“I really hope and wish that I get to play for the Indian Test team this year…”
There is a lot of hope and optimism in Baba Indrajith’s voice when he makes this statement even after a series of snubs by the national selectors. A consistent performer in the red ball circuit, Indrajith is still waiting for his India A break. The last time he came close to game time with India A was back in 2017 but it only saw him spend time on the bench against Australia.
Since 2016, Indrajith is yet to put a foot wrong at the First Class level and continues to score runs season-after-season. He has averaged over 66 in red-ball competitions in the last six years and has been amongst the runs for Tamil Nadu in the middle-order. The classy right-hander scored three hundreds in last year’s Ranji Trophy season, followed it up with a positive hundred in the Duleep Trophy final but still hasn’t made the cut for India A.
“I have been doing very well since 2016 at the First Class level but somehow I am not able to get the break. Every time I think I will be there this time around, I get disappointed in not seeing my name there. I don’t know the reason either,” says Indrajith in an exclusive conversation with Cricketnext.
Has there been any communication from the men who matter? “No communication yet from anyone but when I scored hundred in the Duleep Trophy final, I spoke to Sunil Joshi sir and he told me you are on the radar and we are following you. ‘Maybe better things in future’, he said. But even after that A tour to Bangladesh happened and my name wasn’t there. It definitely is disheartening but it’s not in my hands so can’t do much on that front,” says Indrajith.
‘Natural to get frustrated’
There is a shade of frustration as he recalls the period but the 28-year-old wants to stick to the process of scoring runs at every opportunity he gets and hopes to not miss again.
“It is very natural to get frustrated at some point of time. I wouldn’t say I don’t get frustrated at all. It’s frustrating after a certain point because it becomes stale and you start to think where you are in life and how to take the next step. Definitely these thoughts do come in but it’s just a phase. After all this, only thing you can do is perform at the domestic level and hope you do really well so that you don’t miss out,” says Indrajith.
Ranji Trophy returns with a full-fledged season this time and back to the home and away format. Tamil Nadu have enjoyed a lot of white-ball success but have struggled in the red-ball competition.
Indrajith was named skipper for the upcoming season and is relishing the opportunity, and responsibility, to turn things around.
“It’s very very important this season. As you said we have not been the best team in red ball over the years and we haven’t been able to qualify as well. So I think it’s a responsibility in itself. From a personal point of view, I am not trying to change or do something differently because it adds a lot of pressure.
“Ranji Trophy is not an easy place. It’s important to find a pattern and whenever you get your eye in, just try and make it count and make it big. I am not trying to do anything different or new to catch the selectors’ eye because that puts a lot of pressure on me. Whenever I keep things simple, they have fallen in place. I am trying to do the same thing and not put too much pressure on myself,” says Indrajith.
Hundreds are in currency as far as Indrajith is concerned. There is a popular perception that if the hundreds don’t do the job for you, get them daddy hundreds.
Indrajith partially agrees and emphasises on consistency.
“It’s true. Sometimes small hundreds don’t get noticed. It’s important to score that big hundred – say a double hundred to get noticed. But I personally feel that if someone is getting those hundreds consistently, even that should be noticed. Consistency is also important but it’s also important that once you get your eye in, you should make it a big one to get noticed,” says Indrajith.
The 2021-22 season saw Indrajith score three hundreds in the Ranji Trophy and make the Duleep Trophy opportunity count with a fluent hundred for South Zone in the final. The 100s were business as usual for the right-hander but his positive intent in the middle stood out.
Known to be a batter who has the ability to grind out sessions at well, Indrajith is not restricting himself anymore.
“Not a conscious effort but I feel, even in the last Ranji Trophy season, I got three hundreds and the strike-rate was slightly up. Overall the mindset has slightly evolved. I am not restrictive with my mindset. If there’s a shot to be played, I don’t restrict myself anymore. Whenever I am in a calm space of mind, and getting into good positions, I feel I can strike the ball better,” he says.
It was a trimmed red-ball season last time and Tamil Nadu not qualifying for the knockouts meant very little game time for Indrajith. It’s not every day that a batter hits the patch which Indrajith did last year and a few more games, in the knockouts, could have definitely boosted his chances of making it to the next level.
