The monumental India’s tour of Pakistan threw up an unlikely hero. A tall, lanky 23-year-old cleanly lofted a thundering Shoaib Akhtar for a six in Peshawar. The catch here – the boy was a tailender, brought in to the squad for the pace he generated in first class cricket.
The smiling assassin they called him, and he remained true to his name even on the day he announced his retirement. A fledgling career marred by injuries, Lakshmipathy Balaji still is etched in the memoires of those who reminiscent about the Sourav Ganguly squad.
Born on September 27, 1981 in Chennai, Balaji made his First-Class debut when he played for Tamil Nadu against Colombo District Cricket Association in 2001-02. On his Ranji Trophy debut season, Balaji finished the season with 37 wickets in eight matches at an average of 20.51.
In November 2002, the speedster was called up to the Indian team for the ODI series against West Indies. He only got 4 overs to bowl and was clobbered by Chris Gayle and Wavell Hinds for 44 in that quota.
His career highs came a year and a half later, when he took 4/48 to win a match against Australia in a tri-series encounter. The following tour of Pakistan made him famous, from his six hitting spree to taking vital wickets, Balaji played a pivotal role in the legendary Ganguly squad.
“I have to move on, have a young family now. I have given it all during my 16 years as a first-class cricketer. I will be playing in the shorter forms of the game in competitions such as the TNPL and IPL,” Balaji told The Hindu, while announcing his retirement.
“I want to thank the TNCA and all those cricketers and coaches who guided me,” he added.
The right-arm seamer managed to make a seemingly impossible comeback in the ICC World T20 2012, after sporadic matches over the years. When asked what inspired him to continue and push to make his comeback, he said, “I would ask myself how Anil Kumble would deal with it. Then I would get my answer,” he remarked to The Hindu. “I had come back from an injury (in Mohali) and bowled with a remodelled action. I was generating good pace and took out Younis Khan with a mean one.”
As the Yadav’s and the Kumar’s take over the mantle of leading India’s pace attack, the smiling assassin Lakshmipathy Balaji will still be fondly remembered for his unbreakable spirit.