Going down spin history road with Anindya Dutta’s 'Wizards'

Anindya Dutta weaves through generations and delivers a read where one would fall in love with the art of spin bowling.

Wizards: The Story of Indian Spin Bowling; Westland; Rs479.

On a cold Sunday afternoon in Delhi, the Feroz Shah Kotla witnessed history. It was February 1999, and Pakistan had sneaked in a win in Chennai to take the lead. Come the Delhi Test, India had to win. After all, it had been two decades since the country had won a Test against Pakistan.

Till noon, there were no signs of an Indian win and an anxious crowd had gone quiet. But a certain Anil Kumble rose to the occasion and spun out Pakistan to spark wild celebrations. Kumble had become only the second man in Test history to take 10 wickets in an innings.

It was art on display, a magnificent show of spin bowling that left a lasting impression in the cricketing sphere.

There are numerous books on cricket – on the game, the art of batsmanship and autobiographies where untold stories have come to light and provided insight into how the game has evolved over the years.

But Anindya Dutta’s Wizards: The Story of Indian Spin Bowling is a treat for every Indian cricket fan as it traces the history of spin bowling.

From the little known yet legendary Palwankar Baloo to Yuzvendra Chahal, the book talks about how the baton has been passed on from one generation to the next.

Divided into four sections, Wizards takes the reader through various timelines – from the early days of spin bowling, when Baloo fought untouchability through spin bowling, to the emergence of wrist spin and the manner in which the Indians have mastered the craft.

Where Dutta stands apart is the amount of research he has put in to not just highlight the celebrated spinners, but also those who narrowly missed out on wearing the India jersey.

There is an attempt made by the author to reignite the contributions made by the spinners of the past, especially the famed quartet of Bishan Singh Bedi, B. S. Chandrasekhar, E. A. S. Prasanna and S. Venkataraghavan.

At a time when batsmen bank of range-hitting and Twenty20 cricket has fast spread, Dutta’s book serves as a manual for young spinners on how to perfect the craft.

But the highlight of the book comes a tad late, Narendra Hirwani dismissing Sir Vivian Richards in Madras. If there was disbelief and amusement among the spectators, the wicket injected a fresh dose of confidence among the Indians.

“In the evening Ravi (Shastri) bhai called me to his room and told me: ‘Tu bindaas dal (You bowl without any fear).’ I was elated and so excited that I could not sleep the night. I kept visualising bowling a flipper to Viv and the ball eluding his bat and going straight through and hitting the stumps. It panned out exactly the same way hours later. I dismissed Viv with a flipper – this time for real,” Hirwani recalled after his famous dismissal.

While Hirwani, Maninder Singh, Shivlal Yadav and Dilip Doshi made their presence felt, Kumble emerged and soon spin became the central nerve of Indian cricket.

While Kumble and Harbhajan Singh wreaked havoc in tandem, the sheer numbers of Ravichandran Ashwin places him as one of the modern greats. For a while, it looked like the Indian spin cupboard had run bare, but the emergence of Kuldeep Yadav and Chahal has once again proved that India just doesn’t produce quality batsmen, but also great spinners.