The Tribune - Spectrum

, August 4, 2002

Of the best bowler, master blaster, miracle man and wristy genius
Raj Kumar Singh

BHAGWAT Chandrashekhar remains India's greatest matchwinner overseas, with 42 wickets from five Tests, and is second only to Anil Kumble as India's leading matchwinner anywhere, with 98 wickets in 14 Tests won during his career. His 6 for 38 at The Oval in 1971 gave India their first series victory in England. An attack of polio when he was a child left Chandra's right arm weak, but very flexible at the wrist. That right arm won several Tests for India, but he always threw with his left hand. He was a wrist spinner who bowled at near medium pace; playing in an age in which India appeared to not believe in opening bowlers, he was sometimes the fastest bowler on the side. His stock ball was probably the top-spinner or googly; Tony Greig, who played him at his peak with some success, said that he played Chandra like a fast off-spinner. He was always unpredictable, often serving up a mix of long hops and half-volleys punctuated with unplayable deliveries. He could turn the ball both ways, and combined this with changes in pace and bounce.

His captains knew that bowling him was generally a gamble. In 1974-75, Tiger Pataudi chose to take that gamble, against the West Indies at Calcutta. After giving up three fours in two overs, Chandra bowled danger man Clive Lloyd, and India went on to win the Test. He bowled India to wins over England at the Oval in 1971, and Australia at Melbourne in 1977-78, as well as quite a few Tests at home.

In recognition of his complete lack of ability with the bat, the Australian team presented him with a bat with a hole in the middle, during the 1977-78 tour. Being a mild person by nature, he enjoyed the joke. Chandra was a fan of Hindi film music, especially singer Mukesh. A decade or so after his retirement, he was involved in a car accident, tragically losing the use of his legs


The master blaster

Which bowler will you associate with the flaying of bowling attacks? A hint : he made his debut as a slow left-arm bowler. Many of the youngsters may think of Sanath Jayasuriya but they are wrong. The namename is Syed Mushtaq Ali.

Syed Mushtaq Ali made his debut as a slow left-arm bowler in 1933-34 at Calcutta against England (only 19 years and 9 days!!) and retired as an opening batsman with 600 -odd runs under his belt from only eleven test matches that too with a fine average of 32.21. In first -class cricket, he scored more than 13,000 runs with 30 hundreds. Not to forget 155 wickets with his stimulating spin. Mushtaq was famous for his dare-devil approach towards fast bowlers. He demoralised the bowlers effectively but it some times cost him his wicket. According to Neville Cardus: "There was suppleness and a loose, easy grace which concealed power, as the feline silkiness conceals the strength of some jungle beauty of gleaming eyes and sharp fangs." Mustaq made a blazing 100 in the 1936 Test match which delighted Cardus. His opening partner Vijay Merchant, another fine player, joined him with a wonderful hundred. This opening duo made 203 runs in 150 minutes (1.53 runs per minute!!).Cardus called the duo "the prose and poetry of Indian cricket."

Mushtaq was respected a lot in Calcutta. Once Duleep Singhji tried to teach Mushtaq a lesson for missing the first ' Test' against Lindsay Hassett's Australian Services side at Bombay. The second Test was to be played at Calcuuta. Duleep Singhji announced the final eleven excluding Mushtaq. But the Calcuttans raised the slogan "no Mustaq, no test." He was back in the team, but not for long. After the BCCI said that it did not need him ,Mushtaq confined himself to domestic cricket. He played for Holkar. Later in1948, when he made a come back into the Test team, he played memorable innings of 54 and 106 against West Indies 'as special thanks' to the cricket lovers of Calcutta.

Syed Mushtaq Ali is now 87 years old and is still loved as dearly for his exploits.

