WIZARDS – The story of Indian Spin Bowling

Book review by Kersi Meher-Homji

WIZARDS – The story of Indian Spin Bowling by Anindya Dutta (2019). Foreword by Kapil Dev. Kindle version available in Australia on Amazon. Price $4.90.

When we talk about India’s excellence in sports, we think of their supremacy in Olympic hockey from 1928 to 1956 (six gold medals in a row) and the magnificence of their cricket spinners from 1911 onwards.

Author Anindya Dutta has done intensive research on the Indian spin kings from “untouchable” Palwankar Baloo in early 1900 to more recent mesmerisers Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja…  in his just released book titled Wizards.

Of course the fascinating book is dominated by the magical spin quartet of EAS Prasanna, Bishan Singh Bedi, BS Chandrasekhar and Srinivas Venkataraghavan. Before this foursome was another equally famous triumvirate of Vinoo Mankad, SP Gupte and Ghulam Ahmed, not to forget the trio of Bapoo Nadkarni, Chandu Borde and Salim Durani.

In a 454 page book, Dutta analyses each of the above and many others not only statistically but also with flowing narrative quoting experts, journalists and those who played with and against these wizards. As Kapil Dev writes in his Foreword, “Diligent research and evocative story telling combine to make this book a truly compelling read.”

The author keeps his best for SP Gupte, quoting the legendary Sir Garry Sobers: “To me Shane Warne is a great turner of the ball but in my estimation Subhash Gupte was a better leg-spinner… He could bowl two different googlies. He could do things I still don’t believe all these years later.”

Another West Indian great Everton Weeks opined that Gupte “was the best leg-spinner I ever faced” alongside Richie Benaud. Fellow spinning immortal Vinoo Mankad told his son Ashok, “If there was something called magic in cricket then Gupte was the magician.”

Dutta draws an eye-catching pen picture of Chandrasekhar. Handicapped with a polio-withered arm he bamboozled international batsmen with his pacey leg-breaks, googlies and topspinners. In 2002, Wisden almanac voted Chandra’s spell-binding spell in the 1971 Oval Test against England as “the best bowling performance of the century.”

Dutta quotes author Ramachandra Guha: “From a batsman’s point of view, this was a game not akin to chess but to Russian roulette.” Chandra’s hero was not a cricketer but singer Mukesh!

There are separate chapter on off-spinning legends Prasanna and Venkataraghavan. Unfortunate to be born in the same decade, selectors had to leave out one of them. But it was young captain Nawab of Pataudi who had the acumen and courage to include all four spinners – Bedi, Chandra, Pras and Venkat – in India’s Test XI.

The author has left his best for Bedi who “could pitch six balls on the same spot and make them do different things, or pitch them on different spots and make them do the same thing.”

Former England captain Tony Lewis paid Bedi this compliment: “I have always thought that a great clockmaker would have been proud to have set Bedi on motion – a mechanism finely balanced, cogs rolling silently and hands sweeping in smooth arcs across the face.”

No wonder, Sir Don Bradman had opined, “Bedi was a real study for the connoisseur… I do not hesitate to rank Bedi among the finest bowlers of his type that we have seen.”

The author also emphasises controversies that coloured Bedi’s days as India’s captain. A notable example was the Vaseline-dipped gauze England’s fast bowler John Lever used in the Chennai Test. England captain Tony Greig explained that the gauze was supplied to prevent sweat from rolling into players’ eyes. But Bedi was not convinced by such ridiculous explanation. Unfortunately, neither MCC nor the Board of Control for Cricket in India supported Bedi.

Bedi suffered no fools and spoke his mind without favour or fear. He was among few spinners appointed as a Test captain and was among India’s most positive leaders. He also fought for increased payments for Indian cricketers. During his tenure, the payment increased from Rs 750 per Test to Rs 16,000 per Test.

Bedi’s retirement in 1979 made way for spinner Dilip Doshi to make his Test debut at the ripe age of 32. And it was a promising debut; 6 for 103 against Australia and a total of eight wickets. This remained an Indian record for a debutant until Narendra Hirwani played his first Test a decade later, capturing a record 16 wickets for 136 runs against the West Indies.

The West Indies great Rohan Kanhai said about Doshi: “He would walk into any team in the world. Why look further?” Two outstanding Australian spinners of yore, Bill ‘Tiger’ O’Reilly and Richie Benaud were impressed by Doshi’s turn and accuracy. When Doshi bowled Allan Border in the Adelaide Test, Benaud described it as a dream delivery.

Anindya Dutta refers to leg-spinner Anil Kumble as the ‘Perfect Ten’ man. “In February 1999, one billion people rose up in salutation as Kumble, in the greatest single spell of bowling in the history of Test cricket, picked up 10 wickets on the trot against Pakistan at Delhi.”

On announcing his retirement after snaring 619 Test wickets, Kumble remembered, “When Sachin started his career, everyone said he would break all Test records and when I started my career everyone said I would not play more than two Test matches. Sachin had to spend the rest of his life proving people right while my entire career was spent on proving people wrong.”

The author starts on Harbhajan Singh with his hat-trick in the famous 2001 Kolkata Test. Then controversies take over; his suspect bowling action, the ‘monkey gate’ incident in the 2008 Sydney Test, slapping teammate S. Sreesanth in an IPL match a few months later and getting banned for the season. But surprise, surprise; he was awarded Padma Shri the following year.

A full chapter is devoted to current Indian off-spinner, Ravichandran Ashwin, taking his 300th Test wicket in only his 54th Test. Dennis Lillee had taken 56 Tests, Muttiah Muralitharan 58 and Richard Hadlee 61 to reach this landmark. But it’s not all praises for Ashwin. The author stresses his unimpressive figures in overseas Tests, commenting, “It is undeniable that Ashwin has been a phenomenon to observe in the subcontinent between the less-than-stellar performances abroad.”

Dutta sums up colourful and dynamic all-rounder and ‘Rockstar” Jadeja, “On a summer’s day in 2014, Ravindrasinh Jadeja turned the 22-yard strip at Lord’s into a stage for display of his swordsmanship with the cricket bat.”

“Anindya’s book could not have come at a more appropriate time to remind us of the rich history of spin bowling in India as the baton is passed to the next generation,” concludes Kapil Dev.

An international banker by day, Anindya Dutta transforms to a cricket writer at night. This is his fourth book on cricket after A Gentleman’s Game, Spell-binding Spells and We are the Invincibles. It will certainly be not his last.

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Posted by on Nov 4 2019. Filed under Community, Featured, Sport. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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