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Passing of an era - Suresh Menon column
by Suresh Menon
Aug 19, 2008
Three decades ago a tour of Pakistan spelt the end of the then Fabulous Four of Indian cricket. The famed Indian quartet of spinners, Bishan Bedi, Erapally Prasanna, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar and Srinivas Venkatraghavan ceased to be a force in international cricket, although their careers went on for a bit longer. Zaheer Abbas mainly, and other Pakistani batsmen helped to push over the edge one of the finest combinations of spinners the game had ever seen. Only weeks earlier they had nearly helped India win in Australia, a series they ultimately lost 2-3.

In the days when victories were rare, one or the other of the foursome played in 98 Tests for India, claimed 853 wickets among them and starred in 23 victories. Whatever the statistics say, no better spinners - left arm, off or leg - have played for India. It was the end of an era - just because it was a cliché, it didn't make that untrue.

The recent reversals against Sri Lanka may or may not see the end of another Fabulous Four, the middle order which finished with an average of around 20, and without a single century. Ajantha Mendis seems to have done to the batsmen what Zaheer Abbas did to the bowlers all those years ago. It is possible that years from now we will point to this series when we talk about the decline of India's finest middle order. Tendulkar, Dravid, Ganguly and Laxman were made to look ordinary by Muralitharan and Mendis who claimed 47 wickets between them at 20.1.

So startling was the failure of the middle order that the poor showing by another traditionally strong arm of Indian cricket, the spinners, has been pushed into the background. Between them Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh claimed 24 wickets at 35.4, with the off spinner claiming ten in the second Test which India won, but neither looked like running through the opposition. While Harbhajan's numerical resurrection at least is some comfort, this is offset by Kumble’s second successive series average of 50-plus; he sent down 135 overs for just four wickets.

Without quite attaining the glamour or the panache of the earlier quartet, the Kumble-Harbhajan combination has served India even better. They have 827 wickets between them, and if Harbhajan can keep his heart from ruling his head, he could finish with nearly as many wickets as Kumble's current tally of 616. After all, he is ten years younger than the Indian captain.

Over many seasons, the quartet kept out of the Indian team spinners who were nearly as good, spinners who might have been leading wicket takers had they played for any other country. So when the big names moved aside, there was a bunch that was ready to take over. Dilip Doshi became only the second bowler (after Clarrie Grimmett) to claim 100-plus Test wikets after making his debut past the age of 30. He struck up a combination with Shivlal Yadav that kept India winning at home.

Piyush Chawla apart, there is currently no spinner pushing the Big Two. Strangely enough, India have not handled left arm spinners well in recent years, with Venkatapathy Raju, Sunil Joshi and Murali Karthik not being given a good run.

India's best spinners have traditionally been blooded very young, in their teens. Kumble himself was 19 when he was a surprise selection for the England tour of 1990.

Both the floundering batsmen and struggling bowlers have the advantage of playing the next two series at home. Both sets of players can right their tipping careers over the next couple of months. The passing of an era is both uncomfortable and inevitable.
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