This is the cricket time machine. And for this article we shall zoom back in time, to the mid 60"s and focus on that magical decade that literally put people in a spin. In the Caribbean pace screamed and humbled the batsmen as they stood baffled. But in India there were four gentlemen who spun webs of destruction for the opposition. Together they created an enigmatic atmosphere that the cricketing world had come to respect and fear. They were the formidable institution of Bishan Singh Bedi, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar, Erapalli Prasanna, and Srinivas Venkataraghvan. For the record between them they amassed 853 wickets in about a decades time span and that record speaks for itself. Unfortunately all four were never seen tormenting the opponents in tandem, as 4 spinners in one team would imbalance the side. But, there was one match that did see all four play together. This was at the third and final Test at Edgbaston , Birmingham in 1967, with India taking on hosts England. Though India lost the match, the spinners took 18 wickets among them, proving that they were totally effective. They ushered in an unforgettable era of spin that the Indians have never been able to produce again.
One of the most endearing aspects of this quartet was the immense respect that they had for each other. Picture this, apparently when one of them got a wicket, the other would not rush to the wicket-keeper or the fielder, but to the other spin mate. Such was the mutual admiration. They were genuinely happy with each other"s triumphs and reveled in their success. Given today"s scenario, where people (not only cricketers) are victims of insecurity and selfish needs, this story of selfless appreciation, stands out as being unique.
The foursome, were very different, both as players and as individuals. So let"s take a quick peek at their character sketches.
The off-spinner Erapalli Prasanna was the senior most in this firm of the spinning quartet as he was the first to play for India, in 1961-62 as a young 21 year old, against the visiting English team. His is an interesting story as after he made his debut at this impressionable age, he took a four-year break from international cricket to complete an engineering degree that he was pursuing. One must remember that in those days, you could not make a career out of playing cricket and therefore you needed to have plan B in place. But he was quickly taken back into international cricket, as his style of bowling was that of a 'thinking man' – with 'professoresque' attributes. In 1966 he rejoined the Indian team and bowled with his fellow spinners , debutant Bedi and Chandrasekhar. Sunil Gavaskar once remarked, that whenever Prasanna used to walk back to get ready to deliver the next ball, one could almost hear his brain buzzing with thoughts about eliminating the batter. He became the quickest Indian to get 100 wickets in only 20 matches. A true academic cricketer, the likes of who, the current Indian team could do with. In his career of 49 Test matches he captured 189 wickets, and will be remembered as the spinner who could out think the batsman on any given day. In fact he was affectionately referred to as the 'wily old fox'.
The quartet"s next character was the tall and lean Srinivas Venkataraghvan. Physically he was one the diametrical opposite of Prasanna. The offie made his debut against the visiting New Zealand side, in 1965 and quickly announced that he was a force that the Indian team needed in its armoury. He made sure that he could provide a brand of off spin that was markedly different to that of Prasanna"s , so that he could retain his place in the team. Another thing that weighed heavily in his favour was his high level of fitness and commendable fielding in the 'close in' positions. Together with the other 'close in' fielders like Eknath Solkar, Ajit Wadekar, Abid Ali and wicket-keeper Farokh Engineer they formed a strong trap and snapped up batsmen who faltered. This off-spinner was always on his toes ( not literally though) , as he needed his performances to guarantee that he would keep his place in the side, for there was always Prasanna waiting to take his place, when the duo were not part of the playing eleven! In the 57 Tests that he played, he amassed 156 wickets, with his best being 8/72 against the Kiwis in his debut year. After his career as one of India"s finest spinners, Venkat took to umpiring in a big way and officiated in 73 Tests and 52 ODIs before retiring in March 2004.
Bishan Singh Bedi was the third member of the quartet and can be seen as the leader or at least the nucleus of the group. His expressive ways and that don"t-give -a- damn attitude, won the hearts of his team members and the cricket loving public alike. He made his debut in 1966 against the West Indies in the home series and was quick to cement his place in the team. His orthodox left arm spin and tip-toed bowling action deceived the batsmen as he spun his way to get them out. There was that exaggerated loop and cunning spin that did the trick. But more than his exceptional bowling which got him 256 wickets in the 67 Tests that he played in, controversy was his middle name. As captain of the Indian team he used to find himself in the midst of many a debate. That is what made him so likeable, for he always had an opinion on everything and still does. When there was no fire, he was the kind who would always want to create a spark. With the quartet he always egged them on and bowled as the ideal foil to the other member of the group, the leg spinner BS Chandrasekhar. He remarked that it was the camaraderie among the four of them that helped in the further enhancement of their individual talent. After his retirement, he coached the national side and made a name for himself even in that role for all his comments and his unique way of dealing with issues. A phenomenon that the world"s batsmen may have found tough to deal with, he is one person who is never short of advice or making 'Bedi – esque' observations.
And the man who completed the foursome was the sensational Bhagwat Chandrasekhar. He was the leg-spin part of the quartet and with his polio afflicted right arm he destroyed the formidable batting line-ups on his day. Rendered useless, Chandra (as he was referred to as) used to do most things left-handed, writing, throwing- but he bowled with the affected right hand and batted too. He had a long, bouncing run-up, and delivered sharp googlies, top-spinners and leg-breaks at almost medium pace from the back of his hand with a quick, sharp-edged action. Often he confessed that even he did not know what delivery he would bowl. He made his debut, against the English in the home series in 1964 and despite injuries and setbacks, Chandra made place for himself in the team and earned the nickname of being a match winner. With Bedi bowling from the other end, Chandra trapped batsmen with ease and that prolific genius Vivian Richards, was his bunny. In 58 Tests, he got 242 wickets and most importantly was one of the most liked players internationally. But the universal truth is that the good men are the ones that suffer the most, and this was proven again when Chandra lost the use of his feet in an accident post retirement. A simple man who lived life for it"s simple pleasures will always be remembered as a crucial element of the famed spin quartet.
As you can see the characters of the quartet were individually very different and it is their differences that brought about the much-desired magic. Will that era ever come to the fore again for India, is a question that most of us have the answer for. Given the shortened versions of the game, the dying art of spin bowling in the country, perhaps this 'spin quartet' regime will never be! For now we celebrate the four men who made up the quartet! Four men who are legends who will live on forever in our spinning minds!!