Saturday, March 11, 2006

An Evening With Balaji

On at least a couple of occasions, I have made no secret of the fact that I am an admirer of Lakshmipathy Balaji. In addition to his crafty fast-medium stuff, now there's another reason - admittedly Balaji is of Telugu descent who now lives in Tamil Nadu. I jest, of course. Anyhow, that's one of a few aspects of Balaji the person I came across when I had the opportunity to meet the swing and seam bowler when he was down in Melbourne for medical consultation. All thanks to a friend of mine who was most generous in inviting me along for a dinner. Although I have had the pleasure of seeing a few cricketers from up close, thanks mainly to my interest in sports quizzes, this was the first time I actually met someone in the real sense of the word; and loved every minute of it. Not because of the opportunity itself, but because Balaji turned out to be a very affable, polite and most importantly, cool young man. A bloke, if you will, without some of the unpleasant connotations some may associate with that word. I was keen not to come across as a fawning fan (and largely succeeded or at least I think so anyway) and did not want to exasperate him with a myriad cricket questions, but Balaji himself turned out to be a keen follower of many sports, especially tennis and Formula-1. Any mention of the 2004 Pakistan tour brought an apparent gleam to his eyes, understandable considering that has been the high point of his career so far. And by god, did he do well on that tour? His (and Pathan's) bowling in the last test at Rawalpindi will remain in my memory for a long time, as incisive and disciplined as it was. And his sixes off Shoaib and Sami have become the stuff of folklore. As easy going as he seemed, there is an unmistakable hunger in the young man (I can afford to call him that, given Balaji is only 24 and being a thousand years old myself now) to make it back into the national team, a desire to succeed at the highest level. His rehabilitation from a nettlesome injury is not yet complete, and he was keen all through the trip not to disrupt the process in any way, extremely conscious of the reason he was here. The people at the restaurant recognised Balaji after a while, and some Aussies at the table beside wondered what the fuss was about. When someone mentioned 'fast-medium', Balaji's prompt response was 'I got Ponting five out of six' (that got the Aussies' attention), a sure sign that he was ready for a scrap (of the cricketing kind) and of pride. That should serve him well, and one wishes him all the best. - NK Cross-posted on


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