It has been a few days since India won the Under-19 World Cup in Australia, but just like with some of his other team-mates, the feeling of winning the trophy is yet to sink in for Baba Aparajith, the 18-year-old from Tamil Nadu who emerged as one the notable bright spots in India's victorious campaign.
"The feeling of winning the World Cup hasn't sunk in yet. The reception we got after returning [from Australia] was unbelievable. We were not expecting to get such a welcome," Aparajith told Cricketnext.
Although Aparajith, who batted at No. 3 in Australia, didn't start the biennial tournament well with scores of 5, 24 and 14 against West Indies, Zimbabwe and Papua New Guinea, he found the silken touch for which he is known for in his young career at the domestic circuit in the later half of the event. Runs started to flow from his bat, his offspin kept providing important breakthroughs, and his catching – especially in the slips – got better with each game.
The key member of the World Cup-winning U-19 side talks about his experience in Australia and the future.
But despite playing an important role in India’ victory in the knock-out matches, Aparajith believe that he could have contributed more, especially with the bat. "I played well in both matches [quarter-final and semi-final], but threw my wicket away on both occasions," said the winner of back-to-back Man-of-the-Match awards for 51 and 1 for 23 in the quarter-final against Pakistan, and 44 and 1 for 29 in the semi-final against New Zealand.
In the final too, India were in a spot when they lost the wicket of Prashant Chopra early in their chase of Australia’s 226, but Aparajith's 73-run stand with skipper Unmukt Chand put India back on track. He played some exquisite cover drives when the Australian pacers pitched the ball up to him and was also not afraid of hooking a few when tested with short stuff. His innings of 33 was extremely significant in the context of the match, but Aparajith feels he should have done more.
"In all three matches I got out after getting starts. In the final too, I shouldn't have played the shot that led to my downfall. But some of the strokes that I played previously tempted me to play a drive on the up," he said.
Talking about Unmukt, who scored an unbeaten 111 to help India win the final along with wicketkeeper Smit Patel, Aparajith commended the leadership skills of the Indian captain saying he had improved immensely in the past few years. "He [Unmukt] has improved a lot, both as a player and leader. He has matured a lot, and that could be seen the way he led the side in the World Cup. His hunger to play big innings is unparallel and he is also someone who wants to finish the match every time he goes out in the middle," he said.
And although some of his team-mates may be in a dilemma of choosing between first-class cricket and the lucrative IPL, there is no such confusion for Aparajith who wants to focus on every format equally and is also ready to involve in the cash-rich league if any franchise approaches him in the future.
"At the present time, you should be ready to play in all three formats [four-day cricket, one-day and Twenty20]. So I will not only focus on Ranji Trophy and other 50-over format, but also concentrate on honing my skills in T20 too." said Aparajith, who has already played four first-class matches for Tamil Nadu. "Though I haven't thought about playing in the IPL yet, I will definitely consider it if any franchise approaches me.”
Aparajith is also extremely thankful to his family - his father, mother and twin brother – which has helped him immensely in pursuing his goal. "My parents have been extremely supporting throughout, encouraging me to play as much as possible and not forcing me to concentrate only on my studies. Though I also want to focus more on my studies, cricket is my top priority at the moment," he said.
Aparajith is also hopeful that his twin brother Inderjith - who could not make it to the World Cup squad - also makes it big and both of them bring laurels to their family and for the nation. "My brother is also a good player. He is a batsman and bowls legspin. I only hope we both do well for the country in the future," he concluded.