Couch Talk 103 (Play)
Guest: Baba Aparajith, Tamil Nadu Cricketer
Host: Subash Jayaraman
Subash Jayaraman (SJ)– Hello and Welcome to Couch Talk. Today’s guest is Baba Aparajith, the Tamil Nadu all rounder. He talks about the experience of winning the U-19 world cup last year, making a double hundred in his Duleep trophy debut, interacting with the major international stars during the IPL, amongst other things.
Welcome to the show, Aparajith!
Baba Aparajith (BA)– Thank you so much!
SJ– You are only 19 years old and you have already been a part of a successful under-19 World Cup and you have had an IPL contract with CSK and you are a part of the under-23 squad and you are now playing Duleep Trophy for South Zone. How have you been able to handle this rise through the cricketing ranks from age group cricket to first class, especially all the attention that comes with it.
BA– It has been a really good year for me. I have got into the first class state teams and the CSK team, i have got into many teams. It has been a nice journey till now. Hopefully this continues and I keep working on my game, keep performing. It does not add any pressure on me, but still it is really good challenge to play with all these teams, all these bigger teams in all these formats.
SJ– I saw some videos on YouTube where you went back to your high school after your world cup and it was a ceremony there. I saw this interview of yours where you are sitting in your car and people, reporters, are asking you questions. After all, you were only 18 last year and just 19 now. That kind of media attention and the glare, how are you handling all that?
BA– It was little new for me. After the under-19 World Cup win, there was a lot of media. I got used to it. It was a little different for me – so many people gather for one person, at the Chennai Airport as well. It was… not difficult, I would say, but a little different seeing many people, for me.
SJ– Of course, your father is currently the media co-ordinator/manager for the Indian cricket team. Has there been any coaching from his side in terms of how to handle the media?
BA– Not really. Very rarely he tells me about the media. But, he does not give any advice about the media or any cricket advice at all.
SJ– Has there been any other media training when you are a part of the India under-19 set up or with Tamil Nadu Ranji set-up. Is there a media training for the new comers in the team?
BA– No. we don’t have those kind of teaching or advice about media or how to handle the media. Some people do give us, but not much of importance for that.
SJ– So, everything is basically what you learn from your own experiences?
BA– Yes. Yes.
Let’s talk about the under-19 World Cup tournament itself, that was in Australia. You played a key role and you were the Man of the Match in the quarter finals against Pakistan and you were also in the semifinal and you were quite close to be named the Player of the Tournament itself. What was the overall experience of being a part of the world cup wining squad and going through the various stages of the tournament?
BA– It was a very good experience to win a World Cup in Australia against Australia. It was a very nice experience for us. Winning the World Cup for the country, what more do you want at 18? Those kinds of experiences, going through good phases and bad phases – because we didn’t start well in the tournament – it was a very good comeback by us. We all stuck together, we all wanted to win. We really prepared well. It was a one and a half year journey. We started one year before, playing quadrangular series in Vizag. We went to three tournaments – Asia Cup, and a Quadrangular series in Australia as well. We won all these three. All these preparatory tournaments and all these preparations helped us to win the World Cup. It was a very nice experience for us while playing at Australia.
SJ– What was your role in the team? Of course, you are an all rounder- you bowl off spin and you bat. In terms of keeping the team motivated itself and keeping everybody in line in terms of the eyes on the prize, is there any specific role for you? Or do everyone follow what the coach and your captain, Unmukt Chand, says?
BA– I am a quiet boy in the team. But, there were a few characters in the team who were really good and kept the team motivated going on. It is most probably the coach and the captain who tell us what to do. We had a very good support staff that always supported us. Those five people were the key to our success. They gave really good feedback to us. If it was wrong, they always came to us and said “This is not going well, you can always improve on this.” These 5 people in the support staff were really helpful to us.
SJ– There was this one comment made by Ian Chappell – the reason why Indian, especially the youth teams, do pretty well is because they play a whole lot of matches, compared to your opponents in Australia or New Zealand. Did you guys feel that when going into the World Cup you had the advantage of “been there, done that”, having a lot of experience behind you?
BA– Maybe yes, a little bit. A lot of those things that you said are true because we play a lot of matches. Match practice is very, very, very important. Before the World Cup, or before any tournament that we went for under-19 matches, we had a lot of practice matches at Bangalore itself before the camps. That really helped us. in the matches, the bonding is more and the team really comes up well. You know everybody’s strengths and weaknesses. Match practice is very important.
