The 2003-04 tour of Pakistan was undoubtedly the most memorable phase of Laxmipathy Balaji’s international career. The former India pacer Balaji, who recently retired from First-Class cricket, bowled some exceptional spells on that tour. Also, because of his charming attitude, he was the most famous Indian cricket in Pakistan at that point in time.
However, for Balaji personally, that popularity was a bit embarrassing. In a recent interview with the official website of Tamil Nadu Premier League (TNPL), the 34-year-old pacer recalled the memories of that particular tour and also talked about various aspects of his career.
Here are the excerpts from the interview.
When you look back at your career, what is the one thing that comes to your mind?
Laxmipathy Balaji (LB): As a youngster I always was keen to play professional cricket and followed the action on the local grounds. I an happy that I made the dream (of playing for India) come true! Be it local or international (ground), I was always ready for a game of cricket. Though I mostly used to observe, I still had that dream of stepping in and playing. That has been my biggest motivation right from my younger days.
When you made the decision to retire from First-Class cricket, whom did you first share it with, what was their reaction?
LB: My family, as they are very important to me. They have played a huge role and have sacrificed a lot for me in terms of my cricket career. Ever since I started playing the sport, my parents, my wife, and my sisters were always there. My friends, who played a huge role in shaping up my career, are also part of it. Also, not to forget the mentors in my cricket career, and, of course, the TNCA (Tamil Nadu Cricket Association). All these people have supported me. Prior to the decision (to retire), I had a brief talk with all of these people. It was not a decision made in one evening, it took a long course of time, before it was made.
Please share your thoughts on that famous tour of Pakistan in 2003-04.
LB: Since it was a historic series, it was made even more special. To be honest, I was embarrassed because I was the most famous player on that tour! There were so many big names, who looked after me like elder brothers, they were always there for me, and that tour helped me to get recognition. But, before that, we went to Australia on a three-month tour and had a very good understanding (as a team). I also went out a couple of times with Anil (Kumble) Bhai and Zaheer (Khan). Most of the cricketers bonded well and soon came the back-to-back tour of Pakistan. We went on to win the series, it was a proud moment for me, as I contributed with the bat as well!
Any special anecdotes you remember from that tour?
LB: There are many memories that have made me stronger. Of course, the special one will always be the call-up (to play for India). It is very special because from the day I started playing cricket, I wanted to play for India. It was my dream (as a boy) to play for India, to wear that blue jersey. I was very happy when I got the call-up – almost 14 years ago. That was the most memorable moment, but then it didn’t turn out to be a great debut either!
What is the most memorable bowling spell of your career?
LB: I had a very reasonable career and in a span of 16 years I can’t single out one big performance. But, the ones against Pakistan and Delhi, I would rate very highly. The first was against Pakistan in Australia, before an ODI against Australia at Adelaide, while the other was in the Ranji Trophy semifinal against Delhi. It was the strongest Delhi team as they had three to four Test players like Viru (Virender Sehwag), (Gautam) Gambhir etc. I remember that spell because it gave me the confidence to go further in my career.
What was your experience of playing under various captains, as a Team India and an IPL player?
LB: I played under Sourav (Ganguly) first and he was a sensational captain. MS (Dhoni) and I have always maintained that he is a great cricketer with a very good understanding of leadership. I have enjoyed playing under both these players. I have also played under Gauti (Gambhir) and he was also an inspirational captain. These are the three captains that I have enjoyed playing with. There are other captains in the state team as well, I have played under Robin (Singh) and that was during my first year of First-Class cricket. He was like my bigger brother. I also have played under very good students of the game and I am what I am because of their guidance.
Any batsman who you found tough to bowl to?
LB: There are many batsmen who were definitely some of the greatest that I played against. Inzamam (ul-Haq) is one such who I found tough to bowl to. But then I had the honor of dismissing him! Inzamam and (Adam) Gilchrist were the two best players I have played against in the international arena.
How do you think the pink ball will affect Test cricket?
LB: It is in a trial and error phase, so we need to give it more time, to settle, understand the different conditions it is played under (in day-night games). Only then we would be able to see the exact results. Of course, it is a new dimension in cricket and is a very good initiative to introduce new forms for the betterment of the game. It is welcoming for both spectators and cricketers.
During the death overs, what would you want to bowl – yorkers, slower ones or outside the off-stump deliveries?
LB: I always believe in being aggressive, take wickets. I don’t believe in just one delivery as you have to be upfront and play the opposition in such a manner that you produce good cricket. The best way to play good cricket is to attack and try and take wickets.
How do you react when you are called the ‘smiling assassin’?
LB: You should probably ask this question to my wife because she has a different answer to it! (Smiles) Sometimes I keep my poker face at home. It is a great compliment for me from people who treat me as a smiling personality. But, of course, you won’t be smiling all the time! You will have your fair share of aggression, competitiveness, and a little bit of faith. All these things are natural and is not predetermined.
Any plans to coach or mentor teams?
LB: I will always be involved in one way or the other with the sport. Cricket has given me so much, I have been playing it for almost 20 years. Definitely, I will continue, as without cricket I am nothing. The sport has made me what I am and has taken me so far. Till I take my last breath, the sport will be with me.
(Courtesy: TNPL Media)