What if Bhagwat Chandrasekhar and Bishan Singh Bedi had been 'rested'?
Ravichandran Ashwin is the spearhead of Indian bowling attack. At least in the subcontinent where he takes wickets by the dozen every few tests. His comrade-in-arms, Ravindra Jadeja, is never far behind. They operate as the two-man army, ambush party or whatever adjective you may like to attach to them. Visiting teams, especially those not used to playing spin in Indian conditions dread facing them, get over cautious oftentimes and the Indian captains strut around with flattering series score lines.
Certainly, India owes a lot to these two for their No. 1 ranking in tests.
And yet, they have been rested. Post the ICC Champions Trophy in England, they haven't been part of the Indian plans for limited overs cricket and younger guys like Chahal, Axar Patel and Kuldeep Yadav have led India's spin attack, and these three have indeed done well.
Now hark back to the sixties and seventies. The days of Indian Spin Quartet. The magical four that continue to be in our fond memories, names that are bound to come up in any conversation that involves Tiger Pataudi, Ajit Wadekar or Sunil Gavaskar.
These four - Erapalli Prasanna and Srinivas Venkataraghavan, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar, and Bishan Singh Bedi ruled Indian cricket through sixties and seventies, the years that Raju Bhartan, the noted journalist, even wrote a book on, titled "Indian Cricket: The Vital Phase." The book focused primarily on how Tiger Pataudi transformed the Indian cricket team into fighters and sometime victors even. Under Pataudi, India won overseas for the first time, and the quartet led that victory.
This quartet, in many ways, was responsible for not only taking about 800 test wickets but also ensuring that Indians were no longer seen as rivals against whom easy victories could be recorded. That two of them, Bedi and Venkat, even went on to be captains of Indian cricket team surely says a lot about their value.
But if we just sit back and ponder over what could have happened if we had a rotation policy back then? Why do I say so?
The fact is that if the quartet was responsible for those 800 test wickets they were also responsible for keeping out talents like Padmakar Shivallkar, Rajinder Goel and V V Kumar. The three were Kings of Indian Domestic Cricket, taking 589, 750 and 599 wickets respectively. Yet, of the three, only V V Kumar played two test matches.
Goel is one of two non-Test cricketers, the other being Padmakar Shivalkar who Sunil Gavaskar chose among his "idols" in his book of the same name.
"He is the one bowler whom I have really dreaded facing in my life," he wrote about Goel. "I have never been able to feel comfortable against his left-hand spinners and Goel has been one who, because of his flatter trajectory, has not given me the opportunity to step down the track and drive."
Despite the repeated domestic success, the three never got a look-in. Was it because the quartet never failed? Well, they did. Was it because the three kings of domestic cricket were not good enough? Not true. Or was it because they had been put on a pedestal so high that they became impossible to replace?
I guess the last sentence might be closer to the truth. V V Kumar once said that Pataudi Junior kept him out of the team, preferring Chandra. In fact, even Pataudi did say once: I can't imagine playing a test without Chandra.
The second reason could be that the amount of cricket played back then was very little compared to the choked calendar of today. There was little possibility of a cricketer complaining of being drained out or tired. Yes, Prasanna did take a sabbatical of five years, but that was to complete his engineering degree.
When you look back and compare the two periods, there is an interesting similarity. While that period had a quartet, we have a duo currently. This duo keeps the others out of tests, even as Jayant Yadav or Kuldeep Yadav get an occasional look in.
But the emergence and subsequent dominance of short-form cricket has meant that the three kept out of tests, that is Axar, Chahal and Kuldeep get to play the 20 and 50 over games and keep the duo out. Their talent gets exposed on the international level, unlike the fate that befell Shivalkar, Goel and V V.
I am sure the three sometimes wish that they were born today. They would have also had their share of limelight, they would also have had a bagful of international wickets on their record sheets.
Whichever way you look at it, it's time to salute the seven greats of those days, as also the five gems that don the Indian colours today.