Few cricketers in India have disappeared into oblivion as rapidly and as discreetly as Wandavasi Dorakanti Balaji Rao and that too after as promising a beginning as his. After making his Ranji debut for Tamil Nadu as a 17-year-old, the young leggie went on to play for India A against visiting Australia in 2001. Though, his figures of 3/144 against the visitors were forgettable, the fact that the game proved to be his last major outing in India, Rao is best remembered on the domestic circuit for his lone India A appearance. He got dropped from the Tamil Nadu Ranji side the next season and that resulted in him turning his back to cricket. To the utter surprise of his old mates in India, Rao reemerged two years back in a new avatar as he represented Canada in ODIs against West Indies. Now as part of the Canada World Cup squad, that is in Mumbai these days to prepare for the mega event next year, Rao makes his first cricket-related trip to his birth place.
Despite the years gone by, the bitterness hasn’t left the 32-year-old. “I was dropped from the Tamil Nadu squad despite finishing as the highest wicket-taker that season. Their reason for leaving me out, strangely was my unsatisfactory performance in Australia’s practice-game,” he says as he recounts the obstacles he had to face after the 2001 snub.
That was the time Rao’s life was shaken by tragedy at home. His mother was diagnosed with cancer, and the Chennai-born leg-break bowler had to put cricket on the back-burner for the next 18 months. “My brother was studying in Chicago and I had to take care of my mother. When she eventually passed away in 2003, I had been away from first-class cricket for almost two years,” he reveals.
Still just 25, and desperate to continue with his cricket, Rao decided to take a rather drastic decision and set sail to Canada. With Anil Kumble still ruling the roost, Rao recalls having believed that his chances of a national call-up to have been over.
“Domestic cricket wasn’t as lucrative as it is now and plus there was no IPL back then. Going to England or Australia would have meant starting from scratch again. Though I went to Canada primarily to study, I was always on the lookout for a club to restart my cricket with,” explains Rao, who ended up with 94 wickets at 30.60 apiece in 33 first-class matches.
While his plans of making the Canada team for the 2007 World Cup couldn’t materalize with the ICC ruling that he hadn’t yet qualified to represent his adopted country, Rao’s belated international debut finally arrived in 2008 — though not in Indian colours like he had dreamt about since his childhood.
“Well I have always believed that a stepmother ends up caring about you more than your actual mother,” says Rao, who admits to have no regrets regarding the decisions he has made in his cricketing career so far. Rao admits to be hardly in touch with any of his former teammates. Though he does reveal having been contacted by a rather prominent one a few years ago. “VVS Laxman got in touch with me and actually told me that I should have fought on for a little longer rather than shift base,” he reminisces.