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December 15, 2004
Venkatapathy Raju, the former Indian left-arm spinner, has retired from first-class cricket. Raju, 35, made the announcement this afternoon during the third day of the Ranji Trophy match between Hyderabad and Uttar Pradesh at the Gymkhana Grounds in Hyderabad.
Raju said that Hyderabad's woeful performances this season had played a part in his decision. "We entered the semi-finals last year," Raju told Cricinfo, "and I thought I would give it a last shot this time. But we have been struggling this season and I thought this was the right time to leave."
Raju played 28 Tests for India and will be best remembered as part of a fantastic spin trio - which also included Anil Kumble and Rajesh Chauhan - that made India near-invincible at home through the 1990s. Though not a big turner of the ball, he could peg away in a narrow channel and was always a threat on a crumbling pitch.
Nicknamed "Muscles" by South Africa's Brian McMillan, because of his extremely puny build, Raju made his debut in the opening Test of the 1990 series against New Zealand at Christchurch. Two matches later, he had the Sri Lankans groping on a Chandigarh turner and destroyed them with a spell of 6 for 12 in 17.5 overs, 13 of which were maidens.
Until 1995 he was a vital cog in India's home-spun triumphs, and enjoyed a heady series against West Indies in 1993-94, when he topped the wicket charts by a distance. However, the emergence of Sunil Joshi in the late '90s cost him a place in the side, and he was consigned to the grind of domestic cricket after the Australian series of 1998, where he managed just seven wickets in the three Tests.
He was recalled for a final fling, though, and was part of the epic encounter at Kolkata in 2001, the Test where VVS Laxman and Harbhajan Singh brought India back from the dead. He chipped in with the crucial wicket of Mark Waugh on the nerve-wracking final afternoon.
Though he bowled in the giant shadow of Kumble when playing for India, Raju was a massive influence in the Hyderabad side. With 589 wickets in first-class cricket he was one of the linchpins of the Hyderabad attack for almost 15 years, forming a deadly combination with the offspinner Kanwaljit Singh, and his 52 wickets in the 1999-2000 season propelled them to the final.
"The Ranji Trophy victory in 1987-88 and then reaching the final in 2000 were the memorable moments of my domestic career," Raju admitted. "Apart from that, bowling with Kumble in the '90s and the victories against England, Sri Lanka and West Indies were memorable."
Raju had his moments with the bat - on his debut, he gritted it out for more than two hours in seaming conditions at Christchurch - but was largely a bunny at No. 11. He also possessed a mischievous streak as was evident when he tugged at Merv Hughes's moustache on the Australian tour of 1992.
"People said I looked casual but I always gave my best," said Raju. "I hope I am remembered as someone who gave it his all."
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is on the staff of Cricinfo.
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