Picking the best left-arm bowlers was a fascinating task. From Salim Durani to Ravindra Jadeja, the field was rich. Fast-medium and spin bowlers of different eras have left a huge impact on the game.
But, not all went on to played for the country. Bowlers like Rajinder Goel and Padmakar Shivalkar are prime examples of talent not being rewarded with a national cap.
They had to contend with the art that Bishan Singh Bedi exuded and the mutual respect they have had for each other is possibly the greatest tribute to their tribe.
This list may not meet the expectations of everyone. There could be a debate on the exclusion of Rajinder Singh Hans from the list but he lost out to bowlers who went on to play Test cricket.
There were bowlers like Bapu Nadkarni, Umesh Kulkarni, Raghuram Bhat, Syed Hyder Ali, William Ghosh, Sunil Subramanian, Pradeep Jain, Avinash Kumar and Mumtaz Hussain among others who crafted long careers.
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Some in this list make the grade as all-rounders. Durani, Ravi Shastri and Jadeja shone at the international stage while Joshi and Karsan Ghavri could be counted in domestic cricket. Standing tall in our collection is Bedi for his showing at home and overseas. The greatest of left-arm bowlers India has known. One would pay to watch him bowl just as one would pay to watch G.R. Viswanath bat.
Here's a look at the top 15 left-arm bowlers.
Salim Durani: He was 60-plus when he bowled to a bunch of youngsters at the Sonnet Club in Delhi. The best of the under-19 lot. They could not read the ball at all as Durani teased and tormented them. The reason? His judicious use of the crease and varied point of releasing the ball. “That was my strength,” he remarked.
Durani was one of the finest to have played the game. He could hold his place as a bowler and a batsman too. His magical spell to remove Gary Sobers and Clive Lloyd when India won the 1971 Test against the West Indies at Port of Spain is one of his highlight shows.
(Durani played 170 First-class matches taking 484 wickets at an average of 26.09)
Rajinder Goel: “ Paer pakad lete hain" (pegs you on the legs.) It was the often-used refrain to describe this nagging spinner. And best described too. It was near-impossible to dominate him. He would attack a particular line the entire day and leave the batsmen frustrated. To score off him one had to take a chance. And when one took a chance he more often lost his wicket.
Goel saab, as he was referred to by one and all, was a personification of accuracy. He was known to finish his over in two minutes. Bowl, collect the ball, and bowl. Over after over. A pity, he did not play for India.
(Goel played 157 First-class matches and picked up 750 wickets at an average of 18.58)
Padmakar Shivalkar: If not a cricketer, he would have been a successful singer. Well, that would not be the ideal description of this wonderful bowler. He revelled in competition. Did not concede an inch in the nets session and was unsparingly dedicated in a match situation. If the stage was big and tense, he would be at his best.
He loved to tease the batsman with flight and test them with variation of length and pace. The best batsmen took great effort to read the wily Shivalkar, who could take punishment in his stride. He was a match-winner in all conditions. A travesty that he did not wear the India cap.
(Shivalkar played 124 First-class matches and scalped 589 wickets at an average of 19.69)
Bishan Singh Bedi: Can you love a bowler? Can a bowler love a batsman? The answer to these questions is Bedi. People thronged to watch him in action. He was poetry from the moment he would turn in his stride, amble in artistic grace, tip-toeing to the stumps as if disturbing the umpire would have counted an offence, and delivering the ball in a captivating arc.
Sometimes the batsmen would forget their task and just admire the man in action. And he did not mind being punished by the batsmen. Such was the spirit of this great match-winner. His adversaries of five decades still watch old videos of his bowling. The greatest of all left-arm bowlers India has produced.
(Bishan Bedi played 370 First-class matches and took 1560 wickets at an average of 21.69)
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Dilip Doshi: A patient predator, Doshi would keep the batsmen on a tight leash, inviting him to make the first move and then lure him to doom. He was adept at assessing the opponent and exploiting the weak areas. A master at bowling to his field and was the bowler who troubled Javed Miandad the most. He was also the bowler who mocked at the footwork of the best players of spin by shackling them to the crease.
To play him across the line was a sure disaster because he always stuck to a line on the stumps. He also knew how to make use of a rank turner. Played for India late in his career but good he played.
(Doshi played 238 First-class matches and took 898 wickets at an average of 26.58)
Karsan Ghavri: The first genuine fast bowler. Yes, he could work up a tidy pace and rattle the batsmen with a bouncer even if the ball was 50 overs old. He could also double up as a spinner, firing the ball hard and straight and lent pride to the attack with his opening spells. He would beat the bat a hundred times in an innings and end up with no more than two or three wickets.
Never got the due for his ability to give an early breakthrough. Ghavri was a handy batsman too. He was Kapil Dev's ideal partner and the two never allowed the opposition to forge a 100-run opening start ever. A fine cricketer for all formats.
(Ghavri played 159 First-class matches and scalped 452 wickets at an average of 29.01)
Ravi Shastri: Born to be associated with cricket in various roles as a player, commentator and coach. His illustrious career took off on a glorious note when he flew to New Zealand, showed no signs of jet lag, and plunged into a career that saw him play as an all-rounder. Starting as a spinner, he cemented his place as a batsman, going on to open the innings in Tests with Sunil Gavaskar.
He bowled within his limitations but made big dents in the opposition with his stump to stump line. Variations in angle gave him the added strength even though his height meant he could not have flighted the ball as most did.
