Former pacer Ashish Nehra was part of India’s squad during their historic tour to Pakistan in 2003-2004, where the Men in Blue registered Test and One-day International (ODI) series victories over their arch-rivals.
- Lakshmipathy Balaji was one of India’s star performers during India’s tour of Pakistan in 2003-04.
- India clinched ODI and Test series wins during their 2003-04 tour of Pakistan.
While sharing stories from the memorable tour in Star Sports’ show Cricket Connected, Nehra said the Pakistan fans became so fond of Lakshmipathy Balaji, that the former pacer might have been more popular than Pakistan’s current Prime Minister Imran Khan during that tour.
“In the dressing room, Irfan can give you more stories, the only thing I remember is Laxmipathy Balaji on that particular tour. Maybe that time he was more popular than Imran Khan,” said Nehra.
Balaji made notable contributions with the bat lower down the order and even hit few sixes against Pakistan pacers, Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Sami, during the ODI series.
“Those six weeks he [Balaji] was hitting sixes left right and centre there was no doubt about it. Virender Sehwag triple hundred, Rahul Dravid double hundred, Irfan Pathan performance, all that is there but to me off the field, Pakistan, the nation as a whole and Laximathy Balaji in the dressing room,” Nehra added.
However, Balaji’s best moment came in the final Test of the three-match Test series, when his 7-wicket match haul helped India register an innings and 131-run win to seal a series win.
India began the Test series with an innings and 52-run win before Pakistan levelled the series with a 9-wicket win in the second Test.
In the third Test, India captain Ganguly won the toss and opted to field, and his move worked wonders as Pakistan were bundled out for just 224, with Lakshmipathy Balaji registering figures of 4/63.
A monumental 270 from Rahul Dravid helped India to 600 before Balaji returned to pick 3/108 and played an instrumental role in restricting Pakistan to just 245 in their second innings.
Nehra also recalled how the legendary Pakistan batsman Javed Miandad invited the Indian team to his home for dinner.
“I still remember Javed Miandad inviting all of us to his house and that food in his house was amazing, I still remember it,” he said.
Balaji represented India in eight Tests, 30 ODIs and five Twenty20 Internationals (T20Is). The pacer bid farewell to his playing career in 2017 and has now ventured into cricket coaching.