“Obviously when you are in good form, you want to play more games. Be it Ranji Trophy or the next level – India A. Last year, we had just three matches and we didn’t win the last match against Jharkhand else we would have qualified. That would have added more value to my hundred. I would have wished to play more – maybe a quarterfinal or a semifinal for Tamil Nadu and then get a hundred there. But I am happy that I got a hundred in the Duleep Trophy final but again if it would have been in a winning cause, things would have been slightly different,” says Indrajith.
While the success and consistency has come in the longer formats, Indrajith is yet to establish his reputation in the shortest format. He was part of the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) squad this year and thoroughly enjoyed his stint with the franchise and coaches Brendon McCullum and Abhishek Nayar.
Indrajith wasn’t part of the Tamil Nadu’s Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy squad and feels it is a matter of time before perception around his white-ball game changes.
“It was a great experience. This is my tenth year in domestic circuit and for any cricketer who has been in the domestic circuit for so long… wants to play the IPL. It was the same with me. I really want to play the IPL… wasn’t picked in the Tamil Nadu side for the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy last year so went back and worked really hard on my white ball game. Yes, perception needs to change but I never felt that I was not a good white-ball player. I also understand that perceptions are different and you need to perform at that level for people to change their perceptions.
“I worked on my game, did really well in the Vijay Hazare last year, at the trials for KKR, took up keeping. I am really proud of myself because I was nowhere and then suddenly things around. I had put it in the work for a very long time and got the rewards for that. Overall it was a good experience with KKR and I am pretty sure the perception about white-ball will change pretty soon. For example, KL Rahul was termed more of Test match player early on and now he is looked at more white ball. If the basics are right, things change for everybody.
“Being in close quarters with Brendon McCullum and Abhishek Nayar, I got to learn a lot. More so with Abhishek because he is lot more close to the Indian players and I spent a lot of time earlier with him at the trials and have also played with him in the past. Brendon McCullum is a very chilled out character and he focuses more on bonding the players and making them more comfortable. I learnt a lot from them,” says Indrajith.
Darkness, comebacks and inspiration
Dinesh Karthik is a source of inspiration for many late bloomers and his comeback to the Indian squad for the T20 World Cup at 37 has injected fresh hope in many. DK’s journey, which features many comebacks, continues to give a lot of confidence to close friend Indrajith, who is mighty proud of his senior teammate.
“It’s a great inspiration because it’s a great comeback to come and play the World Cup and he has made so many comebacks. I am very proud of his journey. I have seen him from close quarters and when you see what he has done, it gives you the confidence to stay at it and keep doing and make it to the next level. Even if you are 30 or 31. Age is just a number if you are fit and performing well. Things could change very quickly. Even a Mike Hussey or Suryakumar Yadav, they made their debut very late. Dinesh Karthik has made a comeback at 37 and played the World Cup as the main wicketkeeper. Being a close friend, I am very proud and treat it as a great source of inspiration,” says Indrajith.
Indrajith has gone under the knife on three occasions with two surgeries to his right shoulder and one to the left. Time away from the game was a very challenging period for the right-hander who not only lost out on crucial game time but had to get back into the groove after months away from the field.
“It was very difficult. It was my third surgery and it gets very difficult to play. I was away for seven months and you have to then get into shape, fitness basically match fitness. Your batting form will be different, the continuation will not be there. It was a very dark time and I have not faced these situations for the first time and it made me learn a lot of things about life. During that period, you won’t be able to play and can only do rehab. Even if you have performed well in the domestic circuit before that, you can’t continue doing that. There will be a break and lack of continuation. So to again come back into form, get into match fitness and get noticed again is not an easy thing. Being an active cricketer from a young age and then no cricket for seven-eight months, multiple times, is not an easy thing. It plays on your mind a lot,” recalls Indrajith.
The upcoming Ranji Trophy season holds a lot of importance for Indrajith both personally and from a team’s perspective. He is not looking too far ahead and wants to continue enjoying the game. The snubs are there at the back of his mind but his only focus is to make it very big whenever he gets his eye in.
“One of my bigger goals in life is to win the Ranji Trophy, that’s always there. I have to be realistic and practical as well. The goal is to win but I think I need to focus on the present situation first and try to do well and maybe qualify this year. On the personal front, It’s important to keep things simple and continue enjoying the game. If I don’t enjoy the game, runs won’t come. Whenever I get my eye in, these snubs will come into picture and I will look to make it very big then,” Indrajith signs off.