'Chennai boy' Rahil Shah hopes to build on strong start

Rahil Shah collected a career-best 7 for 34 Sivaraman Kitta

In the 2015 World Cup, Grant Elliott played a blinder to help his adopted country New Zealand beat the country of his birth South Africa. Loosely speaking, left-arm spinner Rahil Shah produced the Ranji Trophy version of it on Saturday. The man born in Surat in Gujarat reeled off nine wickets for Tamil Nadu and spun out a team from Gujarat - Baroda - at the MA Chidambaram Stadium.

"I have lived my entire life in Chennai," Rahil, 29, told ESPNcricinfo. "My mother tongue is Gujarati, but I can say I am a pukka Chennai boy. I like to watch most Rajinikant movies."

His grandfather first moved to Pondicherry and then to Chennai for business. "My mom's side is from Surat," Rahil said. "Generally, we have a custom of going to the mother's place for the delivery [of the baby]. We came back in about 15 days."

Rahil also said he was "struck" by cricket from his school days before pursuing the game more seriously during college. "It has always been a craze in India and during my fifth or sixth standard, I just wanted to play cricket. I love every sport, but cricket just struck me and I played for the fun of it.

"I took the game more seriously by ninth or tenth standard when our school - Bhavans Rajaji Vidyashram - got coaches from Southern Railways and then set up nets with concrete and matting wickets. I started entering school tournaments and TNCA tournaments."

Rahil began as a right-handed opening batsman and medium-pacer. He had even tried his hand at wicketkeeping before turning to left-arm spin. But the big break was proving elusive. A fractured finger became the final straw and Rahil's focus shifted to academics.

"In 2007, I went to UK and studied Masters in Finance," he said. "Maybe I needed some time away, I did not know whether to come back to cricket or join work."

The answer came via a friend who said Parry, a team from the TNCA League, were looking for left-arm spinners. "'Just give it a go,' [he told me] and I got through the trial and in the first season for Parry I got 51 wickets," Rahil said

Rahil has been in good form this season. He had taken 34 wickets for Vijay CC in league cricket in preparation for the Ranji Trophy and the results were on show in Chennai. His 5 for 43 was instrumental in Tamil Nadu's narrow seven-run win. Offspinner Malolan Rangarajan provided excellent support from the other end, something Rahil has been used to.

"Me and Malo [Malolan] have been bowling lots of overs for Vijay CC," Rahil said. "When I attack, Malo backs me. When he attacks, I back him. We usually play 11 matches in club cricket and we have a good understanding."

Rahil's first-class record is impressive: 54 wickets, including four five-wicket hauls and four four wicket-hauls at 18.48. However, he has played 11 matches since his debut in 2011, and all of them have been at home.

Is he a dart-it-in, rank-turner specialist? "No, it depends on the combination. Whenever I get a chance, I am ready to play away games and pick wickets even on good batting wickets," Rahil said.

"Earlier I used to bowl at 90ks. Now, I have reduced it to 85ks and I focus on using more revs on the ball. And I enjoy watching Daniel Vettori. He uses a lot of revs on the ball and varies his speeds well."

Rahil, whose control and calm ensured Tamil Nadu prevailed in a tight finish, hoped the victory against Baroda would be a scene-setter for the rest of the season.