The miracle man

That was a sort of miracle. A batsman who was on the brink of elimination from the Test team played just one innings and became a great batsmen. The stylish Hyderabadi Vangipurapu Venkata Sai Laxman, whose marathon innings of 281 has been chosen by Wisden as the best individual innings by an Indian in the last century, started his Test career in 1996 against South Africa. He had earlier been declared the king of domestic cricket by cricket pundits despite the memorable inning of 167 at Sydney against the mighty Australians in January, 2000. Even the great Richie Benaud acknowledged that knock as one of the finest he had seen at Sydney. But the continuous failure in the experimental batting order put the pressure on Laxman. What was more unfortunate about his failure was that his technique and temperament to play long innings was never in doubt. After all, he is the only cricketer to score two triple centuries in Ranji Trophy. The second one was a marathon inning of 353 against strong Karnataka in the semi-finals. Domestic cricket in India may still not be very competitive,but 1415 runs from nine Ranji matches, including 9 centuries are enough to reflect the class and caliber of Laxman. The only thing was to show the right attitude at the highest level of cricket. Perhaps the confidence that he can conquer even the best bowling attack in the world was some where missing in the attitude of this Hyderabadi batsman.

After the another failure against Australians in the first Test in Mumbai, when every body was hoping that the Kolkata Test would be the end of the road for Laxman, this classic Hyderabadi rose to the occasion in style. After failing as a opener, he was sent six down in the first innings of the Kolkata Test. That was a do- or- die battle for Laxman and he made no mistake. India were five down for 88 Laxman was the last out with a fine 59 on a doubtful umpiring judgement. He was then promoted to the number three slot in place of Rahul Dravid. The immediate danger was of an innings defeat against the Australians who had record of 16 Test victories in a row. Laxman then did what was required of him. The Hyderabadi rewrote history playing a historic innings of 281 which not only surpassed the highest individual Indian score of legendary Sunil Gavaskar (236 n.o.),but also created a partnership of 376 runs that made possible the otherwise impossible win for India.

Born in a family of doctors, VVS also wished to become a doctor up to a certain stage of his academic career. As he himself told an interviewer, he started playing cricket at the age of two and scored his first century when he was just 12. He was lucky enough to have parents who always advised 'play while you play, study while you study.' Not surprisingly he got 98% in science in his higher secondary exams. Priorities however changed for Laxman at the end of class 12 when he was selected for the national camp and the dates clashed with the medical entrance exam.That was the turning point. Laxman decided to take up cricket as a profession.

The wristy genius

Some times statistics don't tell the whole truth. This is the case of great Gundappa Vishwanath, who has been chosen by the Wisden as the best Indian player of the century for the sprit of the cricket. In the 70s and the early 80s, Vishy and Sunil Gavaskar were the most strong and reliable pillars of Indian batting. His Test debut in 1969-70 was an unforgettable one. He was unable to even open his account in the first innings at Green Park, Kanpur, against the Australians. However, he made a superb century in the second innings . He had to wait for three years to score his second century and become the first Indian debut centurian to hit a second century also. Lala Amarnath, Shodhan, Kripal Singh, Abbas Ali Baig and Hanumant Singh had failed to hit a second Test century after hitting one on their debut.

He was a great artist of the game. Nothing could have been better than watching cricket when Vishy was at the crease. His wristwork was joy to behold. His square cuts and flicks were like poetry in motion. Despite his short hight (5'4") his timing was matchless. He is the player who always performed better when the team was in a crisis. He often excelled on pitches which others found difficult to bat on. His unbeaten, match wining 97 against the pace battery of West Indies at Madras in 1974-75 should be remembered as his best inning. Match- wining innings of 124 (out of 255)on the same ground against the same opponent in 1978-79, the century at Port of Spain in 1976 when India successfully chased the huge total of 404 in the 4th innings, and 83 & 7 9 against New Zealand in Christchurch in 1975-76 are among the memorable contributions of this little master.

What is more important about Vishy is that he played the gentlemen's game with the true spirit of the game. No one can forget the incident when Vishy called back Bob Taylor to the crease when he was given out by the umpire in the golden jublee Test between India and England. Though that decision cost India heavily (India lost the match) it showed that Vishy was the real gentleman of the game. That was one of the only two Test matches in which Vishwanath captained India.

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