(Shastri played 245 First-class matches and took 509 wickets at an average of 32.89)
Maninder Singh: The ball would make a pleasant whirring sound as it crafted a path in the air. He was a genius who disappointed the most and hardly needed help from the pitch. The natural ability to spin the ball and use flight to fox the batsmen made him a dangerous bowler to face. If the pitch did not help he would help himself by constantly innovating and changing his length with able use of pace.
His armer was vicious, like a booming in-swinger. What stood out was his confidence. He was a champion bowler against established batsmen, the go-to bowler for any captain. According to Kapil Dev, an awesome talent that was wasted.
(Maninder played 145 First-class matches and took 606 wickets at an average of 23.85)
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Venkatapathy Raju: He had to strive to command a regular place in the team despite the talent to dominate the opposition. His strong point was to rely on flight even when threatened by batsmen with good footwork. He loved beating them in the air and this was the quality that saw him set up many fascinating battles with good stroke-players.
His eight-wicket show against Sri Lanka in only his third Test was a bright start to his career but he fell short of the expectations. Raju was part of the trio with Anil Kumble and Rajesh Chauhan that was credited with the revival of spin in the 90s. That he played two World Cups was testimony to his skills in ODIs too.
(Raju played 177 First-class matches and took 589 wickets at an average of 27.72)
Sunil Joshi: He was a favourite of Bishan Bedi for his traditional approach to the game. There was a compelling quality of unending experiments with his bowling that saw him emerge a bowler to dread in Tests and ODIs. He loved a battle and nothing excited him more than snaring a batsman of high reputation. Brian Lara was a batsman who treated Joshi with respect.
For Joshi, an ideal dismissal was beating the batsman in the air and he was extremely good in this art. He could extract big turn even when others would struggle. He was an under-achiever in the longer format of the game even though he was a bowler to watch out in first-class cricket.
(Joshi played 160 First-class matches and took 615 wickets at an average of 25.12)
Kartik Murali: Sometime in the early 90s, Bishan Bedi called some of us to the Karnail Singh Stadium to watch a special talent. I remember this skinny lad with a fluent action, displaying amazing confidence, setting his field and making batsman much senior in two minds. Kartik was not even 15 but seemed ready to compete in the bigger league.
Eventually, he did make his First-class debut a couple of years later and came to make a mark with his craft. He was a complete spinner and loved testing the skills of batsmen who were said to be good in the business of playing long innings. The ball came out of his palm most beautifully. He did himself proud by playing for the country and also for four different English counties. He holds the distinction of best bowling figures for a left-arm spinner in ODIs - 6/27 against Australia at the Wankhede Stadium in 2007.
(Kartik played 203 First-class matches and took 644 wickets at an average of 26.70)
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Ashish Nehra: Product of a club that taught a cricketer to perform regularly in order to keep his place in the side. For Nehra, the art of survival was a natural process. He was the bowler to watch on the circuit with his quality to surprise the batsmen with a sudden change of pace. “ Yeh khabbu bahut teekha hai " (this left-arm is very spicy) was Raman Lamba’s comment when he arrived at the Delhi nets.
Nehra would force the best of batsmen on to their backfoot and surprise them with a ball that hurried off the pitch. A good yorker added to his arsenal and it was hardly surprising that he figured in two World Cups in 2003 and 2011. A rare thinking fast bowler who could take punishment in his stride.
(Nehra played 90 First-class matches and picked 303 wickets at an average of 29.14)
Zaheer Khan: The best of the lot. He was sharp, skilful and most consistent. Zaheer was erratic when he arrived but learnt to be the most reliable in all formats of the game. His strength was to assume control when the game appeared to be slipping away. For the captain, he was the bowler to trust. With both the new and old ball he needed to be watched closely.
However, Zaheer’s strength was his effective stuff with the old ball and also his reading of the batsmen. He was excellent in setting up his victims and remained an integral part of the attack in all conditions. The first choice bowler for any captain since he also proved a guide for the other bowlers on the field.
(Zaheer played 169 First-class matches and scalped 672 wickets at an average of 27.97)
Irfan Pathan: A lethal customer with the ball when the conditions suited his style. For Pakistan great Wasim Akram, he was a rare talent who could excel on unhelpful sub-continent pitches. Swing was his weapon and he used it to deadly effect. He had the pace to rattle even the set batsmen. He also had the swing that left batsmen embarrassed because they would struggle to put bat to ball.
Few could read the ball that he brought in and the one that moved away with the arm was as destructive as the best in the game could produce. He was a match-winner at home and overseas and respected by batsmen for his desire to fight.
(Irfan played 122 First-class matches and took 384 wickets at an average of 28.33)
Ravindra Jadeja: Few took him seriously. Critics and selectors looked at him as a 'bits and pieces' player, which he was in the initial stages of his career. He was said to perform only on home turf at Rajkot even though he was staking his claims by scoring triple centuries. Jadeja is equally devastating with the ball, firing his spinners, and proving unplayable when the pitch helped.
They ridiculed him as a 'dart' bowler, just relying on assistance from the pitch, but gradually he proved his detractors wrong by improving his bowling skills and adding his excellence with the bat to emerge a player of value to the team. He can bat, field amazingly, and continues to make huge strides with his spin. A big value to the team.
(Jadeja has featured in 102 First-class matches so far and has taken 423 wickets at an average of 24.19)