A salute to the greatest Indian spinners
There are many things to admire about Indian cricket. For starters, as the world’s second most populous country, India gives international cricket a critical mass it would otherwise not enjoy.
There are only, or were until Zimbabwe’s demise, ten Test cricket playing nations. India’s involvement gives the internationalisation of cricket a legitimacy it would otherwise not enjoy.
Sublime batting is another thing to enjoy with Indian cricket.
Although India played its first ever test in 1932 against England (the sixth of ten nations to do so), the beautiful artistry of their batting was first announced to the world way back in 1896.
This was when Kumar Ranjitsinhji, more commonly known as Ranji, played the first of his fifteen Tests for England. Ranji introduced the late cut and leg glance to the armory of batting skills.
He was followed by Kumar Duleepsinhji, or Duleep, who played twelve Tests for England between 1929 and 1931.The Duleep Trophy for Indian domestic inter-regional cricket is named after Dullep.
Finally, there was Nawab of Pataudi Snr, who played three Tests for England in 1932-34, then captained India’s first post-war team to England in 1946, where he played his final three Tests.
India’s great batting tradition has been carried on by the likes of Vijay Merchant, Vijay Hazare, Rusi Modi, Polly Umrigar, Nawab of Pataudi jnr, Sunil Gavaskar, Gunduppa Viswanath, Mohindr Amarnath, Duleep Vengsarkar, Mohammed Azharuddin, Sachin Tendulkar, Rhahul Dravid, Sourav Gangully, VVS Laxman and Virender Sehwag.
But it’s India’s adherence to, support of and reverence for spin bowling that the rest of the cricketing world should be most grateful.
When the West Indies battery of pace bowlers ruled the world from the mid-70s to the mid-90s, there was a fear that spin bowling might die out, and cricket would lose something that gave the game its great variety.
But India stuck by its spinners.
Indeed, there was a famous spinner who toured England with India’s first ever team to visit those shores, although no tests were played.
He was the beautifully named Pahwanker Baloo.
Fortunately, Baloo’s first name would not have carried the same implications in 1911 that it might in the present day! However, fans of Rudyard Kipling would immediately identify his surname as that of the bumbling, big-hearted, happy-go-lucky bear in The Jungle Book.
In 1911 Baloo, a slow left-arm orthodox spinner, was already 35 years old. Never mind. He captured 75 cheap wickets in fourteen matches against English counties.
His whole first class career saw him take 179 inexpensive wickets in 33 matches.
Ironically, when India made its official test debut in 1932, its attack in the pre-WW2 decade was carried by an admirable pace attack.
Amar Singh, a Sikh, and Mohammad Nissar, an ethnic Pakistani Muslim (Pakistan would not play Test cricket until 1952) remain arguably India’s fastest ever bowlers.
Singh and Nissar were supported by the allrounders, combative Lala Amarnath and Jahangir Khan (future father of Pakistan opener Majid, and uncle of great allrounder Imran).
However, spin bowling became the staple of Indian attacks post-WW2.
India have produced two great slow left arm batting allrounders in Vinoo Mankad, whose career stradled either side of WW2, and more recently, the eloquent and stylish Ravi Shastri.
But the greatest slow left arm orthodox spinner of all in India’s history was Bishen Bedi, yet another Sikh famous for his multi-coloured turbans, not to mention his bowling skill.
Bedi was one of four great spinners to represent india around the same time.
The eldest of the quartet was Erapalli Prasanna, an off spinner who Ian Chappell claims was the best spinner he faced. The youngest of the quartet was Srinivas Venkataraghaven, also an offie, who later became a Test umpire.
Completing this quartet was Bhagwat Chandrasekhar, a legbreak and googly bowler, who on his day was the most destructive of the four.
Chandra, as he was more commonly known, had a withered bowling hand from a polio attack as a youth. But it gave him great dexterity in spinning the ball.
In more recent times, we have had the pleasure of watching leggie Anil Kumble and offie Harbajan Singh strut their stuff. And now there’s another new kid on the block – the wonderfully named leggie Amit Mishra.
Thank God for the Indians, otherwise we might have lost the art and spectacle of spin bowling.