Exclusive | I admire Dhoni Bhai and Rahul Sir: Baba Aparajith
Former Chennai Super Kings batter, Under-19 World Cup Champion, Tamil Nadu veteran, an ideal brother and a magnificent human being - that’s Baba Aparajith for you.
Aparajith was picked by CSK in 2013
In a straightforward conversation with Bhawana Jarwal for OneCricket, the 28-year-old allrounder talks about his cricketing journey thus far, the CSK days, two of the most influential people to him - MS Dhoni and Rahul Dravid, his twin brother and his goal to relive the IPL dream again.
Here are the excerpts from the interview.
Many of our readers would want to know how your cricketing tale began. What made you passionate about cricket as a young kid?
Basically, when I started, I was too young to know that I was very passionate about cricket; but it was my father’s interest to put me into coaching when I was four or four and a half years old. Gradually, I became interested and passionate about cricket by the age of six-seven. But when we started, we were young, so it was in our father’s interest.
(Note: Aparajith and his twin brother, Baba Indrajith, started together and gradually got where they are.)
You were introduced to the IPL after a swashbuckling Under-19 World Cup in Australia, where you were Player of the Match in the Quarter and Semifinal games. However, things could never pan out well in the league. So how do you look at it?
I feel that it was a very good period for me. I got this opportunity to be in an IPL team at the age of 18 years, which not many people can say. However, at the same time, I learnt a lot, though I couldn’t play. It wasn’t an easy time, but I indeed learnt a lot. I spent a lot of time in the dressing room with so many legends and a lot of cricketers from various parts of the country. And every year when IPL got over, I ran back after the IPL and translated that into the TNPL or in other tournaments where I played. So I improved a lot, and I observed many things in those years.
After the 2012 U19 WC, you were picked by the Chennai Super Kings. A team where probably the biggest names of the league were present. How was that learning curve for an 18-year-old Aparjith?
Not at all; it was actually easy. Everybody there made things easy for me. All the players and support staff were very welcoming and never made me feel that I was a junior. I had a very good time; I spent a lot of time with the players; I spoke to them. I tried to learn as much as possible; I was looking at the routine of all those people.
MS Dhoni and Rahul Dravid have been two of the most influential figures in your life. Can you recall your first meeting with those two legends? And if you could tell a thing about each of them that makes them stand out from the rest?
My first meeting with Rahul sir was during a league. It was the final of a league tournament. He had come to play for our team; I scored a hundred in that game. So that was a very special moment. I wanted to do well and bat with Rahul sir, but I couldn’t bat. I was opening the innings in that game, and I got out when he came in. But it was a great moment for me, and I will cherish it for the rest of my life.
And my first meeting with Mahi bhai was during the CSK camp. During my first year at CSK, we attended a camp in Chennai at Chepauk. So Mahi bhai joined it a bit later, five-six days later. It was a short meeting; we didn’t speak much as he was practising.
The Tamil Nadu veteran was with Pune SuperGiants as well
I admire both of them. But the most important thing is the maturity and calmness that Mahi bhai has. He has captained India to many trophies. I have seen him in close quarters, on and off the field, how balance he is. But, during failures also, he is the same. He never changes. The intensity he brings to the field is extraordinary, and off the field, he completely calms and off cricket. I always admired him from the outside, and to be in the same team with him was a dream come true.
How has TNPL helped you grow as a T20 cricketer, and how helpful has the league been for other TN youngsters?
It has helped a lot; though I could not play much, but I observed a lot. It’s a great platform for us; TNPL has been giving cricketers to the IPL. So I wanted to showcase my talent in the TNPL. I wanted to improve my game so that I could get back into the IPL again. So that has been my intention for doing well in the TNPL. In that league, I have improved in my bowling and fielding a lot, and my power-hitting game as well. So strictly to work on my power-hitting T20 game, I went to Bangalore and improved on my T20 game. It was simple because if I wanted to get back into the IPL, I had to do something different, and TNPL was the only place where I could showcase my talent.
Apart from your brother Indrajith, who is your best buddy in the Tamil Nadu state team?
Apart from Indrajith (chuckles), there are a lot of players I would say are very close to me and very close to everyone. But at the moment, Sai Sudharsan is very close to me, and I think he is doing well. All of them are very close, all the players are very close to each other.
You and Indrajith are undoubtedly two of the strongest pillars of the Tamil Nadu setup. And you two share a strong bond, we all know. For fun, who, according to you, is the better cricketer?
Not for fun, but actually, I always feel that Indra is a better cricketer. He is more skillful, he is more fluent. I have always felt that he is a better cricketer than me. From my point of view, he is a better cricketer.
It’s been years and ages since we have seen both of you playing on different levels, but still, many people get confused in recognising you both; what is a significant difference to distinguish between you two?
Aparajith with his twin brother, Indrajith
I think it’s very easy for me (breaks down in laughter). For a first-timer, it could not be easy. But let’s do this, to put it on the record, I’ll do this. Our faces… he has a round face, and I have a narrow face. And yes, we wear different shoes, all those things are there. But if one spends two to three days with us, you can find it out easily. We actually are not identical twins, but people do get confused.
I have heard you speak about the mental aspect required to perform on a big stage. Can you tell our young readers how mental aspect and skillset go hand in hand in cricket?
I think it is the most important thing because after a time skill levels are almost equal for everyone. It may differ a little bit, but for your skill to come out and for you to perform, the mental aspect is essential. I know skill is also important, but mentally if you’re strong, calm, relaxed and in a good space of mind, then you can perform to your potential.
Nowadays, I feel it is imperative to adjust your mental game because the kind of pressure and competition is very high, so people get caught up. It can get to you at some point because the competition in India is so big that the pressure is always very high. So even if you don’t perform for a game or two, it is very hard to come back if you aren’t mentally strong.
But I think it’s slowly picking up in India as well. In individual sports, there are a lot of coaches for the mental aspect of the game; but now, team sports are also bringing in the right people.
What are you expecting from the big auction? Which is the one team you would love to be picked by?
Firstly, the main thing to be picked up, so obviously, I am hoping that good things will happen. But you need to wait and see what is going to happen. I am not sure what will happen tomorrow, but I am hoping that I will get picked by some team. I am keen to play for this team or that team; any team that picks me, I’ll be delighted to play for them. But the main thing is to play in the IPL, and it would be nice to be back in the IPL. That’s one goal for me, but we need to wait and see what is going to happen.
Read More: Joe Root to represent Dubai Capitals in the ILT20