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Balaji is well and truly back

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Lakshmipathy Balaji.
Lakshmipathy Balaji.

S. Dinakar

Chennai: Lakshmipathy Balaji’s astonishing recovery from a stress fracture of the lower back reflects his mental resilience, the advancement of sports science, and the effort of a dedicated coach.

The pace spearhead’s match-winning nine-wicket match haul for Tamil Nadu against Uttar Pradesh in a Ranji Trophy Super League match augurs well for the state side. Balaji is buzzing again.

“I am running in well, feeling good about my bowling and body,” said Balaji to The Hindu on Wednesday. “I am bowling quicker, am able to bowl longer spells without feeling any strain or discomfort.”

Balaji has as many wickets — 27 — as his age, in eights Tests. He wants to play for India again.

“In the past 16 months he has gone through several emotions — disappointment, frustration, a sense of helplessness. From being at the top of the world, he found himself in the midst a severe career crisis. Eventually, he had to go under the surgeon’s knife. Not many would have come through the situation in the manner Balaji has done,” said Tamil Nadu coach W.V. Raman.

Mixed action

Balaji broke down in 2006, his back unable to take the load of a ‘mixed action.’ The bottom half of his body was side-on and the top-half, front-on. Consequently, pressure equalling nearly 10 times his body weight was put on his lower back.

S. Ramakrishnan of SportsMechanics, who worked in tandem with Raman during Balaji’s recovery process, said, “Raman took it up as a personal challenge. Balaji not only had to recover from s serious injury but had to remodel his action. It was not going to be easy. He was falling over at the point of delivery, his body was pulling in different directions. The hip and shoulder separation was very high.”

Balaji went through an intense, specific recovery programme. A lot of emphasis was on the paceman’s run-up.

“His run-up had to be changed. He had to run in with greater intensity and balance and towards the batsman. Then, we focussed on his action. Initially, he bowled with his eyes closed and without the ball in his hand to get a ‘feel’ of his action. Raman wanted Balaji to create a mental image of his action,” revealed Ramakrishnan.

A semi-open release — here the front hip and the front shoulder point in the same direction — was the new mode of release for Balaji. His body was more aligned now.

Balaji’s stint for Chennai Super Kings in the IPL was not without success. But then he was bowling only four overs in a match. The game’s longer versions presented bigger tests for Balaji and his new methods.

If the ongoing Ranji Trophy season is any indication, Balaji is well and truly back.

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