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Hercules Champions
Young, upwardly mobile wrist spinner

The sighting of wrist spin bowlers in domestic cricket has become increasingly rare. The advent of the shorter version of the game has led to diminishing patronage for them, ill-suited as they are to perform a containing role, at the grassroots level. However there are still a few promising practitioners who, with the encouragement of understanding captains, are seeking to redefine the art.

Twenty two year old WD Balaji Rao has reason to be satisfied with his stint in the Tamil Nadu Ranji Trophy team this season. It marks a second coming for the lad who made a precocious entry into first class cricket in 1994/95, before turning 17, only to disappear out of focus soon afterwards. Playing for India Youth against England A, which had six past or future Test players in its ranks, he snapped up seven wickets. The impact was swift. One day later, he found himself taking the field for Tamil Nadu in a Ranji Trophy clash with Kerala.

He was a fixture in the India Under 19 team for four years, touring England, Australia and Sri Lanka and playing South Africa at home. Having spent three seasons with Tamil Nadu, he accepted an offer to play for Railways in the 1999-2000 season, but without conspicuous success. The 2000-2001 season has seen Balaji Rao switch back to Tamil Nadu where he's rediscovered a happy predilection for taking wickets. In the South Zone league, Balaji Rao has mopped up 19 victims so far, becoming in the process the leading strike bowler for his team.

Chosen to play in the Deodhar Trophy in December, he was a key member of the South Zone team which finished joint winners. A four wicket haul pulled the rug from under holders North Zone in the semi final. In the final, he played another vital role, this time with the bat, slamming an unbeaten 31 off 20 balls to help South Zone tie against Central Zone from an impossible position. He realizes that it's essential to develop one's all round skills to make the cut at the international level, and is bestowing attention on his batting and fielding too.

But of course it is Balaji Rao's bowling that will, more likely than not, win matches for his team. He has a lively action beginning with a brisk, workmanlike trot and culminating in a swift roll of the wrists that quickly despatches the ball out of his fingers. Questioned about his strengths, Balaji Rao believes that his googly, which turns a fair way, is his main selling point and suggests it's because the batsmen can't see his fingers at the point of delivery.

"Ask any youngster what his goal is and he'll say I want to play for India, its the same for me" is his quietly confident refrain. If Balaji Rao's career graph continues along its current upwardly mobile trajectory, he'll get the opportunity to set himself up for a shot at the coveted India cap sooner rather than later.

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WD Balaji Rao
WD Balaji Rao

Notable Performances
Interview (Audio)