India, Sri Lanka, Venugopal Rao, Muttiah Muralitharan, Andhra
Rao had made his international debut against Sri Lanka at Dambulla on July 30, 2005, a game which the hosts won by three wickets. @ Twitter

Former India batsman Venugopal Rao believes it was an unforgettable experience for him on his debut to face spin wizard Muttiah Muralitharan of Sri Lanka.

On Tuesday, Rao announced his retirement from all forms of cricket. The former middle-order batsman had made his international debut against Sri Lanka at Dambulla on July 30, 2005, a game which the hosts won by three wickets.

Batting first, India had scored 205 runs out of which debutant Rao had scored 38 off 74 balls. Sri Lanka chased down the target with 10 balls to spare and took a 1-0 lead in the five-match series.

“Playing Muttiah Muralitharan on debut was an unforgettable experience,” Rao told ESPNCricinfo.

“As batsmen, we grew up playing spin, but I felt nothing quite prepared you to face him. He was an exceptional bowler. I have fond memories of that game (even though India lost).”

He represented India in 16 ODIs, the last of which came in May 2006 against West Indies at Basseterre.

The 37-year-old, during his two-decade long career which effectively ended in 2017, had earned praise from then coach Greg Chappell and batted alongside legendary Indian cricketer Sachin Tendulkar.

“Ahead of my India debut, I was a little nervous. Many thoughts ran through my mind. Greg had just taken up as coach, and he told me ‘Look, for me, where you come from doesn’t matter. I know you are good enough to be here, and that is why you are here.’ Those words gave me a lot of belief,” Rao said.

Rao, who holds the distinction of being India’s first super-sub, also recalled how people in early 1990s used to laugh whenever a cricketer from Andhra had a desire to play for the national team.

“In the early 1990s, they used to laugh whenever someone from Andhra desired to play for India. To be one of only two cricketers from the region (MSK Prasad being the other) to play for the country proved that you can achieve your goal,” he said.

“To come from a fishing village near Visakhapatnam, where my father worked for a modest salary of Rs 7,000 to support five children and playing was a big thing. All credit to my parents,” he added.

He played 121 first-class matches scoring 7,081 runs, which included 17 hundreds and 30 fifties. He also played 65 IPL matches for Deccan Chargers, Delhi Daredevils and Sunrisers Hyderabad between 2008 and 2014.