last summer, I've wanted to work on specific aspects of the game - that is to upgrade my game - and I didn't want to be one-dimensional. I worked on my keeping and physical fitness, but I missed out on the T20 side. I was very disappointed, but when the opportunity came in Vijay Hazare, I think everything fell into place.
"We had five sessions in Chennai [before the Ranji Trophy] and we came early to Guwahati to get used to the conditions. The few sessions here really helped us because like everyone we were uncertain whether Ranji Trophy will happen or not. Once we got the confirmation, TNCA set up the camp. The first few days - the feel, and the red-ball... it was slightly different. But we needed those five-six sessions to help us get into the groove, being in the bubble."
A large chunk of Indrajith's off-season training involved working with RX Muralidhar, the Bengaluru-based coach who Mayank Agarwal often credits with turning his career around. Indrajith largely focused on his white-ball game with Muralidhar after being dropped for the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20s, and the stints in Bengaluru helped him expand his overall range of shots and approaches.
"I wanted to emphasise more on white-ball cricket - six-hitting, range-hitting, executing paddle shots," Indrajith says. "It was something new for me and it pulled me out of my comfort zone. When I was not there in the [Tamil Nadu] T20 team, I went to Bangalore for another stint. I've never gone out of Chennai before and trained, but I wanted to explore it and it turned out to be an eye-opening experience.
"I'm not sure, but maybe yes, that training has helped me in red-ball [cricket] too. I didn't play too many lofted shots or hit out during the last two Ranji innings; I tried to play normal cricket only but a lot of factors worked. Once I got the initial boundaries, I was in the zone and I just went from there. It wasn't a conscious effort to score quicker in first-class cricket, but maybe it was a byproduct of the back-end work."
Indrajith looked back fondly on his partnership of 207 with his twin brother B Aparajith against Chattisgarh. It was the first instance of twins scoring hundreds in the same game for the same team in Indian domestic cricket. In the 2018-19 Duleep Trophy, in Dindigul, Indrajith and Aparajith had scored hundreds in the same game, but as opponents.
"When we scored the hundreds, it didn't sink in that we're the first twins to score it in the same match for same team [in Indian domestic cricket]," Indrajith says. "After a long time, we had a long partnership in Ranji and it was really nice; we've always enjoyed each other's company. After we got to the dressing room, we got to know that we were the first twins to score hundreds for the same team in Indian domestic. We felt happy because not often [do] these kinds of things happen."
Having been consistent over a substantial period in first-class cricket and having expanded his game - including keeping wicket for Nellai Royal Kings in the Tamil Nadu Premier League - Indrajith is hoping for higher honours.
"I'm more confident, having upgraded my game, and I feel I have more shots and I'm better-equipped to handle situations," Indrajith says. "It doesn't guarantee success but yes I'll be more confident when the opportunities come. I've been doing decently in domestic cricket. I've been waiting for that break - Indian Test side or India A side.
"But I need to keep scoring in Ranji Trophy and Vijay Hazare and that will give me a better chance to succeed when I get the break. If it has to happen, I believe it will happen. So I'm looking forward to the IPL stint and other opportunities."
The forthcoming stint with Kolkata Knight Riders will be Indrajith's first taste of the IPL. After making 80 off 71 balls to help Tamil Nadu to a total of 314 in the Vijay Hazare final, Indrajith flew to a trial at KKR, where he struck a rapid half-century. He was snapped up by KKR at the auction for his base price of INR 20 lakh and will now be the third keeping option for the franchise behind Sam Billings and Sheldon Jackson.
"There was a KKR trial on the [day of the] final of the Vijay Hazare. I didn't attend the first day because of the final," Indrajith says. "I only managed to attend trials the second day. The simulation was there during the first day, so I couldn't be part of that. I just played one T20 match and there I got 60 off 25 balls. It impressed them, I think, but I didn't keep wicket there. Maybe they didn't know that I keep [in TNPL], so after the selection trials I told them I keep wicket as well. They asked me for some videos of my keeping, so I sent videos of it from TNPL to them and I'm looking forward to the IPL."
Indrajith's immediate challenge, though, is to keep up his rich first-class form against Jharkhand and push Tamil Nadu into the knockouts. Tamil Nadu are currently level with Jharkhand on six points in Group H, which is currently wide open, with Chhattisgarh leading with seven points.
"We actually didn't do too badly in the first two games and got the first-innings lead in both games," Indrajith says. "We're not taking too much pressure; we are all aware that first we need to take first-innings lead against Jharkhand and then push for an outright win."