From streets to practice arenas: Raj Limbani’s passion has many playing grounds

Credit: Raj Limbani Instagram

Raj Limbani, the U-19 fast bowler, has played only a handful of One-Day matches in the World Cup, ACC Asia Cup and a tri-nation series. But in those few matches, Limbani has already showcased that he has been blessed with the gifts of vigour and enthusiasm in abundance. Digivijay Singh Rathwa, his coach at the famous Motibaug Cricket Club, has an anecdote to narrate, which in turn indicates his pupil’s passion to take every delivery and every practice session seriously.

“During off-seasons, players take a break. But he was constantly working on fitness, even when it was raining. Around that time, Irfan Pathan was here for practice. He looked at Raj and said, ‘you’re on the right path’,” his coach told RevSportz.

“Once in the morning, he bowled 10-15 overs. In the afternoon, Irfan called us and said, ‘I need one fast bowler’. On that day, he ended up bowling 25 overs. He never says no to bowling, that is a key point for any fast bowler. He doesn’t travel much to his hometown, he goes once in a year because of his focus on cricket,” he added.

Limbani also recalls his interactions with Pathan. “He was beaten a couple of times. He called me and asked, ‘who are you’? Where have you come from’? We were at the NCA for 10-12 days. Then he started to know more about me.”

Limbani has even visualised how he would go about achieving his objectives. And he follows an interesting method to track his well-defined goals. “When I saw him for the first time, he was fully prepared with his diary. At his age, students don’t write like that. He was fully professional. He wanted to get into the U-19 Indian team for the World Cup. He wants to be a big cricketer.  The diary has each and every step of how he is going to achieve his goals,” his coach quipped.

The initiation for Limbani’s aspirations took place in the desert of Rann of Kutch, which shares a border with Pakistan. Be it the extreme heat or playing on streets, for Limbani, it was all about chasing one dream. As his village, Dayapar, didn’t have the necessary facilities, he shifted over to his uncle’s place in Vadodara, which is 547 km away.

“I used to play with the tennis ball on the streets in the village. I didn’t have much interest in studies. In 2017, I started playing cricket. I also had my seventh standard exam. After exams, I took a bus and came over to Vadodara. And my uncle (he fondly calls his uncle Bada Papa) made me join the academy.”

Limbani also shared his insights into the kind of support he has received from his family. “My father is a farmer. Parents have given me full support. Initially, they used to say, ‘focus on studies’. But as I moved forward, I wasn’t focusing much on studies. They then said, ‘if you want to focus on cricket, then focus on cricket only’.”

Limbani has the required tools to realise his ambitions. With a mixed action, he can swing the ball both ways. He also creates some whip with his action and has a fine short delivery in his artillery. In the U-19 World Cup, Limbani employed the short ball more than a few times. Limbani’s coach, though, has a word of advice for his ward.

Credit: Raj Limbani Instagram

“He usually bowls too many short deliveries. He has a semi front-on action. We were trying to get him to swing. He was a natural outswing bowler. Now he also has the inswinger. But once he returned from the NCA, the swing was gone, because over there they were totally working on increasing his pace and fitness. So, we worked on endurance and swing. Last year, he played too many matches, he was travelling all the time.

“He usually texts me after a match and asks, ‘I’m not getting the wickets, what should I do’? So, I always tell him, bowl fuller. His natural length is short. His first spell goes pretty good with the new ball, but with the old ball he gets hit,” he observed.

Limbani isn’t just diligently following his coach’s instructions, but he also scrolls through videos of a couple of great fast bowlers. One of them is considered as a benchmark for excellence when it comes to slog-overs bowling. “I follow Dale Steyn and (Jasprit) Bumrah. I follow their videos and learn from them. With Bumrah, his quick inswingers and yorkers. With Dale Steyn, it is the aggression part and the outswinger.”

Limbani can also wield the willow and crack some meaty blows. In the U-19 World Cup semi-final against South Africa, under immense pressure, he played his part by tonking a four and a six to take India past the finishing line. His coach too has a story to tell about his protege’s power-hitting. “Once in an A Division match, he scored 80 runs and took around 3-4 wickets.”

Going by his diary, Limbani has many more dreams to be fulfilled. Who knows? One fine day, he might end up wearing the Blue Jersey and play for the senior team. For now, he is living the dream of wearing the Blue Jersey for the U-19 side and hearing the National Anthem for the first time.

“When I heard the National Anthem for the first time in the game against Bangladesh U-19, the feeling was next level. I cried a bit, it was heart-touching,” he said, with emotions in his eyes.

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