SJ– If you are playing in a tournament, is there an obvious indication that the Team India players maybe slightly better than the opposition? Was there a feeling like that?
BA– Not really. We take every team seriously and we know that every team is very capable and talented. So, we don’t take any team lightly.
SJ– Let’s talk about your first class career so far. You recently scored your personal best first class score on your debut in Duleep Trophy – 212. You followed that up with another century against Central Zone. As a batsman, of your age especially, take me through that mental and physical experience of scoring a double hundred.
BA– It was a very nice experience – on my debut I scored a double. The past one and a half months have been really good. I think it’s because I was following good routines. I was in good form. Before that, I played a tournament at Hyderabad, I went for the India-A tournament at Bangalore. In these two tournaments, I did well. Next followed this tournament. The last one month or so has been going really well. Getting a double hundred on debut is really good. It required good mental strength because after say a hundred, you feel very tired and you have to push yourself mentally as well as physically. After 100, 150, you should push yourself a lot. Hopefully, when I get to 100 next time, these experiences will help me.
SJ– What was your highest score in any form of cricket before that 212?
BA– 200 not out.
SJ– 200 not out. OK. I want to understand this – how do you set your goals? Of course, when you walk in, you are not thinking “a double hundred”. What is your approach to the wicket? And, once you get your eye in, what is your goal. And then, let’s say, once you go past 50 and then 100m your physical fatigue sets in, your mental fatigue sets in. Take me through that, I want to understand. people who do it for 20 years like Sachin (Tendulkar) now, they know how exactly it works. But, for someone discovering the ability to bat for a long time, how does it work?
BA– Actually, for every batsman at the start of the innings, you just want to keep following a good process and watch the ball and play the ball and keep it as simple as possible. Don’t think about runs, or “How many runs am I going to get?” Just approach the game as it comes. Watch the ball closely, just play the ball. After a few minutes or few balls being hit, when you start hitting the ball properly, when you feel confident, from there you take on the game. You assess the wicket properly and know what kind of a wicket it is, what kind of bowling they are bowling. The first few minutes are the most key moments for the batsman because that is when he assessed the wicket and the opponents’ bowling attack.
SJ– Let’s say, once you get to 50. What is your mental status now, and your physical status?
BA– Once you get to the fifty, you know that the first fifty is the most difficult part and the second fifty will be easier. You should concentrate, but you should not think for too long. I don’t think too long, just play one ball at a time – keep playing that ball. Because, when you do well at the present, the future will take care of itself because once you are playing the present, enjoying the present, watching the ball now, that will be the best part of the batting.
SJ– What routines do you have between deliveries? People walk all the way to square leg and come back, they remark the crease. What is the routine that allows you to get back into the mental zone to receive the next ball?
BA– While batting, I just go and tap the wicket. That’s it. i don’t follow any other thigns. I just go around and tap. That’s it.
Of course, you have played different formats. Is there any particular format that you prefer as a batsman and as a bowler?
BA– I think I like all three formats but I feel Test cricket will be the preferable one. I like Test cricket more than the others, but I like all three.
SJ– Fair enough. Now, you are playing with and against a lot of the players that you must have been a fan of growing up – watching them on television. For example, Yuvraj Singh, or right now you are playing in the Duleep Trophy finals against (Virender) Sehwag and Bhajji (Harbhajan Singh). Your teammate is Dinesh Karthik, and when you are with CSK there are (M. S.) Dhoni and (Ravichandran) Ashwin and all these guys. How was that experience like, mingling with all these guys that you were a fan of growing up?
BA– It was a little different form watching them on the TV and few month later playing with them. It was a little different but it was very nice. We can learn a lot form them- see what they are doing at the nets, what they are doing off and on the field, you can learn a lot of stuffs from them. During the IPL, to meet players like (Michael) Hussey, Dhoni and all international players was a great experience.
SJ– Do you get to spend time with the so called “Big Boys”? How approachable are they, or how ready are they to share their cricket knowledge with the youngsters?
BA– They are very, very, very nice to us because whenever we go to them they are very much approachable. They talk. When we ask something, they explain without any queries. Players like Hussey…I was a little scared to talk to him, but when I talked to him I felt really good because he was talking as if he was at my age, 18 year old boy. It was really fun to work with them.
