He was more popular than Imran Khan: Ashish Nehra on India cricketer during Pakistan tour of 2003-04
There still may not any clarity on the next India vs Pakistan Test series but a little more than 16 years ago in 2003-04 when India toured Pakistan for the first time after a similar sort of gap between bilateral series involving the two countries, the situation was different.
The Sourav Ganguly-led Indian side was touring Pakistan for the first time since Kargil War and they ended winning both the ODI and Test series. There were some memorable performances from the likes of Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and Irfan Pathan but according to former India pacer Ashish Nehra, the most popular and memorable cricketer of that tour was right-arm pacer Lakshmipathy Balaji.
Balaji, who played in all three Test matches and the five one-dayers during that tour and was also instrumental in India’s victory in the series-deciding third Test at Rawalpindi by picking up 7 wickets, was referred deemed as the popular Indian cricketer during that tour by Nehra.
Nehra said Balaji was in fact more popular than former Pakistan captain and current Prime Minister Imran Khan during that tour.
“In the dressing room, Irfan can give you more stories, the only thing I remember is Laxmipathy Balaji on that particular tour. Maybe that time he was more popular than Imran Khan,” said Nehra in Star Sports’ show Cricket Connected.
Balaji had also hit Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Sami for sixes during the ODI series of the series.
“Those six weeks he was hitting sixes left right and centre there was no doubt about it. Virender Sehwag triple hundred, Rahul Dravid double hundred, Irfan Pathan performance, all that is there but to me off the field, Pakistan, the nation as a whole and Laximathy Balaji in the dressing room,” said Nehra.
“I still remember Javed Miandad inviting all of us to his house and that food in his house was amazing, I still remember it,” Nehra added.
Balaji played eight tests, 30 ODIs and five T20Is for India and picked up 27, 34 and 10 wickets across the formats respectively before announcing his retirement in 2017.