Inspired by Sachin Tendulkar, like many across the world, Malolan Rangarajan embarked on the journey of becoming a cricketer. “I started off playing cricket because of only one man, Sachin Tendulkar. I am very grateful to my parents to let me play the game. I started playing when I was 12 years old. I just wanted to hit the ball. Slowly things started changing, by 16 (years of age) I realised that I had a career being an off-spinner. After that there has been no looking back,” he said fondly reflecting on the time gone by.
He has since evolved as a vital cog in the Tamil Nadu line-up and with 33 wickets is the highest wicket-taker for the team in the run-up to the Ranji Trophy 2014-15 final. Along the way he has drawn inspiration and learnt the finer nuances of the game from team-mates, L Balaji and Ravichandran Ashwin.
Excerpts from the interview:
Being the leading wicket-taker for TN and being instrumental in the success must be pleasing?
I have been playing for the state for the last four years (debut in December 2011) and my role has become more prominent this year. Taking 33 wickets is obviously important for me but I also have been working on my batting lower down the order since we play seven batsmen. I have scored around 350 runs there so good an all-round performance. But when it comes to bowling, I have always looked up to L Bala (L Balaji) in our team. He has been our main bowler for many years now and you need someone to take over from him. I have always put my hand. And I would like to be the person who takes over from him. I wish I can, hopefully one day I will.
What have you learnt from him?
There are a lot of things that you pick up from Bala bhai when we play. He has talked about things like putting pressure in one session and building a spell and stuff like that. These are minor but very important things.
How do you see your role?
I always see myself as a wicket-taking bowler. I believe that by taking wickets you always keep check on the run-rate and on the batsman.
The best way to keep a batsman quiet is by taking wickets so that’s how I go about my work, by always taking wickets?
How much do you rely on flight?
I do have variations in my bowling. It (using flight) is one of variations. I do flight the ball and I do go flat depending on whatever the wicket requires. I adjust to conditions.
How challenging is it come back after being hit for runs?
I feel for any bowler it is important to not react to what the batsman is doing. You have to make the batsman do what you want. Yes, there are times when they take you on and you might get hit but the most important thing is to change his plan and not let him feel comfortable.
How do use your height to your advantages?
I had to make a few changes a couple of years back with my coach Prasanna (Prasanna Agoram) (to adjust to the height). Now I think it is working out well. For bounce yes it is an advantage at times. Being a taller bowler obviously gives you a little bit more lateral bounce off the wicket. If anything it (height) makes it tough for you to flight the ball. The taller you are, the tougher it is to flight the ball.
Spinners have been key to TN’s success. What has it been like bowling with left-arm spinner Rahil Shah (27 wickets) and Aushik Srinivas (19 wickets)?
The best part about the three of us is that we have been playing together for a very long time. Rahil and I played for the same team in the first division league. Aushik and I have been playing together since age group stage. We know each other’s strength and we support each other. If I am getting wickets the other person would keep it tight from the other end. For example in the game against Mumbai, Rahil was doing well and I had to lay low. I took the job of keeping one end tight.
Ravichandran Ashwin is another tall off-spinner from your state. Do you feel pressure of filling in those shoes as well?
No, not at all! While looking to get in to the Tamil Nadu team I had said that I am looking to play alongside Ashwin. He is a brilliant bowler and a very smart cricketer. I look up to him and every time he bowls I look to pick things from him. My job is to do well for Tamil Nadu and any team that I play for.
What have you learnt from him? Have you had any interactions?
We don’t get to interact a lot because he is travelling a lot. But whenever he is around he does give a few tips. He is always open to people who approach him.
Which has been the most memorable dismissal for you?
One would certainly be the wicket of Wasim Jaffer. I had picked it up in my first Duleep Trophy game last season when I took a five-for against West Zone. My first wicket was that of Wasim Jaffer. That will have to be my most memorable first-class wicket and I hope to get many more.
How do you look forward to playing the final against Karnataka?
They are an attacking team. I feel it will work to my strength because I am an attacking bowler myself. In the first game they went after me. This game I am looking forward to the challenge and giving it back.