SJ– How about Dhoni or Yuvraj or Sehwag or Ashwin or Badri (Subramaniam Badrinath)? What sort of interactions do you have with them?
BA– Dhoni, I didn’t have much to interact with him, but with Ashwin and Badri I have played with in the Tamil Nadu team. So, I know them personally well. They talk to me really well. I can always approach them. The others, I haven’t spoken too much, I have not communicated much.
SJ– I read this one report in the newspaper that you had played in the same team during a TNCA first division match with Rahul Dravid. What was that experience like, interacting with an absolutely legend of the game. I believe you also fielded alongside him in the slips. What was that interaction like, with Rahul?
BA– It was a dream come true for me. It was the final of the first division match and I got a 100 in that game as well. So, he congratulated me as well – that was one of the best moments for me. He has always been my idol. Playing with him, being in the same team, sharing the dressing room with him was one of the best matches. And, fielding with him at the slips was also great. We didn’t interact much, but a few, little inputs he gave when I came in and shared the dressing room. I was cramping up a bit and he said “Push harder, this is where your mental strength lies.” And those kinds of words a player like Rahul Dravid whom I idolised really motivated me.
You played that India A vs West Indies A, in one of the ODIs that recently happened. You scored 78 opening the batting in 90 balls or so. What modifications did you do to your game as opposed to, say, a 4-day game? Or, do you approach the same way?
BA– I approach the same way. At the start of the innings, keep one ball at a time, watch the ball ,play the ball and keep it as simple as possible. But obviously, in the One Day game the game plan is a little different. You are looking for runs always and the settling time is a little lesser than the 4-day games. this is not much of a difference but very little difference is there which a professional cricketer should always do before every game, before every format change.
SJ– What do you consider yourself mainly to be? You bat a lot of the times up in the order and you bowl off spin. So, do you consider yourself to be a batsman who bowls or do you consider yourself a full time all-rounder?
BA– I just want to be a genuine all-rounder. I am working on it. At the moment, I am a little higher on batting than bowling, but my aim is to become a genuine all-rounder and contribute in both ways – batting and bowling.
SJ– There is a question from a listener, Sankar Anand, and this relates to your preparations. You have to focus on your batting and you’re bowling probably equally to be an all-rounder. What preparation work goes into that? Do you work twice as hard as every other player in the team? What is the approach?
BA– As you say, it takes a little more time, but not much of a difference in it. For a pure batsman, you can longer periods but for an all-rounder, you must separate the time for batting as well as bowling. It is not a very difficult job. If you are interested and passionate about it, you have to do that.
SJ– I want to talk a little bit about the Tamil Nadu set up and also, the IPL set-up. There is a question from another listener – Srinivasan. How has your life changed after you go the IPL contract for 2013 season? You were in the squad but didn’t get to play the matches. Were you just happy to be there or were you slightly frustrated that you weren’t getting a chance?
BA– Not really. I was just happy to be there. i knew it was a little difficult for me to get a chance. It was a nice start for me. It was a good experience at the IPL – playing and travelling with the team and seeing how it goes. It was a very nice experience and now I would be more prepared for it next year. i can always assess what is going on. Last season, I just saw what is going on, what is happening, what I need to improve, what areas I have to strengthen myself. It was a nice experience, it was a good start. Next season, I would be more prepared.
SJ– How has your life changed with the IPL contract?
BA– Not much, really. That hasn’t made any difference.
SJ– You are more recognizable in the public.
BA– Maybe yes, but I am not sure.
SJ– Are their times when you are sitting on the bench and you thought “Hey! Maybe I could do better than the other guy that is playing.”?
BA– That, at some points you get. But, I always feel that everyone has a bad day, everyone has a good day. You can’t judge them really well on a particular day. Even I have a bad day and sometimes I have a good day. You can’t judge anyone and say that “I am better than him.” or “I could have done better than that.”
SJ– I want to talk a little bit about the Tamil Nadu Ranji set-up. you have people like (Abhinav) Mukund, Badri, Dinesh Karthik etc. what kind of influence (do they have on you)? Karthik has played international cricket, Mukund played some, Badri, we already know… What do you learn (from them)? What kind of interactions do they have within the team, number one? And what kind of thing do you learn from Badri who was so close to the national team selection but he never really could get to settle down in a spot in the team.
