CHENNAI: Tamil Nadu vice-captain B Aparajith probably holds the record for being the most benched cricketer in the history of IPL. For the past five seasons, Aparajith, who was a key member of the 2012 U-19 World Cup winning squad, was confined to the bench of Chennai Super Kings (3 years) and Rising Pune Supergiant (2 years).
Ahead of the fresh IPL auctions held this January, Aparajith, who was called up for a trial with Mumbai Indians, was optimistic about his IPL chances. “I was confident that some team would go for me given the fact that I was with a couple of teams for the last five years,” Aparajith told TOI.
But auction reality struck the 23-year-old hard. Aparajith went unsold not once but thrice at the auction table. Anticipation turned into “disappointment” for the TN cricketer.
In an interview, Aparajith opens up on his IPL journey in the bench, the way forward post IPL snub and more.
How did you feel when you attended the Mumbai Indians trials ahead of the auction this year?
I first thought that there would be lesser number of players but there were about 100-odd cricketers in the trials. I realised you have to do something extra-ordinary out there and then follow it up with good show in Syed Mushtaq Ali to keep yourself in the radar. It’s a combination of factors. I realised just because you have been called for trials by a franchisee doesn’t mean you are in their radar. Yet, I was hopeful.
How did you feel when you saw no body bid for you? What was going on in your mind?
I was confident that some team would pick me given that I was with a couple of IPL teams for five years. I felt some side would bid for me. But I felt disappointed. Had I got four or five games during those five years and failed, then I would have at least been thinking ‘okay I failed when given a chance’ and then went unsold. Had I played and went unsold, I would term it a reality check. But I never got a game and didn’t get picked now. That was disappointing.
My mind went through all those eager moments in those five years when I kept thinking ‘will I play this game, will I play the next game’… I realised I should ensure from next season, my performances should make franchises go for me in the auction. On the other side, I also thought whether I hadn’t forced my way into the team with my performances. Then I thought about the luck factor. I understood the team compositions that I was part of. It’s a mixture of everything.
Although you have played quite a few impressive knocks in the TNPL, there have been talks that you are better suited for longer formats and 50-overs cricket. Do you think branding players in such a way has its effect?
Such talks (branding him as a long-format cricketer) are there. You can certainly judge a player based on his game. However, you cannot judge that he can’t suit other formats without actually testing him. I know I can do it in T20s and I can’t do much about what others think about it. I’m not saying I’m a T20 specialist. But I have certainly become a better T20 cricketer and I’m improving. To bring the confidence in others that ‘Aparajith is a good T20 cricketer’, in lies in the way in which I perform from here on.
Did you ask the coach or anybody as to why you never got a game in those five years in IPL?
I never asked anybody why I didn’t get a chance. I understand situations. I always respect the team’s decision even if I’m slightly disappointed at missing out on playing. Cricket is my passion. I love to be perfect in it. But I know that the team would definitely have a reason in not picking me in the eleven.
Watching from outside, there was a feeling that it was tough for you to make it to the XI on numerous occasions. How difficult was it for you to motivate yourself match after match?
I never felt like I would be sitting in the bench for the entire tournament. I took it day by day. But after a season got over, I used to think that I haven’t played a game for these many days. After the third season, I started thinking ‘will I get a chance’ or ‘will I warm the bench?’ I started feeling that the same routine was continuing. I wasn’t playing. But I was motivating myself every day. I kept telling myself to be ready and not to loosen my guard. What if you get a chance and you are not mentally ready and panic. I was always motivated.
Finally after five years, you have two months break during a summer. What’s the way forward?
I discussed a lot with my coaches S Balaji, JR Madanagopal and mental conditioning coach Sujith Somasunder. They have been exceptional in supporting me. I need to think about the next step quickly. I should take this two-month break as an opportunity to work hard on my game on various aspects. Last five years, I didn’t get a free summer. If I want to make the next year count, then it depends a lot on how hard I work during these two months. My focus is to improve myself as an impact player in all formats. I won’t say it a blessing in disguise. If you ask anybody whether they need a break or IPL, they will pick IPL. I realised that it’s now up to me to ensure that I don’t go unsold in an IPL auction from next year and that I prove myself as a good T20 allrounder.