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By Suresh Menon
There can be few more rewarding ways to spend an evening than in the company of some of the greatest spinners in the history of the game. And to do it two evenings in a row is a special blessing. Bishan Bedi, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar and Erapalli Prasanna are generous souls, giving of their knowledge and sharing their experiences with a magnanimity that has always been striking. And when they were joined by Anil Kumble for a more formal public session as the celebrations climaxed with an evening of awards, panel discussions and music on a Saturday evening at the KSCA, it was the experience of some 1300 Test wickets and hundreds of first class matches that were on display.
With the DRS now favouring spinners on leg before decisions, off spinners in particular have reaped greater rewards for their efforts. Had the DRS existed in his time, would Prasanna have finished with more than the 189 Test he claimed in 49 Tests?
The answer was a surprising ‘Yes, and no.’ And the reason threw light on the mindset of a great competitor. “In my time, umpires were reluctant to give a batsman out leg before on the front foot,” said Prasanna, “so it forced me to devise methods to push the batsman onto the back foot. It thus added an extra dimension to my bowling which I had to work out in order to counter the trend.” So yes, he would have got more leg befores on the front foot, but then there would have been little attempt to push the batsman back.
“The genie is out of the bottle,” was the way Bedi saw the DRS, “and it can’t be put back in now.”
All these spinners made their debut for India in their teens; Chandrasekhar remarkably going from club cricket to state cricket to zonal cricket to the Indian team in a matter of six months. “One moment I was playing on the streets of Bangalore near my house with a tennis ball. I began as a fast bowler, opening batsman, wicket keeper, and in six months everything fell into place and I was making my debut for India,” recalled Chandrasekhar.
“Chandra had remarkable captains lighting his way,” said Bedi. “The inspiring V Subramanyam in Karnataka, M L Jaisimha for South Zone, and then Tiger Pataudi for India. You cannot think of three better captains.”
Chandra confessed that he needed just three fielders in the right place: a slip, and two short legs. “When I was bowling well, these fielders took the catches. If I was bowling badly, 22 fielders would not have helped.”
Having the right captain is important to a bowler, especially a spinner. The three greats who were nurtured by Tiger Pataudi were in agreement. Kumble, of a later vintage, born after Prasanna announced himself with 49 wickets in eight Tests in Australia and New Zealand, concurred. “There was pressure on spinners of my generation who were always being compared to the three masters sitting here,” he told the audience. “We were all conscious of the heritage – it was an inspiration.”
And so on to everybody’s favourite question: who were the batsmen, in India and abroad who played them best?
For Prasanna it was Tom Graveney and Sunil Gavaskar; for Bedi Gary Sobers and G R Vishwanath. Chandra’s best were Ken Barrington and Vijay Manjrekar while for Kumble it was Brian Lara and a host of Indians, Tendulkar, Azharuddin, V V S Laxman. Speaking of the time when he dismissed Brian Lara while bowling with a fractured jaw Kumble said, “Lara was probably deceived by my bandage rather than my bowling.”
A lovely evening, among greats who shared one other quality – a nice line in self-deprecatory humour.