Bonding set the tune for the band

Aparajith along with his mother on arrival at the Chennai Airport.-K. PICHUMANI

“We can celebrate for two-three days. But we need to look ahead and not get carried away,” says Aparajith, one of the key performers for India in the under-19 World Cup triumph. Arun Venugopal is all ears.

It was around the same time last year, just before the start of an under-19 quadrangular tournament in Visakhapatnam, that we had spoken to B. Aparajith. While he sounded more intelligent and mature than most 17-year-olds, his reticence was unmistakable.

Calling on Aparajith barely a week after he had played a pivotal role in India under-19’s World Cup triumph in Australia, we wonder if he had finally shed his shyness. As the 18-year-old welcomes us into his house, we discover that his retiring nature is a thing of the past. The calmness and modesty, however, are intact. There is also a streak of innocence that’s hard to miss (it surfaces every time he recounts with delight the pranks played by his teammates).

“I was very reserved when I first joined the under-19 team last year. I couldn’t speak Hindi at all. But now I am as surprised as my team-mates at how my Hindi has improved. I converse with them in Hindi now,” smiles the all-rounder, who won man-of-the-match awards in the quarterfinal and the semifinal.

The three-day boot camp at Bangalore prior to the World Cup was an important bonding exercise, according to Aparajith. “It was very enjoyable. We did rappelling and went on a Safari. We saw tigers everyday,” he says, the child in him making its presence felt.

What was his first reaction after winning the final against Australia?

“My immediate reaction was, ‘have we really won it?’ But after a while I was happy that our hard work had paid off.”

When we ask him about his ‘best friends’ in the team, Aparajith’s response is spontaneous. “When I start thinking about them I realised how they are all very close to me. It’s difficult to take a few names when the whole group is so friendly.”

He has no trouble, though, when it comes to naming the ‘entertainers’ in the side. “[Kamal] Passi and Harmeet [Singh] are the life of the group. During the final, when we were 97 for four, Harmeet ordered us not to get up from our seats until we had won,” laughs Aparajith, who aggregated 171 runs (average: 28.50) and picked up five wickets (economy rate: 3.59) with his off-spinners in the World Cup. He also fielded brilliantly in the slips, snapping up six catches.

Aparajith is also full of admiration for his captain Unmukt Chand. “He has become very mature. Unmukt made sure he batted through the innings. He also gave bowlers the freedom to set fields.”

The youngster admits it was an emotional moment for the players as they played their last tournament together. “Before we took the field in the final, Unmukt said it was the last time we were playing together and wanted us to give our best. It was difficult but this was bound to happen. I am not sure if I will be part of such a team again.”

Aparajith is also very thankful to coach Bharat Arun and the support staff who gave the players the right feedback.

“During the boot camp, we zeroed in on three qualities we needed to imbibe — self-belief, communication and controlled aggression. The same group of players played together for a year. That was a major reason for our success.”

He is grateful for the support his side received in Townsville, a small town in which the World Cup was held. “There were Indian families that hosted us for meals. We even celebrated Independence Day in Townsville.”

Speaking of memorable moments, Aparajith remembers M. S. Dhoni’s congratulatory message. “We usually watch these big stars on TV but when Dhoni said the Indian team was following our progress, it was a pleasant surprise.”

Once the celebrations die down, what next for Aparajith? “We can celebrate for two-three days. But we need to look ahead and not get carried away.”

* * * How they felt at home

B. Indrajith, twin brother: Everyone at home was supportive but there was nervousness too. We didn’t want to put pressure on him.

C. Chandrasekaran and Vasantha Devi, grandparents: We would wake up early in the morning to watch him play. We wanted him to do well but our concern was more about his well-being.

S. Balaji, coach: He was out hooking twice so we discussed a few technical adjustments. He was very calm throughout the tournament.