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Bowls them over

Chennai's hero Balaji is back. SANJAY RAJAN on the bowler's success, from the point of view of those who know him

LIFE WON'T be the same again for Lakshmipathi Balaji. Certainly not after his exploits across the border and the star status he achieved after the cricket series recently.

The Pakistan tour — the 22-year-old's second trip (after Australia) with the senior National side — has done wonders to the lean and mean speedster's career, both as a bowler and a sporting figure.

He enjoyed immense popularity in the land of the Pathans, especially among the girls. "Some said it was my name, others said it was my smile," said a beaming Balaji, who coped admirably with the responsibility of being one of the main bowlers.

A few of those who know him well had this to say about his success:

N.P. Balaji, his first coach: The talent was evident early. He enrolled in my Academy's (Prahlad CC) summer camp in May 1998. I realised immediately that he was blessed with natural ability. I told him it was up to him to put in the hard work. I've not seen a more dedicated cricketer. He has maintained the intensity throughout.

Before the Pakistan tour, `Bala' came regularly to the Academy's nets at the AG's Office, bowled and also worked on his batting - we chucked bouncers and yorkers from 16 yards at him. I'm thrilled about his success. He deserves every bit of it.

Bharat Reddy, sports co-ordinator, Chemplast (which runs Jolly Rovers): Success at the highest level was only expected of him. I am glad that it happened so early and with such high impact. Balaji is a strong-willed lad. You saw it in the manner he relaunched himself after being given the stick by the West Indian openers on his one-day debut. I realised his potential during the cricket tour of England which I arranged in 2000. I am sure he is here to stay.

K. Manoj Kumar, fitness trainer: His work ethic is terrific. He is a disciplined and determined young man who works very hard on his endurance, speed and strength-building that he is a lot fitter than many of the State's leading football players. I've trained Balaji since 1998 and I've not seen a harder trier.

S. Suresh, State captain: It is his strength of character that has seen him succeed at the highest level. He is extremely strong physically too. Give him the ball any time of the day and you can be sure he'll put in his best. He is very disciplined, works very hard on his cricket and is a terrific guy.

R. Lakshmipathi, father: It's purely his own effort. The success in Pakistan was a dream-come-true for my son, whose ambition in life was to play a winning hand for the country.

He achieved it and we are immensely happy for him.

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