The Duleep Trophy was set to be deprived of a host of budding stars with India ‘A’ playing three unofficial ‘Tests’ and as many one-dayers against New Zealand ‘A’ at home. Tamil Nadu batter Baba Indrajith, who couldn’t make the squad of India hopefuls, had a point to prove.
Channeling his disappointment, he slammed his fourth hundred in seven First-Class innings during the Duleep Trophy final on Thursday, taking his average in red-ball cricket since 2016 to a staggering 66.48. If that wasn’t enough, Indrajith maintained a strike rate of 94.40 during his 125-ball 118.
“To be very honest, I thought I’ll be in the India ‘A’ side. I was surprised but I can’t do much about it. It’s not in my control. I thought whenever I get another opportunity, I should make it count and do what I do best,” Indrajith said at close on day two.
“It has been good coming into Duleep Trophy. I was very eager to play in this tournament because I did well in the Ranji Trophy last season,” he added.
Indrajith, with his usual unassuming air, was understating his 396 runs in four innings in Ranji Trophy 2021-22, which included three centuries and a fifty. When you average 99.00 in a season in red-ball cricket, the strike rate is usually ignored. But not if it reads 76.74, which it did for Indrajith in that season – his 149-ball 117, 141-ball 127 and 132-ball 100 bearing testimony.
“I am in a better space of mind. I am not curbing my instincts. It’s not a conscious decision to play at a very good strike rate. If there is a ball to be hit, I am not restricting myself. On good wickets or when the outfield is good... and I run well between the wickets... I try and get those runs,” Indrajith said when asked about his penchant for scoring runs at a fast clip in red-ball cricket of late.
“It’s a mindset thing. I am still grinding and playing but on certain occasions, I wouldn’t have gone for those shots. Previously, I would have planned to play more time... If I had played 125 balls, I would have been on 65 or 70. Now I am in a better space of mind to play. I have also worked on my white-ball game. If I look back and see, that has also helped me in red-ball cricket,” he added, explaining his transformation.
Before his prolific Ranji Trophy season, Indrajith had a fruitful Vijay Hazare Trophy campaign as well, scoring 325 runs in eight innings while averaging 46.42 in Tamil Nadu’s run to the final of the 50-over tournament. The batter had been dropped for the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy (SMAT) prior to it and not much has changed a year since as Indrajith yet again finds himself out of the Tamil Nadu squad for the 20-over domestic competition this year, despite earning a maiden Indian Premier League (IPL) call-up from the Kolkata Knight Riders in February.
Indrajith admitted that being left out of the SMAT squad this season was ‘fueling’ him and acknowledged the inspirational role of statemate Dinesh Karthik – who made an India comeback after more than three years in June.
“He [Karthik] has been a great inspiration. At this age to come back... he has made numerous comebacks... and to play a World Cup when nobody expected. Seeing him from close quarters, how hard he has worked, it pushes you as well,” he said.
Incidentally, shortly after Indrajith’s hundred, Karthik had tweeted that an India call-up was around the corner for the 28-year-old.
“Yet another high-quality 100 from a terrific player in a highly intense Duleep Trophy final. What a terrific First-Class record so far. India call round the corner,” he wrote.
Indrajith, however, is hungry for more and not resting on his laurels. He has a Duleep Trophy to win for South Zone and a case to make for higher honours.
“When you are set on these kinds of wickets, I was upset that I got out on 118... When you get set and you feel like relaxing, you think of those times when you need to push and get to the next level.”