There hasn’t been any rivalry, not even the clichéd ‘healthy’ one, between Baba Aparajith (L) and Baba Indrajith. © Wisden India

There hasn’t been any rivalry, not even the clichéd ‘healthy’ one, between Baba Aparajith (L) and Baba Indrajith. © Wisden India

They really are two of a kind, Baba Indrajith and Baba Aparajith, separated at birth by 26 minutes but having since traversed a similar path with cricket as their hobby, passion and ultimate obsession.

Last fortnight, when S Badrinath handed Indrajith his Tamil Nadu cap on his Ranji Trophy debut against Saurashtra, the Baba boys became the first set of twins to play first-class cricket in India. Aparajith, the younger of the two, had broken through into first-class cricket two years back, at the tender age of 17; Indrajith had to wait longer, but there never was any doubt in anyone’s mind that it was only a matter of time before he joined his younger sibling in the quest for higher honours.

At first glance, Indrajith and Aparajith appear eerily similar. At second glance, they still appear eerily similar, though Aparajith tells you disarmingly, “If you see the two of us continuously for five days, it will be easy for you to identify who is who.”

Baroda’s fielders appeared a little shell-shocked when, last week, Aparajith walked in to the middle to join Indrajith at the batting crease. They had seen them on the field, Aparajith in short sleeves at slip, Indrajith in three-quarter length sleeves either at short cover or covers, but to see them bat together seemed surreal for Yusuf Pathan and his boys. Sadly, their first batting stint together lasted only 13 minutes and took away some of the entertainment, but in future, not many teams will be as fortunate as Baroda were in Chennai.

Theirs is a fascinating story, one that has played itself out across different parts of the country with varying results, the only twist being that whatever they did involved two people, not one as is largely the case. They moved to their grandparents’ house in the heart of Chennai when just into their teens to further their cricketing growth, only occasionally spending time with their doctor-parents, who practise in Ambattur, a fast-growing suburb where their father, a general physician, is a dean at the hospital he runs and their mother is a gynaecologist.

RN Baba, their father, is the head of the South Zone media committee of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, and is currently travelling with the Indian team as the media manager on their tour of South Africa. “Our father has been very passionate about cricket from his college days,” Aparajith says. “And our mom, she too supported us. Though they are doctors, they never put any pressure on us to study. When we were 12-13, we moved away from them to stay with our grandparents so that we didn’t have to travel a lot to play cricket. Playing in the districts was a little tough, so we changed our school after 7th standard just for cricket – from DAV School in Ambattur to St Bede’s. Even during the Board exams, they didn’t insist that we must study all the time. We only regularly attended school till the 7th or 8th class. After that, they said: don’t worry about it, enjoy your cricket, and whenever you get time to study, study.”

That didn’t, of course, prevent the boys from studying well. “There was no pressure but they knew we would do well,” Aparajith says, as Indrajith nods his head in support. “We were above average students in DAV, and when they sent us to St Bede’s, they knew we would do well. We both had decent marks in 12th – I got 69%, Inder got 72 and by then, we were playing league cricket regularly. We both had even better marks in 10th, both of us got 82%.”

Today, Indrajith is studying – if that is the right word – II B Com in Guru Nanak College, while Aparajith is doing his I year B Com. “I finished 12th a little late because I had the Asia Cup last year, so I had to write my exams privately,” says Aparajith, bringing us to the point where we now shift focus to cricket.

Aparajith has been the bigger achiever, having played Under-19 cricket for India. He was part of the team that won the U-19 World Cup in Australia last year. He had already played 18 first-class matches by the time his older sibling made his debut, but says he always had faith in Indrajith. “I knew he would make a mark one day,” Aparajith insists, as Indrajith looks on with the indulgent smile of someone a few minutes older. “I made my debut two years back, but I knew he was at the same level as me. It was just a matter of time and luck and a little more hard work. I knew he had the skill and talent to do it. I kept telling him that you are the same as me, your time will come as well.”

For Indrajith, that period when the younger one was in the limelight wasn’t easy. There was no rancour or ill will, but you sense his disappointment when he talks of not making it to the Under-19 national team. “I was happy for him. I had no regrets, but it was difficult for me,” he says. “My brother was playing there and he was telling me about the experience of the World Cup. After they won the World Cup, it was a special moment. Seeing him enjoy like that, it was not easy for me. Even when he was playing IPL, he told about his interactions with senior players like MS Dhoni and (Mike) Hussey. I was happy for him but I also had the feeling that I should be there next year, I should work hard.”

