Ravichandran Ashwin keeping up Tamil Nadu's tradition of off spinners
The stupendous success of Ravichandran Ashwin in India’s successful Test series triumph in Sri Lanka, otherwise a 'political enemy' of sorts to Tamil sympathisers in the state, warms the cockles of the ardent and the so called knowledgeable cricket fans. The reason being Tamil Nadu, arguably, continues to be the cradle of off spinners in Indian cricket.
First it was Kripal Singh, who was an all-rounder, in fact, who graced Indian cricket when not many used to find a place in the national squad. His brother Milkha, who was primarily a batsman had a short 'innings' in a yesteryear Team India while another seemingly more talented batsman Satwender Singh missed out.
All three, as it is common knowledge were sons of an ace left-arm spinner and batsman AG Ram Singh who played unofficial Tests for India before turning a coach and a sports goods dealer in the cricket crazy Triplicate area in Chennai .
Post Kripal Singh, Tamil Nadu/Chennai contributed one of the greatest off spinners to have graced the sport of cricket in engineering graduate S Venkataraghavan. "Venkat' as he was known popularly in the world of cricket, turned out to be a phenomenal personality after his resounding debut against a New Zealand team led by John Reid in the early 60s. His debut Test at Delhi saw him pick up 12 wickets – a precursor to a great career which culminated abruptly as a bowler but attained fuller glory as an ICC elite umpire.
Venkat's haul of more than 400 wickets in the Ranji trophy was another unique achievement along with his spin twin, leggie VV Kumar, who was not as lucky in terms of playing for India – just 2 Tests before an injury laid him down) and then, BS Chandrasekhar came along. What's more, Venkat, also had a good stint with the English County team Derbyshire during his peak playing years and many openly used to acknowledge his abilities as a shrewd captain and student of the game.
It was another matter that 'Venky' had to reckon with an equally great talent Errapalli Anantrao Srinivas Prasanna from the neighbouring Karnataka state with whom he was part of the then famous spin quartet which included Chandra and legendary left-arm spinner Bishan Singh Bedi.
The Venkat-Prasanna dispute of those days was much like the never ending Cauvery river water sharing row between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka in a way as the argument was always that Tamil Nadu (Venkat) must get more chance vis a vis Karnataka (Prasanna). Only, there was no regulatory authority then to solve the dispute, which anyway enriched the game, unlike the political dispute now which has only been causing tension between the states.
However, after the sun set on Venkat's (and Prasanna's) career as a bowler, Team India had to look desperately for off spinners of the calibre of the spin quartet itself. The dilemma was that, even though there was a candidate, he could not quite convince the selectors. He was from Tamil Nadu, a journalist turned cricketing talent – V S Ramnarayan who played initially for Hyderabad and later for Tamil Nadu in the Ranji Trophy.
He is now also an illustrious author of a few books on cricket, besides the editor of the only full-scale magazine on classical music and dance in India. Had Ramnarayan played for India, Tamil Nadu would have had the credit of contributing yet another off-spinner for Team India after Kripal and Venkataraghavan.
In fact, amidst these developments, cricket in Tamil Nadu or rather Chennai, had been throwing up potential talents in the art of off-spin in players like AP Rajsekhar, M Santosh Kumar and M Venkataramana. While Rajsekhar gave up and migrated to US and Santosh Kumar could not make it up the ladder, Venkatramana managed to be picked for Team India, albeit short-lived.
His bow in the national side also kept up Tamil Nadu Cricket's tradition of being the land of off spinners, so to speak for India cricket.
The wheel has now come a full circle with Ashwin's phenomenal success, much like that of Venkat. He picked up 21 wickets in the three-Test series and was crowned Man of the Series. His statistics of 5-wicket hauls and strike rate has not exactly been glorious, but with no other young talent in view among the India A lot, as coach and former Team India phenomenon Rahul Dravid has pointed out, Ashwin, whose 'evolution' has pushed Harbhajan, who came a cropper in Lanka off the orbit, Ashwin will continue to be India’s lead spinner for quite some time.