BA– I think they are very much approachable and give a lot of inputs when we ask. As I said, I like Badrinath. Professionalism is the first word that comes to my mind when you say about Badrinath. He is professional about whatever he does, he is very determined to do all these things- to get runs, to win a match for the team. These kind of simple things, but very hard to replicate in the game – that I always learn from them.
SJ– Are there lessons that Badri gives on to you guys that are coming in new in the Tamil Nadu set up. Like, “Hey, I did these things when I was younger, in your age” or slightly older. Because, eventually, everyone wants to play for India, right? But, Badri has been knocking on that doors of national selection for a very long time but it didn’t materialize for him. Are there things that you take away from what you have seen of Badri and his career? Like, “I need to do these things better that Badri may not have done when he was younger.” Or, does he tell you “You have to approach it slightly different form the way I did.”?
BA– Not really. He has an average of 60. What more do you want form a batsman? Maybe he has been a little unlucky. But, there are a lot of positives in him, you don’t get any negatives, and he doesn’t say any. Whenever we ask him, he tells us. I don’t really think there is anything which he has not done that I can do.
SJ– It must have been special for you – when you got your 1st first class 50, he was at the non-striker end and then when you eventually converted the 50 into the 100, Dinesh Karthik was at the other end. That must have been really special for you.
BA– Yes, it was a very special feeling. It was a very special knock for me personally. That was my 1st first class 100 and in the previous 5 games first class games I hadn’t done well. So, it was an important game for me. It came out really well.
Of course, everyone knows you have a twin brother. There is a question from a listener, Arjun Ashok. What do you think of your brother, Indrajith, as a cricketer? He is a leggie, and you are the offie. So, who is the better spinner and who is the better batsman of the two? *laughs*
BA– I can’t judge, but we both are good, I would say. He has done really well this season. He has bene working really hard this season. I haven’t seen many of them, but this season he has been picked in the Ranji season. Hopefully he does really well this year.
SJ– So, you are not going to say who is the better batsman?
BA– I am not able to judge. I can’t judge. Someone else will have to tell. I can’t tell about my brother.
So, when you guys come home, is there is a continued discussion on cricket or once you leave the cricket field you stop discussing about it?
BA– We discuss a lot of cricket off the field. He gives me a lot of inputs, I give him a lot of inputs. That is more reliable. Apart from our coach, my brother is the most reliable person because he can easily sense what I am doing, what I am not doing as he is always there at the practice. He has seen me from childhood days so he knows what I am not doing right, am I out of my zone etc. so, even for me, I can always tell him if he is not doing which is right. That is more reliable. We discuss a lot of cricket after field.
He was in that shortlisted squad to go to Australia for the under-19 World Cup, but eventually he didn’t make it. That must have been disappointing for him. How do you guys handle that, your success and him not getting picked – how does that work out between twin brothers?
BA– We don’t worry about the selection, but we try to perform in every match that we play – keep giving 100% for the team in whatever way we can. Selection is not in our hands, we try to control the controllable rather than thinking about the selection.
SJ– Fair enough!
I want to bring up again – we mentioned briefly about your father, Dr. Baba, who is currently the media manager for the Indian cricket team. Does that bring any additional attention to you – your performance or are you scrutinized or criticized more than others, or does that bring any unnecessary attention because you are son of the media manager?
BA– Not at all, because not many people know that he is the media manager. As I said, my part is to just perform and the other things, the uncontrollable things, I just don’t care about. I just want to perform and keep control of myself and do what I am doing. I just try and keep performing as long as possible.
SJ– A couple of quick questions.
You just finished your 12th Standard last year, right?
SJ– Are you continuing on to college? How much education features into your future plans?
BA– I have joined college already. I think education is one of the most important things. Side by side, I will be doing something that is also a key part. I am not sure what I would be doing, but I would be doing something.
SJ– In terms of short/medium/long term cricketing goals, do you have things in mind? You are 19. Do you have a goal of “Hey, I want to break into the Indian team by the time I am 22 or 23.”? Do you have any short term or long term goals?
BA– Not at all. Main ambition is to play for the country, but no aim in short term or long term. There aren’t any goals like “I have to play like this…or that.” Whenever it happens, it will happen. My thinking is not like that, to get into the Indian team at 21 or 22, nothing like that.
SJ– Alright! Thanks a lot for coming on the show, Aparajith! I wish you the very best in everything you do!
BA– Thank you so much!
SJ– Thank you!