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Want to become TN’s strike bowler: Rangarajan

Tamil Nadu off-spinner harbours dreams of leading the team’s attack

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.

Ahead of the final battle at the Wankhede Stadium against Karnataka, Malolan Rangarajan spoke to BCCI.TV about his craft, aspirations and playing for his state side.

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.

Prajakta Pawar

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Swing it like Shami

‘When I get swing and bounce off the wicket, I’ll trouble the batsmen’

When was the last time you clapped for an Indian pace attack? When was the last time you couldn’t help but feast your eyes over ‘speed’ and accuracy from the Indian quicks? Friday afternoon against the West Indies at the WACA was one afternoon to remember, not for India’s fourth victory on the trot but for a telling display of fast bowling. Who would have thought India’s ‘fast’ men would make life miserable for the West Indian openers; a role reversal of kinds from the yore.

There was pace, bounce, the zip and all the ingredients that a fast bowler would yearn for and how well did India’s pace trio exploit it. Yadav was fast, Shami vowed by accuracy and late swing while Mohit Sharma, like always, stuck to his role of sustaining pressure. Collectively they made life for the Windies openers difficult. It took 10 deliveries for Chris Gayle to get off the mark. That’s how disciplined India were since the time they were asked to bowl first.

Shami clearly led the way. He made the batsmen hop, duck and dance to his tunes with an outstanding spell of fast bowling in the first hour. He bowled 28 deliveries to the smashing opening combo of Gayle and Dwayne Smith, giving away just 12. There came a point when both batsmen tried to hit themselves out of trouble. Clearly that didn’t work. Both were Shami’s victims a while later. “Our plan against the West Indies top order batsmen was to keep things tight and not give them freebies,” explained Shami while speaking exclusively to bcci.tv.

“Both Smith and Gayle are stroke players and love to play their strokes in the initial part of the innings. We wanted to keep both under check. For that it was important to put them under pressure. We did get them in a lot of trouble. Once we got them under pressure, maintaining that pressure was very important. We had to hit the right line and lengths which we did successfully.”

Talking about Gayle in particular, Shami said, “We wanted him out soon. We know he has a reputation of being troubled by the outswingers, but at the same time it was important to mix things up with him. We did that well, kept him under pressure and got him out.”

For Shami it was about using the conditions on offer to his advantage. “The moment I had the ball in my hand and I got a little bit of swing off the wicket, my eyes lit up. With swing on offer I was confident it could serve as a plus point for me. I know for a fact if I get swing and bounce at the same time it is going to get tough for the batsmen. I don’t think it gets difficult for me to curtail the batsmen once I get the ball to swing. The moment it stopped swinging a bit I starting using the cross seam deliveries.”

Shami makes an interesting observation about his game and also spoke about how he used the game against England at the WACA in the tri-series to his advantage going into this match. “We played against England in the ODI tri-series and I had a good idea about the bounce of the wicket. Personally the bounce here at the WACA helps me a lot and it benefits my style of bowling. It is something that helps me to bowl at the death and at the same time bowl at the beginning of the innings. When I bowled against England here I noticed that I was getting the ball to swing a lot. Today as well, I got the ball to swing with pace and I could use the cross seam deliveries to my advantage. After that game and noticing the other game against UAE I could figure out how to bowl under these conditions. For a fast bowler it is very important to get such kinds of wickets and it gives you great joy to bowl on such tracks. We did our homework and jotted down plans for this game and it is satisfying that we could execute it well.”

While Shami hogged the limelight for his match-winning performance, the pacer credited the rest of the pace battery for the team’s success of late. “The good thing about this bowling unit is that we work as a team. Each pacer has a role in the team and a specific plan as a group. We are bowling as a group and not looking at bowling as individuals. It is important us to strike collectively. If you are thinking about yourself then it is not going to help the team’s cause.”

One highlight about the game was the number of wides conceded by both sides. There were as many as 35 wides bowled in the match. Shami said it could be because the pacers got carried away by the bounce on offer. “It was really important not to get carried away by the bounce. Since the wicket had so much of bounce on it, the pacers tried to bang a lot of deliveries short and in the bargain couldn’t help but give away wides. In our case we were getting a lot of wickets by bowling short and we wanted to use the bounce. We would not have wanted to give that many away but we were getting wickets off those bouncers.”

Speaking about his fitness leading up to the game Shami said, “My injury wasn’t serious at all. After the tri-series and Tests it is very natural for the body to feel the work load. I just had a slight swelling on my knee and it was only sensible to take a rest in the previous match. It was very important for me to be match fit against the West Indies and I am glad I could come back stronger and perform here.”

With four wins in a row India continue to top the group. Few would have thought that India were capable of picking up 40 wickets in four games before the start of the tournament. This is a side that looks strong contenders to go all the way and it should be heartening for the team to see their bowling unit work in tandem and working wonders. “I bowl with a free mind and I am always confident you know,” Shami gives a parting shot before he walks to the fans who want a picture and a few autographs from WACA’s new bowling star.

Anand Subramaniam

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