Tilak Varma has played only five first-class games, and has just scored his first century in the format, against New Zealand A in Bengaluru. But, despite coming into the limelight at the 2022 IPL and having an impressive white-ball record overall, it's Test cricket that he wants to play most of all.
"My dream has always been to play in the whites for India," Tilak said after scoring 121 for India A. "It's my dream. To score a century for India A at the age of 19 in a country like India, which is full of talented players, is a matter of pride for me. I'm very happy with my performance and I want to do even better in the future."
In the drawn first four-dayer against New Zealand A, Tilak hit his runs off 183 balls from No. 6, with nine fours and six sixes, and stitched a partnership of 186 for the fifth wicket with Rajat Patidar (176) to help India take a lead of 171 before declaring on 571 for 6. Tilak credited his experience with Mumbai Indians at the IPL for boosting his self-confidence. Tilak and Jasprit Bumrah were the only players to feature in all 14 games for Mumbai, and Tilak was the team's second-highest scorer with a tally of 397, while striking at 131 and averaging 36.09.
It was a fair return for someone who has an average of 52.26 and strike rate of 96.43 in List A cricket and corresponding numbers of 32.41 and 136.97 in T20 cricket.
"My IPL performance gave me a lot of self-confidence," he said. "That has helped me perform well here too. The Mumbai [Indians] dressing room has such big names like Sachin [Tendulkar] sir and Rohit [Sharma] bhaiyya, and I was very nervous seeing them and even thought that I don't deserve that place. But the team environment made me really comfortable. Rohit bhaiyya is the captain of India and such a senior player but he never made me feel like that while talking to him. He's always ready to help on and off the field."
Tilak earned a lot of praise during and after the IPL from former players. While Tendulkar praised his class and temperament, Sunil Gavaskar and Rohit predicted that Tilak would play for India in the near future across formats.
"Your self-confidence obviously gets a boost when people like Rohit, Gavaskar sir, Sachin sir praise you," he said. "These are good signs for me, but one also has to see how to receive such praise.
"Sometimes, young players come under pressure and some get overexcited too, but as a player you have to remain balanced. Such praise should also reflect in your performances."
There are two more four-day games against New Zealand A, and then there is the Indian domestic season, which is now returning to its full calendar after truncated versions in the last two years because of Covid-19.
When asked about his targets for the new season, Tilak said, "I make targets for every day and don't think too far ahead. I attempt to get better on a day-to-day basis. My competition is not with others but with myself - how much more can I improve my game and fitness. These are the things I focus on, and benefit from."