For those who have followed the tough road Lakshmipathy Balaji has walked over the last few years, just seeing him going through his paces at the India nets in Hamilton was a victory of sorts. It was his batting stint that ended a long India practice session, with coach Gary Kirsten firing deliveries down the nets with a tennis racquet. Balaji ducked, weaved, let the ball go, blocked and occasionally slapped it away. In some ways, that has been the story of his comeback, learning to have to deal with various setbacks that have come his way.
Just as Balaji was beginning to establish himself at the world stage, a succession of injuries cut him down. First it was osteisis pubis, a rare injury to the pelvic bone, during the Champions Trophy in September 2004. Almost immediately, a knee injury stopped him in his tracks. Then came the big one, a stress fracture to the back in late 2005 that threatened to end his cricketing career.
Balaji, who had the choice of calling time on his career and allowing his back to heal naturally, moving on to other things in life, chose the tough option --- going in for painful surgery and having a screw inserted in his back. Once his body responded, Bala began the slow plod back to competitive cricket. Tamil Nadu coach Woorkheri Raman, who designed Bala's rehabilitation, saw his hard work paying dividends as Bala struck success in the IPL and then followed it with 36 wickets at 17.15 in the Ranji Trophy.
Balaji, who will be competing with Munaf Patel for the third seamer's slot, has not yet heard from the team on whether he will play or not, but such thoughts are far from his mind. “You all know that, it's been a pretty long journey,” he said. “Every cricketer undergoes these tests in his career. You have to accept it.
“I haven’t come here with any expectations,” he continued. “I am just enjoying my bowling, given whatever I have come through in the last two years. As long as I enjoy myself, I do well — I know that. I am looking forward to the matches, to giving my hundred per cent every time I play.”
If he does get a chance, though, you can be sure Bala will not waste it, for the road to redemption has not been an easy one. “On Asian wickets, you have to hit the deck hard because the ball doesn't come on. The length is a little bit shorter in India. But here, the ball does a little if you bowl up. It is very important to adjust the length here and bowl a bit fuller.”