Last month, two of India’s finest match-winners celebrated landmark birthdays within days of each other. On May 17, Bhagwath Subramanya Chandrasekhar turned 75 and a few days later, on May 22, Erapalli Anantharao Srinivasa Prasanna entered his 81st year. A month earlier, on April 21, Srinivas Venkataraghavan had completed 75 years. So three of India’s famous quartet of spinners reached personal milestones much to the delight of the pre-Internet generation. The Internet generation was, of course, enamoured by the antics of someone nowhere near the class of these wonderful spinners who bowled India to many a famous win. What was sadder still was the mainstream media, apart from the odd shining example, also did not find it fit to have a paragraph or two if not a whole article about these stalwarts even while finding space to gush about a couple of current superstars calling their teammates’ names while doing their Internet chats with overseas players.
Yes, the cricket loving public is understandably more keen to know about the current players and how they are dealing with the current situation. And the modern generation is not shy at all. They are happy to put just about everything up on their public platforms and the many websites and call even the silliest stuff they see, adorable. Then, of course, there’s this fascination about the players from across the border. What they are saying gets splashed even when most times they are having a go at the Indian players either directly or subtly. Do any Indian players’ interviews or comments ever feature in the media elsewhere? NO. Then why give the foreign players an outlet to take their animosity out in our media platforms?
Prassie, Venkat and Chandra belong to the generation that played the game for the love of it and the honour and privilege of playing for the country. Chandra was the first I saw from the North Stand of the Brabourne Stadium against Bobby Simpson’s Australians in 1964. The Australians had finished a long tour of England for the Ashes and stopped over in India to play a three-Test match series on their way back home. Chandra was new to Test cricket but was running in to bowl as if he had been playing Test matches since birth. The confidence with which he bowled was unbelievable. The North Stand crowd at the Brabourne Stadium was one of the most critical crowds in the country then. It was mainly filled with Mumbai Ranji Trophy players, past as well as current and senior division club cricketers who knew their game. If they got stuck into you then you had it. There are many stories of players from other states pulling out at the last moment of playing a Test match at the Brabourne Stadium and the rumour mills used to suggest that it was because they got cold feet at the prospect of facing the North Stand crowd. Chandra had no such fears and I still vividly remember the ball with which he clean bowled Peter Burge, the burly Australian batsman. It pitched just outside the leg-stump and hit the top of the off-stump knocking it into the gloves of the wicketkeeper. It was exactly like the Shane Warne delivery to Mike Gatting. Peter Burge was also built like Gatting. Of course there was no TV then and it was not an England game for it to be called the ball of the century or the greatest whatever that has to involve England and Australia, but to bowl that delivery on a flat batting pitch like the Brabourne Stadium was very, very special. Thereafter, it was a privilege for me to be in the same Indian team when Chandra bowled India to victories in England and Australia. There was no thumping the chest or giving the batsman any send off. Just a slow walk towards the wicketkeeper. The gentle assassin that’s what Chandra was.
Prassie on the other hand was a lot more excited when he got a wicket. He would come out with peals of laughter at his success in trapping the batsman. You could actually feel his brain clicking as he plotted the batsman’s dismissal. The revolutions that he put on the ball could be seen from the time the ball left his fingers till it reached the batsman.
Prassie’s best figures came in Auckland when I captained the team for the first time as Bishan Singh Bedi got injured just before the toss. It was Day One and on a green tinged pitch Prasanna picked eight wickets which are still the best figures at that venue. What a bowler he was and what a fun guy — always willing to tell a joke and laugh. A privilege to have shared the same change room with him.
Venkat suffered from the comparison with Prassie. While Prassie had the loop, Venkat had accuracy. On a pitch giving even the slightest help, Venkat was unscorable. His biggest attribute was a never-say-die spirit. He had a temper, but that actually made him more loveable because everybody knew that he was going to be the first one to laugh after that.
Way back on the 1979 tour, I turned up on the last day of the Lord’s Test match in a kurta and lungi . There was no uniform those days. Venkat, who was the captain, didn’t say anything till after lunch when we had to go upstairs to the lunch room. He came next to me, looked at me up and down and asked sternly, “What’s this” ? I replied, “C’mon skip, you know what it is. You wear it all the time in Chennai.” The next moment he gulped out a laugh so loud that the rest of the change room joined in. He then shook my hand in that bone crushing grip of his. Yes, it was preferable to face him even on a spinning pitch than get your fingers crushed in his hand.
Terrific cricketers and even more wonderful guys. Stay well, stay healthy all your lives.