A hunt for talented spinners

I must compliment the Board of Control for Cricket in India for its endeavour to develop a Spin Academy in India. What more, the legendary spin quartet will be involved in the project.

K. SRIKKANTH

I must compliment the Board of Control for Cricket in India for its endeavour to develop a Spin Academy in India. What more, the legendary spin quartet will be involved in the project.

The legendary spin quartet — B. S. Chandrasekhar, Bishan Singh Bedi, E. A. S. Prasanna and S. Venkataraghavan — at the spinners' meet in Kolkata. — Pic. S. PATRONOBISH-

It is true that India is making rapid strides in pace, and now, the side has some exciting pacemen such as Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra, Ajit Agarkar (who can be very effective once he strikes rhythm) and youngsters such as Avishkar Salvi, L. Balaji and Irfan Pathan (jr).

Hopefully Javagal Srinath will also be around when India tours Australia, such a crucial series for the country. There can be no doubt that India has a well-rounded pace attack now.

However, in our quest for pace, we should not forget spin, India's traditional strength. That would be counter-productive.

Leg-spinner Anil Kumble, who has served India loyally over the years, achieving success in both forms of the game, is in the latter stages of his career. Off-spinner Harbhajan Singh still has plenty of cricket ahead of him, but India does need some young spinners fast.

Left-arm spinner Murali Kartik, who should have played a lot more international cricket by now, and Amit Mishra are the ones who should be watched, but we require more such bowlers.

I remember the 60s and the 70s, when almost every good Ranji side in India had two quality spinners. In fact, two of the finest spinners from that era, Padmakar Shivalkar and Rajinder Goel went without playing a Test. And that versatile leg-spinner V.V. Kumar should have figured in a lot more international matches.

Left-arm spinner Dilip Doshi was well into his 30s when he made his Test debut, yet he managed to bag more than a 100 Test wickets. However, had Bishan Singh Bedi continued for a couple of years more, Doshi may not have worn the India cap at all!

Such was the competition then and some competent spinners like Uday Joshi and S. Vasudevan did not get an opportunity to play for India.

India now has to rediscover that magic of spin, and it was a well thought out move by the BCCI when it invited the leading past and present spinners to Kolkata for a free exchange of ideas.

Here, I would like to stress on the importance of wickets. Our spinners need to learn to be successful even on surfaces favouring the batsmen. This is where classical elements of spin such as flight and deception come into the picture.

We have seen over the last few years that the Indian spinners have been destructive at home on tailor-made pitches, but have struggled abroad where the wickets have not been so conducive.

If our young spinners are not pampered by wickets that start to turn from day one, and if they actually learn to survive and strike when the conditions do not suit them, I am sure their record outside the sub-continent would read much better.

This will be the most crucial part of their learning process, and this is where our great spinners of the past can be of so much help.

Take the legendary Bedi. Every aspect of his bowling stood out. He had a classical, smooth free-flowing action, and appeared so relaxed as he released the ball.

Bedi could beat the batsmen in the air at will, such was his control over flight, and could turn the ball to the extent he wanted to, such was his mastery over his craft.

Bedi had an exceptional arm ball in his repertoire, a delivery with which he surprised the batsmen. The reputation of the man wielding the willow never bothered him; this only made Bedi hungrier for his scalp.

Like Bedi, Prasanna was always positive in his approach. He was a wizard with the ball, knew every trick of the trade, and knew how to lure a batsman to his doom.

I still remember the India - Australia Test at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium in the late 60s where Prasanna was chiefly instrumental in reducing the visitors to 24 for six.

Had not Farokh Engineer missed stumping Ian Redpath off Prasanna, Australia, I am sure, would have gone down in the Test.

Instead they managed to wriggle out of trouble and eventually win, but Prasanna's extraordinary bowling, his flight, turn and craft will always stay in my mind. He was a class apart.

Everyone talks about the doosra only these days, but Prasanna was perfectly capable of drifting the ball away from the right-hander; he used his weapon judiciously. He was a great attacking bowler, who could run through sides.

Bhagwat Chandrasekhar was the ultimate match-winner. Once he found his rhythm, he could slice open line-ups, with unplayable balls. He was a leg-spinner, but there were times when his deliveries used to be genuinely quick.

With Chandra around anything was possible. A team might be coasting to victory, but the leg-spinner could change the course of the match in a matter of a few deliveries, getting the ball to spin and bounce from a length.

Chandra also possessed a vicious googly and a mean top-spinner and no batsman could afford to relax against him. Being a freak bowler, there were occasions when he would be erratic, would go for runs, but for his sheer ability to turn the course of matches on placid tracks, Chandra has to be among the greatest bowlers in cricket history.

Srinivas Venkataraghavan was a fine off-spinner who would bowl according to the needs of the team. He would operate over after over on a steady line and length, get the ball to turn and had in his repertoire an extremely useful leg-cutter with which he could knock over the best of batsmen.

In two of India's most remembered triumphs in West Indies and England, both in 1971, Venkat's role was crucial. Indeed, Bedi, Prasanna, Chandra and Venkat were as rare as they come.

They won matches in numbers for India during their heyday. Now they have another role. That of unearthing quality spinners in the country. I wish them the best of luck.