L Balaji to be Tamil Nadu bowling coach and player
Medium-pacer L Balaji has been named bowling coach and player for Tamil Nadu for the 2015-16 domestic season. Balaji, who was contemplating retirement after last season, has been roped in to play a mentoring role to the team's seamers. TNCA sources said his vast experience would prove useful for a young bowling attack.
Balaji said he accepted the role because it gave him a "sense of direction in his next chapter." "I felt I can definitely contribute on the subject. I have played enough to know how to help the fast bowlers, from my state especially. Whatever role I am going to take, it's going to be a stepping stone and I am also learning."
Balaji, 33, did not play all the Ranji Trophy games in 2014-15 when Tamil Nadu reached the final, picking up 15 wickets in eight matches. While he is likely to be used in a similarly sparing manner this season on pitches that assist seam bowling, there is also a possibility he might not play at all. Balaji has had some game time recently, turning out for India Cements in the pre-season Moin-ud-Dowla tournament and picking up three wickets in the final against hosts Hyderabad.
Balaji cited the examples of Justin Langer, Ryan Harris, Shane Warne and Rahul Dravid as players who performed mentoring roles even while playing competitive cricket. "As a current player you can bring equal chemistry to the players playing alongside you.
"This is just a role that has been given, but I have been having a good rapport with these youngsters and pass on my experience from the time I was captain. [But, the] fast-bowling department hasn't really blossomed, hasn't really lived up to the expectation in the past 10 or 15 years, so we want to create a good environment for newcomers."
The Tamil Nadu team for their first three Ranji Trophy matches was also announced at Tuesday's executive committee meeting of the TNCA, with Abhinav Mukund being retained as captain and B Indrajith his deputy.
RI Palani was appointed Tamil Nadu's cricket manager and M Sanjay, who served as WV Raman's assistant last year, was named coach. The decision ended speculation surrounding the coaching staff after Raman's contract was not extended. While Palani will decide team composition and strategy, Balaji and Sanjay will be in charge of organising practice sessions.
Palani, who is also the joint secretary of the TNCA, was Tamil Nadu's cricket manager during the 2011-12 season, when they were finalists. "They offered me [the job] one month back," Palani told ESPNcricinfo. "I took time. There were two reasons. I was not watching too much cricket for a while, so I wanted to know if I would be able to do justice, so that's why I went with the team to the Moin-ud-Dowla tournament. I had my hernia operation recently as well, so I had to see if my recovery was complete.
"I also wanted to check with my sister if she could take care of my father in my absence. Also, I was waiting for an official offer [from the TNCA] which I got only today."
For more than a month, there had been confusion surrounding Raman's position. It began immediately after he reportedly expressed his interest in coaching the TNCA academy. "Raman didn't want to continue initially as the state coach and was interested in becoming a match referee," a TNCA official said. "After that when he said he wanted to come back to coach Tamil Nadu, the TNCA was not interested because members felt he didn't have the same motivation."
The dominant theory on why Tamil Nadu have not opted for a new head coach is that prospective candidates demanded huge sums as remuneration. "The people that the TNCA approached were quoting too much," a TNCA insider said. "Also not a lot of people were coming forward from outside Tamil Nadu. [Former Karnataka and India batsman] Sujith Somasundar was discussed, but not much came of it. Nothing went to the final stage."
Another TNCA source said that while money was an issue, they didn't want to change the core group. "[Apart from Raman], the support staff hasn't changed. It's a young team that has been doing well and I feel we didn't want to disturb it. The dynamics of the new person will definitely be different. We also didn't get anyone in that time frame."
Tamil Nadu play their opening game against Baroda on October 1 in Chennai.
Squad for first game: Abhinav Mukund (capt), B Aparajith, K Bharath Shankar, B Indrajith, Vijay Shankar, R Prasanna, Dinesh Karthik, Malolan Rangarajan, Rahil Shah, DT Chandrasekar, Aswin Crist, L Vignesh, M Mohammad, J Kousik
Arun Venugopal is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo