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L Balaji calls time on first-class, List A career

India and Tamil Nadu seamer L Balaji will reitre from first-class and List A cricket, but has stated that he will be available for smaller T20 leagues

Arun Venugopal
India and Tamil Nadu seamer L Balaji will retire from first-class and List A cricket, but has said he will be available for smaller T20 leagues.
Balaji will meet TNCA president N Srinivasan later this evening to formally announce his retirement. The TNCA, it is learnt, is keen for Balaji to be bowling coach for the 2016-17 domestic season, a role he also fulfilled in the 2015-16 season. Balaji is expected to take a call after discussing the terms of his contract during his meeting with Srinivasan.
"I have taken a decision on not playing senior-level cricket any longer in any format. I have asked the TNCA to not pick me for the Tamil Nadu team this season," he told ESPNcricinfo. "I am still looking to continue playing the smaller leagues, but let's see how it goes."
Balaji, 34, made his first-class debut for Tamil Nadu in the 2001-02 season, against the Colombo District Cricket Association, and took 37 wickets in his maiden first-class season in India. The following season, he finished as the joint highest wicket-taker in the Ranji Trophy in 2002-03, with 47 dismissals, and went on to make a Test debut in October 2003 against New Zealand in Ahmedabad.
Overall, Balaji played 106 first-class matches, taking 330 wickets at an average of 26.10, with 16 five-fors and four ten-wicket hauls. In List A cricket, his record stands at 145 wickets in 100 matches at an average of 29.35. He also captained Tamil Nadu for three seasons - from 2011-12 to 2013-14, with the side reaching the Ranji Trophy final in 2011-12.
Balaji picked the spell against Delhi in the Ranji Trophy semifinal in 2002-03 as one of his favourites in his first-class career. Balaji took 5 for 49 in the second innings, and seven in the match, to help Tamil Nadu beat Delhi by 132 runs. "I think I have been part of some very interesting matches," he said. "I picked up a five-for in the second innings against a team that featured three, four Test players like Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag and Aakash Chopra. My spell of 6 for 24 against Bengal in 2008-09 [Ranji Trophy quarter-final] was also very special."
His last first-class appearance came in the 2014-15 Ranji Trophy final, in which Karnataka beat Tamil Nadu by an innings and 217 runs. Before the 2015-16 season, Balaji was named bowling coach and was also picked as a player, though he did not eventually play any first-class matches in the season. His appearances for Tamil Nadu in 2015-16 were limited to four one-day matches in the Vijay Hazare Trophy.
Since then, Balaji has only played in the inaugural Tamil Nadu Premier League T20 tournament, where he has taken eight wickets so far for Albert TUTI Patriots.
Balaji played eight Tests between 2003 and 2005, picking up 27 wickets at an average of 37.18. His best performances in Tests came against Pakistan in the 2003-04 and 2004-05 seasons. On the tour of Pakistan in 2004, Balaji took 12 wickets in the three-Test series, including a haul of 7 for 171 in the decisive Rawalpindi Test, which India won to claim the series 2-1.
The following year, when Pakistan toured India, Balaji was among the wickets again, ending with 14 wickets in three matches. This included a match haul of nine in the first Test in Mohali, where he also claimed his only five-for in the format.
Balaji also played 29 ODIs between November 2002 and August 2005, before suffering a career-threatening stress fracture for which he underwent back surgery. He eventually made a comeback to the Indian side after being picked for the ODIs in Sri Lanka in early 2009, but played only one match in the series.
Despite his international career remaining ridden with injuries, Balaji said he was fortunate to having played alongside his childhood heroes. "To play alongside bigger brothers like Zaheer [Khan], Ashish [Nehra], Harbhajan [Singh] and Yuvi [Yuvraj Singh]… they have always been looking after me," he said. "Also playing with the six legends - Viru [Virender Sehwag ], Sourav [Ganguly], Anil [Kumble] bhai, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman - was a dream come true.
"I am very indebted to my seniors from my state; I have learnt a lot from every cricketer I have played and interacted with. The TNCA has been very supportive, especially when I had a surgery, and N Srinivasan, especially, backed me. Of course, I am indebted to my family, my wife, my sisters, and my friends, without whom I wouldn't have made this level from being a tennis-ball cricketer.
"I have made the physio's job and the doctor's job very tough for a few years, so I would like to thank them for helping me come out of a career-threatening injury. I kept them busy for sometime, and in the end made good friends in a different field."

Arun Venugopal is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo. @scarletrun