Venkatapathy Raju: 12 facts about the pencil-thin spinner who was mockingly nicknamed ‘Muscles’

Sagi Lakshmi Venkatapathy Raju, born July 9, 1969, is a former India left-arm spinner, known for his lion-heartedness. A bowler who wasn’t scared to flight the ball, he was the apt successor to the prematurely exiting Maninder Singh. Despite being in and out of the side, Raju went on to finish his career with 156 international wickets. Suvajit Mustafi lists out 12 facts about the iconic Hyderabadi cricketer. 

1.  Nicknamed ‘Muscles’: Raju’s skinny frame led South African all-rounder Brian McMillan playfully call him ‘Muscles’. The nickname stuck.

2.  Alumni of All Saints School: “Shabash, Raju”, was a cheer often heard on television during India’s matches in the 90s. Indian captain Mohammed Azharuddin never shied away from cheering his ace spinner. Their association goes beyond playing for Indian side, where Azhar was his first captain. Both played for Hyderabad and attended the same school in Hyderabad — All Saints School. Indian cricketer Noel David also attended the same school. 

3.  Switching from right-arm off-spin to left-arm orthodox: Not many have done this. Even if they have, they haven’t found this success. When Raju started playing at the age of eight he bowled right-arm off-spin, however since he could throw the ball with his left-arm, his coach suggested him to switch bowling arm. He began bowling left-arm orthodox and rest is history.

4.  A teenage prodigy: Raju made his Ranji Trophy debut at the age of 16 and went on to be a prolific performer at the under-19 level. In 1989-90 domestic season, he claimed 32 wickets and proved lethal. He was picked for the New Zealand tour.

5.  Stars with bat on debut: Raju made his Test debut in Christchurch. Riding on a 185 from John Wright, New Zealand had put up 459 and were strongly placed. Raju, who had picked up the vital wickets of Wright, Martin Crowe and Ian Smith, was sent in to bat at No 5 by Azharuddin as a night-watchman. Though India managed only 164, Raju was the third highest scorer with 31! Even in the second innings Raju’s fighting 21 delayed the New Zealand victory. His 31 on debut remained his highest score in Test cricket.

6.  Muscles breaks his knuckles: Raju was a part of the Indian touring contingent to England in 1990. However, he couldn’t play a game after breaking his knuckle of his bowling hand. It happened when the touring Indians were playing Gloucestershire and Raju was facing West Indian speedster Courtney Walsh. While Raju’s English summer ended then, Anil Kumble, who went on to be India’s greatest spinner, made his debut on that tour.

7.  A memorable comeback: It’s never easy for a young bowler to stage a comeback from injury. Raju once again proved his lion-heartedness by staging a memorable return. In what was his third and comeback in Tests. In the first innings, at Chandigarh, he bowled 17.5 overs, gave away 12 runs and claimed six Sri Lankan wickets — his best figurers in a Test innings, as the visitors were bowled out for 84. In the second innings, Raju was at his miserly best to register figures of 36-25-25-2.

8.  Drew comparisons with the great spin quartet: In the 1990s, Kumble, Raju and off-spinner Rajesh Chauhan formed a potent spin-trio. All three were different in their skills. The trio began to draw comparisons with the famous Indian spin quartet of 60s and 70s that comprised — Erapalli Prasanna, Bishan Singh Bedi, Bhagwath Chandrasekhar and Srinivas Venkataraghavan. Seeing the rising expectations from the fans, Raju termed the comparison “unfair”. And rightly so.

9.  Selector and HCA Vice President: Raju last played for India in the famous Eden Gardens Test against Australia in 2001 and retired from First-Class cricket in December 2004. Raju became an Indian selector in 2007-08. He was the selector when Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s men won the inaugural World Twenty20 Championship in South Africa and during the same time the concept of Indian Premier League (IPL) was conceived and implemented. For a brief time was the vice-president of Hyderabad Cricket Association.

10.  Move to coaching and development role: For a brief time he coached Orissa and also helped Associate sides like UAE and Thailand in his role of a development officer at the Asian Cricket Council. Recently, Raju was guiding the national cricket team from the earthquake affected Nepal during their 15-day camp in Dharamsala ahead of the ICC Twenty20 Qualifiers starting in July.

11.  Love for Hyderabad: Hyderabad has a great cricketing past and Raju is an iconic city legend. His contribution to the game has added to the city’s cricketing heritage. Raju, born in Alamuru in the East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh, came to Hyderabad in the 80s and fell in love with it. In an interview with ESPNCricinfo, Raju said, “In the 1980s, when I first came to Hyderabad, I was struck by the beauty of place, especially after sunset, when the streets were lit and people were walking through the bazaars, having lovely Irani chai and street food while prayers were being said in the nearby mosques.” Raju also loves his Hyderabadi Biriyani, along with tea, at his favourite Paradise restaurant.

12.  Pragyan Ojha’s role model: Pragyan Ojha, who will now turn up for Bengal in the upcoming Indian domestic season, was a mainstay for Hyderabad for many years. The left-arm spinner, who has 113 Test wickets, considers Raju as his role model. In an interview in 2014, the spinner, who represents IPL champions Mumbai Indians (MI), said, “It is Venkatapathy Raju [I look up to]. We are from the same state. When I was growing up I used to watch him bowl. He motivated me a lot in my initial days. I had the chance of watching him bowl because we used to practice in the same nets that he used to.” Raju, also is a big admirer of Ojha’s skills and calls him a “genuine match-winner”.

(Suvajit Mustafi consumes cricket for lunch, fiction for dinner and munches numerous other snacks throughout the day. Yes, a jack of several trades, all Suvajit dreamt of was being India’s World Cup winning skipper but ended up being a sports writer, author, screenwriter, director, copywriter, graphic designer, sportsmarketer , strategist, entrepreneur,  philosopher and traveller. Donning so many hats, it’s cricket which gives him the ultimate high and where he finds solace. He can be followed at @RibsGully and rivu7)