Aparajith has been the bigger achiever of the twins, having played Under-19 cricket for India. © Getty Images

Aparajith has been the bigger achiever of the twins, having played Under-19 cricket for India. © Getty Images

There hasn’t been any rivalry, not even the clichéd ‘healthy’ one, between the boys. Indeed, most of their rare fights are centred around the right to the television remote, and Indrajith has the bragging rights when it comes to driving – Aparajith is just about learning to drive, though he has his own car. “Most of the time, we practice and train together but sometimes, if I am part of some other team and he is on some other side, they we have to practice somewhere else,” says Aparajith. “But 90 per cent of the time, we practice together.” Both of them play I Division cricket in Chennai for different teams of India Cements – Aparajith is with Vijay CC, Indrajith plays for Grand Slam.

“Our father initiated us into cricket when we were four,” recalls Indrajith. “We were too young to know what cricket was all about. When we were seven or eight, we started playing district league matches, we played Division V matches at eight or nine years of age.” And Aparajith takes over, almost on cue, “He started playing State Under-13 at nine, that’s when we thought our careers should be cricket.”

Any time they get away from friends is spent on discussing cricket. “After every game, we speak a lot about the match,” Aparajith says. “Whether we have played the game, or even if we are not playing – if we have seen the game on TV. We talk about anything cricket-related under the sun. He tells me about technique, mental aspects of the game, strategising.”

Indrajith says they are not identical but fraternal twins. As of now, very few are buying that line, however true it might be. “There are advantages and disadvantages of being twins,” he reflects. “People recognise us, they stare at us, talk about us. But the disadvantage is that most of the time, they compare us, they ask us who is better. We tell them we are both different kinds of batsmen, we have a different approach.”

So, who is the better batsman? “Mostly, we come up with a diplomatic answer,” laughs Aparajith. “I don’t know the real answer, I can’t judge. Someone has to tell us, we are always with each other.”

They have seen videos, of themselves and of the other – ‘Only during off-season, or match videos to gain confidence’, says Indrajith. “But I have seen a lot of his live games. We are different kinds of batsmen. Out technique is different but we are very wristy batsmen, both of us. We use our feet well to the spinners, though our approach against the medium pacers is different.”

As he pauses for breath, Aparajith takes over. “As he said, we use our feet well to the spinners, he goes back, we step out really well. But when it comes to the fast bowlers, I used to play at the top of the order, I used to open the innings before. That was a different scenario, you have to see off the new ball and all. It will be a little different for me compared to him because he goes in at No. 5 and No. 6. Maybe he can play a few more shots but technically there is not much difference. We are almost the same.”

There is easy camaraderie, as is only to be expected, but there is also great deference in the way the duo conduct themselves. “A lot of it has to do with the influence of our parents,” Indrajith says, almost needlessly. “It wasn’t as if they sat us down and told us how to behave in public. They have just brought us up like that, so it has become natural for us. Now that we are a little more in the limelight, they tell us a few things but the main thing is our upbringing.”

If there is one difference between the pair, it is in their bowling styles. Indrajith is a legspinner, Aparajith an offie. “I started off as a legspinner, he was a medium pacer to start with,” Indrajith reveals. “I am working on my bowling, though for now, I am mainly a batsman and a part-time bowler. But going forward, I want to be a genuine allrounder.”

Ask Aparajith why he became an offspinner, and out comes the easy laugh again. “When I was 11 or 12, I realised I was too short and I was bowling too slow, so I thought medium pace was not my cup of tea. Because he was already a leggie, I wanted to be an offspinner. It was a conscious choice because we wanted to be different, not the same. And, of course, offspin was much more easy than legspin.”

Which brings us to Indrajith’s Ranji debut. “We were surprised when we heard that no other twins had played first-class cricket in India,” says Aparajith. “We thought a lot of them would have played before us.” Indrajith chips in: “To me, it was special. He had been there for two years and I came in two years later. When I got into the side, I knew a little but about what it’s going to be like, but to be a part of the playing XI, it was different and it was special. I was a bit nervous during my debut game but I got used to it.”

State sides across the country had better get used to the sight of the Baba boys playing together for Tamil Nadu in the Ranji Trophy, to start with. Just 19, they are mature beyond their years, confident without being cocky, and completely grounded. Look out for Indrajith and Aparajith. Two of a kind, really.