Cricket is rightly termed as the ‘Gentlemen’s Game’. Unlike most other forms of competitive sports, where success can be heavily dependent on brute power or stamina, it is played with the mind as much as it is with the body. Nothing exemplifies this more than the art of spin bowing. Unlike their fast-bowling mates, spinners don’t ‘out-bowl’ a batsmen, they rather outthink them. There are few things on the cricket field as romantic as it is to watch a spinner play mind games with the batsmen.
Turning back the pages of cricket’s glorious history, India has routinely produced the greatest of spinners. While legends have represented other teams – the likes of Jim Laker, Shane Warne, Muttiah Muralitharan, Sydney Barnes and Lance Gibbs immediately come to our mind – India was perhaps the first team to use spinners as the lead weapon of their arsenal. The birth of the Indian Spin Quartet brought about a paradigm shift in world cricket. Never before in the history of the game did spinners have the lead role in a bowling attack. The notion that spinners were expected to play the side show changed once and for all.
India, in its early days in world cricket, was a team dominated by batting talent. While the Indians always had the batsmen who could stand up to fiery pace on uncovered pitches, they never had bowlers to take 20 wickets or defend low totals. The birth of the Spin Quartet (B.S. Bedi, E.A.S. Prasanna, B.S. Chandrasekhar and S. Venkataraghavan) changed Indian cricket forever. It is no surprise that some of India’s early and most famous wins abroad coincided with the playing careers of these legends. Under Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi’s leadership the quartet took shape, then later reached the pinnacle of excellence under Ajit Wadekar and Sunil Gavaskar.
Also Read | 10 biggest match-fixing scandals in cricket
The reason for their success and domination over the batsmen is often attributed to their different styles of bowling. While Bedi bowled orthodox left arm-spin, Chandrasekhar was a leg-break bowler with lethal googlies. Venkataraghavan and Prasanna were both off-spinners, which is perhaps the reason they rarely featured together in the playing XI. Opposition batsmen had to constantly adjust their guard and stride while facing these magicians in full rhythm. Between them they played 231 Tests Matches combined between 1962 and 1983 and picked up 853 wickets which included 43 five-wicket hauls and 6 ten-wicket match hauls.
Erapalli Anantharao Srinivas Prasanna
During England’s 1972-73 tour of India under Tony Lewis, Indian Skipper Ajit Wadekar tossed the ball to Erapalli Prasanna and asked him to ‘bowl tight’. Wadekar’s approach wasn’t surprising given that Indian team won few Test Matches in that era and the captain would happily have settled for a draw rather than risk losing the match. Prasanna, of course, had other plans and attacked the Englishmen with flight, inviting them to play strokes. He quickly snared four key wickets and set up a historic win to seal the series, taking Indian cricket to its highest ever point. This anecdote perhaps best describes this right arm off-break bowler from India’s golden generation
Bhagwat Subramanya Chandrasekhar
Which Test match legend has more wickets than runs in his career? This is one of the most popular cricket trivia questions of all time. Indeed, Chandra would have never made it to a List-A squad on his batting merits, as his 23 ducks can attest. But when it came to his unorthodox style of spin bowling, there is one term that perhaps best describes him – ‘match-winner’. There have been few spinners in history as threatening as Chandra and he is generally considered the best among the quartet.
Also Read | BS Chandrasekhar Profile, Records and Facts
Bishan Singh Bedi
Bedi was the most unique character among the quarter; not only was he the only left arm spinner, but he was surely the most cocksure. Whether one blames it on the part of the country he came from or the fact that he had been impressing everyone since the age of 15, he certainly wasn’t the average polite gentleman that most of his teammates were.
Venkataraghavan’s stats may not excite modern fans and he surely wasn’t on the same level as the other three legends. He burst onto the scene, picking 21 wickets against New Zealand in his debut test series, but this was arguably the most dominant performance of his (still-illustrious) career. Venkataraghavan may not have been blessed with as many variations as Chandra or the gift of flight like his off-spin partner (and often rival) Prasanna, but what made him great was he understood these limitations and played to his strengths. He didn’t run through opposition line-ups like the others, but set up wickets for his teammates by giving absolutely nothing away.