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Raj Limbani: From learning inswing bowling eight months before U-19 World Cup to troubling batsmen with his new weapon

Long-time coach and mentor Digvijay Singh Rathwa shares how Irfan Pathan was impressed with Limbani’s pace and gave him tips on how to bowl in South Africa.

Raj Limbani’s in-swing bowling caught everyone’s attention at the U-19 World Cup. In the final, the right-arm quick was India’s best bowler, picking up three for 38, though it wasn’t enough to get the desired result.

Limbani cleaned up Sam Konstas through the gate, before pinning Ryan Hicks and Charlie Anderson with nip-backers. Most of his 11 wickets in the tournament came courtesy deliveries that came into the batsmen.

However, Limbani’s long-time coach Digvijay Singh Rathwa says he never had a natural in-swinger and had to work to master it last year.

“His strength has always been the outswinger. Irfan (Pathan) was really impressed with his pace but he wanted him to work on his inswing as well to be more unpredictable,” Rathwa tells The Indian Express.

Rathwa knew at 18, it was going to be very difficult for someone to learn a new art. But he recalled a quote from former India bowling coach Bharat Arun, while doing his level 1 course at the National Cricket Academy (NCA). “Bharat Arun sir used to say that one had to be very patient with fast bowlers.”

Limbani was in two minds and a bit worried about whether he would be the same bowler or not if he worked on the in-swinger. But in Rathwa, he had a mentor who had endured many swings of misfortunes in his career. The 28-year-old, a batch-mate of Hardik Pandy and Deepak Hooda, was on ventilator for a year.

“I used to open for Baroda in U-16 and U-19 cricket. In 2015, I had GBS (Guillain-Barre Syndrome), a very rare disease in India. I was just 19 and on a ventilator at Mahavir Hospital in Surat for a year. I told Raj ‘look at me, I fought death and came back, and here you are worrying about your bowling. At least give it a try,’” says Rathwa.

With Rathwa’s assurance, Limbani was ready to take up the challenge and for the next eight months, worked on his inswing.

“We started it in May. For the first 40 days, he bowled from his crease without any run-up. Then for the next 60, he bowled from five paces. It took time because in the meantime, he was playing Cooch Behar Trophy and Vinoo Mankad Trophy, then the U-19 challengers as well. Before the Asia Cup, he started bowling from his full run-up. He was glad that without losing pace, he had learned a new art and I was relieved as a coach as well,” laughs Rathwa.

Strong mind

He lauds Raj’s mentality as well and says apart from his pace, Pathan was impressed with his attitude as well.

“Irfan bhai said he has got potential and a good head on his shoulders and with a little bit of guidance, he can become a good end product in a couple of years. Before going to the World Cup, Irfan bhai spent a week with him. He gave him tips on how to ball in South African conditions, and the importance of hitting a good length there. I think he has ticked most of the boxes, including the six that he hit in the semi-final at a very crucial time,” says Rathwa.

“He clocks 135 kmph consistently and at the National Cricket Academy, he has clocked 141 twice. Pace is something that we will work along with his batting once he returns home,” he says.

Rathwa feels Limbani wants to play first-class cricket and right from his U-16 days, would talk about workload management.

“He loves bowling with the red ball. Even before going to the World Cup, he used to bowl with the red ball. During his U-16 days, he used to talk about workload management. He is aware of this aspect. He bowled around 200 overs in six matches in the Cooch Behar Trophy in the 2022-23 season. It was the most by any fast bowler. He also enjoys bowling long spells. He is from the IPL generation but is very old-fashioned when it comes to cricket,” the coach says.

Back in Dayapar in Kachchh, Vasantbhai Patel took the day off, and watched his son play the U-19 World Cup final with 50-odd people at his home. There was some concern when Raj felt his hamstring while bowling his eighth over.

“Final hai, mujhe maloom tha ek pair pe bhi bowling daalega (This is the final and I knew he would bowl even on one leg),” says Raj’s father.

“This is what he has lived for. I don’t think he ever had any other plans barring cricket. I am happy that he is living his dream,” he says.

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