How the spin baton has been passed on in Indian cricket history
In cricketing terminology, the word ‘spin’ has found a synonym in the name of a country which plays the game, ‘India’. Such has been the India’s bonding with this special art of bowling that they have carved a legacy out of it.
Over the past 80-odd years, which constitute India’s cricketing history, there have been a number of spinners who have represented India at some stage or the other. Some went on to become legends, others did a decent enough job whereas the rest just came and went.
Just like there have been eras dominated by different batsmen, Indian cricket has also had its own share of spin bowler eras where one or a combination of spinners did most of the work with the ball.
The Early Years
India did not have too many good spinners until 1946 when all-rounder Vinoo Mankad came in with his variety of slow left-arm orthodox spin. Mankad was easily the best Indian bowler of his time and went on to pick up 162 wickets in his career.
A few years after Mankad’s arrival, in walked Indian cricket’s first genuine leggie in the form of Subhash Gupte. Soon enough, he took over as the team’s lead spinner picking up wickets in heaps, particularly against the West Indies. Gupte was acknowledged by Gary Sobers as the best leg spinner he had ever seen.
The only other prominent spinner who appeared for India during the time of Mankad and Gupte was left-arm spinner and all-rounder Bapu Nadkarni, who still holds the record for the most economical spell in a Test match.
The Prasanna-Chandra-Bedi-Venkat Era
1962 turned out to be the year which marked the beginning of the dominance of spin in India’s bowling ranks with off-spinner Erapalli Prasanna making his debut. Prasanna was quick to make an impression as he took just 20 Tests to get to 100 wickets, an Indian record then.
Next came leggie Bhagwat Chandrasekhar, now known to be among the best India has ever produced, who joined forces with Prasanna to form a formidable spin attack for the country. Chandrasekhar rose up the ranks very quickly to become a trusted performer across different conditions.
Another offie Srinivas Venkataraghavan made his debut just a year after Chandrasekhar in 1965 and impressed one and all with his tweaking abilities. Although Venkat did not have as glittering a career as his other comrades, he provided good support to them and often came up with great spells of his own.
The last to join the legendary quartet of Indian spinners, who dominated the 1960s and 70s, was left-arm spinner Bishan Singh Bedi in 1967. However, by the time these four spin stalwarts were finished with their careers, Bedi had topped the others in terms of most of the statistics.
An interesting thing about India’s legendary spin quartet was that all four of them played in the same match only once. All other occasions saw at least one of them missing out and more often than not it was Venkataraghavan.
The Rebuilding Phase
By 1979, the core of the Indian spin attack had been broken with the retirement of the three prominent members of the legendary spin quartet – Bedi, Prasanna and Chandrasekhar. There was need for a rebuilding to take place and it was at this time that spinners like Dilip Doshi and Shivlal Yadav appeared on the scene.
Doshi was a left-arm spinner, whereas Yadav was an off break bowler. Both had decent amount of success with the ball and managed to pick up more than 100 career wickets in Tests. Soon after the arrival of these two, allrounder Ravi Shastri too joined in and they formed a spin trio for a brief period.
Another spinner who spent a considerable amount of time with the Indian team during this phase was Maninder Singh. The left-arm spinner did have a few good matches here and there, but did not prove to be a worthwhile prospect.
Towards its end, this phase saw brief stints from bowlers like leggie Laxman Sivaramakrishnan and Narendra Hirwani, the latter’s one being slightly longer than the others. All these events culminated in the arrival of India’s greatest spin bowling hero.
Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh
The year was 1990 and the Indian spin cupboard looked all but bare when a lanky bespectacled leg-break bowler from Karnataka named Anil Kumble first came on to the Indian cricketing scene. This was the start of a remarkable journey which lasted nearly two decades and gave the country’s cricket several moments to savour.
Kumble went on to become the highest wicket-taker for India and sits on top of a 619-wicket mountain at present which may be tough for any Indian bowler to scale. Another iconic record that the leg spinner went on to claim was that of being the only second bowler in history to take a 10-wicket innings haul.
Throughout the 1990s, Anil Kumble had several different partners but one really managed to stick for too long. Some of these include names like Venkatapathy Raju, Rajesh Chauhan and Sunil Joshi who had short but none too successful careers for India.
The turn of the century saw the rise of another superstar Indian spinner in the form of Harbhajan Singh, who first made a name for himself in the absence of Kumble during the epic 2001 series against Australia. For the rest of the latter’s career, Harbhajan and Kumble formed a famous spin duo for India.
Post Kumble’s retirement, Harbhajan found partners in the form of Pragyan Ojha and Amit Mishra. However within a couple of years, his own form fell and he ended up going out of favour.
Beginning of a New Legacy
Even as Harbhajan moved out of the equation, Team India was lucky enough to find yet another talented spinner in Tamil Nadu offie Ravichandran Ashwin. He emerged as a Test spinner after more than a year of playing limited overs cricket including India’s successful 2011 World Cup campaign.
In 2012, Saurashtra allrounder Ravindra Jadeja made his Test debut and became Ashwin’s partner mainly for Tests played at home. Some exceptional performances since they started to co-exist in the Indian Test team shows that they are already establishing their status as a deadly duo.
Ashwin and Jadeja were the architects of Australia’s whitewash in 2013 and the recent 3-0 drubbing of South Africa, picking up wickets in heaps. Of late, these two have also been getting able support from leg-spinner Amit Mishra in his second coming.
Under a new captain, the current Indian trio of spinners have marked the start of a new chapter in India’s rich spin bowling legacy. It will be interesting to see if they are able to successfully carry the baton passed on to them.