They would have excelled in T20 too

One of the main reasons why India’s spinners from the past would have done well in Twenty20 was their remarkable control and ability to come back after being thrashed by a batsman, though that was a rare experience for most of them.

Bapu Nadkarni (second from left), along with Ramakant Desai (left), Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi and Ajit Wadekar at a hotel in Brisbane. "Nadkarni rarely played limited-overs cricket, where he might have given a hint or two of his potential as a T20 bowler, but his record in Test cricket gives you a fair idea of how he could tie batsmen down," says the author.   -  THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

S. Venkataraghavan... a mean bowler who gave nothing away.   -  THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

B. S. Chandrasekhar... an ideal choice in T20.   -  THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

Salim Durrani loved to attack whether bowling or batting. He would have been a perfect all-rounder for T20.   -  THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

How would the great bowlers of India’s golden era of spin have fared in T20 cricket is a question that is often asked by players and commentators. To do so is not very different from asking whether Kapil Dev the batsman would have succeeded in the shortest format of the game. The answer to the latter question is so obvious, isn’t it? He would surely have set the stands on fire with more sixes than most batsmen, without playing an ugly shot, without ever having to resort to insults to bowlers like the reverse sweep or the dil-scoop...

Quality players of every period in cricket history adapt and evolve even as the game reinvents itself. The best slow bowlers of any era are no exception, though each of them would play his own specific role — attacking, defensive or plain disruptive. Confining my observations to bowlers I have watched or played against, I put left-arm spinner Bapu Nadkarni at the very top of the tree when it comes to restrictive bowling. Unlike some other Indian spin maestros that succeeded him in international cricket, Nadkarni rarely played limited-overs cricket, where he might have given a hint or two of his potential as a T20 bowler, but his record in Test cricket gives you a fair idea of how he could tie batsmen down.

 

He was one bowler who could not bowl a bad ball even if he tried, and his metronomic precision made batsmen cry in sheer frustration. Who can forget his 29-over spell at the Corporation Stadium, Madras, in January 1964, giving away only 5 runs, while England’s Ken Barrington and Brian Bolus indulged in the worst defensive theatre of the absurd? While leg-spinner Chandu Borde took 5 for 88 in that innings, the mercurial left-hand all-rounder Salim Durani (3 for 97), one of his partners in the four-man spin attack (Borde-Nadkarni-Kripal Singh-Durani) India fielded in that game, might have truly enjoyed the challenge posed by marauding batsmen and the batsman-friendly nature of the shortest form of the game. For Durani, who loved to attack whether batting or bowling, not only delivered the ball from a great height, extracting sharp turn on most wickets, but also did little tricks with his fingers, making last-second changes after reading the batsman’s intent. With his huge six-hitting ability, he would have been the perfect all-rounder for T20.

Off-spinner S. Venkataraghavan and leg-spinner V. V. Kumar revelled in the test that the slam-bang 30-over Hindu Trophy format posed to their ingenuity in Madras cricket. Each took part in this highly entertaining tournament for firms and banks for a couple of decades, and with considerable success for most of that time. Kumar was an unusually restrictive bowler for a wrist spinner, but still had enough variety in his bag of tricks to be among the wickets. Venkat was a mean bowler who gave nothing away, whether he was playing in this forerunner of the 20-over game or wheeling away for South Zone in the 50-over Deodhar Trophy. The experience stood him in good stead in India’s undistinguished World Cup campaigns in 1975 and 1979. In both competitions, he was economy personified if not a major wicket taker.

It may surprise younger cricket watchers to learn that Bishan Bedi, known for his lovely flight and enticing ways, was even more miserly than his captain in many of these games, though he too was not a major wicket taker in his 12-over spells in the 60-over World Cup format. The Indian selectors foolishly left out strike bowlers E. A. S. Prasanna and B. S. Chandrasekhar in both these World Cups.

Chandrasekhar, in particular, would have been India’s shock bowler who would have struck blows the way he did in Test match cricket, especially against teams not too familiar with his superfast deliveries that helped him out-Kumble Anil Kumble, his successor in the sheer pace of his unorthodox wrist spin. That was when selectors across the world had not begun to believe in the value of spin in the shorter format of cricket. Chandra would have been an ideal choice in T20, providing vital breakthroughs in the manner of Pravin Tambe or Sunil Narine.

In his brief T20 career, Anil Kumble took to it like fish to water, and I have no doubt that he would have been as consistently successful in the format as his erstwhile spin partner Harbhajan Singh. If proof were needed that some of the old masters would have relished bowling in T20 cricket, these two veterans provided it in ample measure. One of Sourav Ganguly’s failures as captain was his decision to omit Anil Kumble from the playing eleven in most of the matches in the 2003 World Cup in South Africa.

One of the main reasons why India’s spinners from the past would have done well in Twenty20 was their remarkable control and ability to come back after being thrashed by a batsman, though that was a rare experience for most of them. Left-arm spinner Dilip Doshi was one of the best in terms of accuracy, and he too did little tricks with his fingers that, along with subtle changes of pace, could deceive batsmen. Two brilliant contemporaries of the quartet who never made it to international cricket, Rajinder Goel and Padmakar Shivalkar, would have both posed questions to batsmen no matter how inventive they and how heavy their bats were. There were a few other slow bowlers in the domestic cricket of my time who could have given those of the present day a run for their money. From the south, bowlers of the class of Vijayakrishna of Karnataka and Vasudevan of Tamil Nadu were examples.

A notorious nostalgia-monger I may be, yet I must concede in the final analysis that off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin is setting remarkably high standards in T20 cricket with his consistent exploits as a game changer. His would have been a tough act to emulate even for the best of the spinners of an earlier era.