Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXVII No. 11, September 16-30, 2017
Tamil Nadu has perhaps contributed the most number of off-spinners to Indian teams in the past five decades A.G. Kripal Singh, S. Venkataraghavan, M. Venkatramana, Ashish Kapoor and Ravichandran Ashwin. Of course, there were splendid bowlers possessing the same trade from outside the State, like Jasu Patel, V.M. Muddiah, Erapalli Prasanna, Shivlal Yadav, Rajesh Chauhan and the inimitable Harbhajan Singh. Not to forget the giant of Indian cricket, the great Polly Umrigar who served the country most nobly when captains threw the ball to him.
In view of the extraordinary success of Ashwin in recent series, I was tempted to have a look at the prominent off-spinners that I had faced during my playing days. Undoubtedly, Ashwin is an extraordinary spinner in that he has become the second bowler after the eminent Australian offie Clarrie Grimmett to complete 200 wickets in international cricket in the shortest time – 37 tests. Of course, Test matches were far apart in those days, and players did not play continuously as Ashwin does these days. For instance, Ventakataraghavan and Prassanna, despite being in the team squad played few Tests together.
Kripal had started off primarily as a batsman when he made his First Class debut in the 1950-51 season. There was no zonal system in that season and he got to play just one match against Hyderabad. However, he soon emerged as a worthy all-rounder becoming the batting lynchpin of the Madras Ranji team and an off-spinner. He gave splendid all-round performances in the game against Holkar, who Madras defeated to win its maiden Ranji Trophy in the 1954-55 season.
His splendid displays in the Ranji Trophy earned him an India cap in 1955 against New Zealand and he celebrated it with a 100. He hardly got a couple of overs to bowl in the Tests that he played in. However, he earned more recognition as a full time off-spinner when he was selected to play in the First Test at the Brabourne Stadium in Bombay during the series against the Ted Dexter-led England side in 1961-62. That was largely due to his role as a match-winner for the then Madras and South Zone teams, runner-up in the inaugural Duleep Trophy Tournament.
I played Kripal in the Madras First Division League as a member of the State Bank of India team while he represented Parry’s. I found him to be a steady bowler who soon read a batsman’s technique. I was overwhelmed when he picked me for the Ranji squad probables and advised me that I was one of the best backfoot players around. He gave me lots of advice and guidance and his blessings enabled me to score 86 in the Buchi Babu Memorial Trophy against a Ramesh Saxena-led Rusi Modi team.
Kripal was tall and his height enabled him to pick the right length early in an innings. I saw one of his best spells in the First Test against Bobby Simpson’s Australia in early October 1964. It was a sultry morning as he bowled cleverly to take three wickets for 43 on a bouncy track at the Madras Corporation Stadium. It’s still vivid in my mind how he teased and tormented batsmen of the calibre of Bill Lawry and Norman O’Neill. He hardly experimented and with a lovely action changed the line now and them and bamboozled the batsman. The best part was that he was not overawed by either left-arm bowler, Bapu Nadkarni or Salim Durrani.
Kripal was also a very shrewd leader and made both Madras and South Zone forces to reckon with in the tournaments they played.
Venky was very much in the Anil Kumble mould, bowling quicker, but was not a leggie like the latter. He had shot into prominence when he played for Madras University in the Rohinton Baria Trophy and earned a place in the Madras Ranji team when he was around 18. In another year, he was playing against the John Reid-led New Zealand team in February 1965 on his home ground.
Venky would never allow a batsman to settle down and did not flight the ball as often as other bowlers plying his trade. He never liked a batsman dominating his line or length of attack. He would make the ball bounce and his clean, lovely action was a treat to watch. He would jump before the umpire and bowled several wonderful deliveries that had batsmen stumped or caught behind. It was a lesson to watch how he used the crease while bowling in tandem with another great leg spinner from Madras, V.V. Kumar.
Both bowlers used the crease so well and that helped them bowl with a lot of variety. They did not depend on turning wickets as available these days and if they had bowled on stark turners they’d have got 1,000 wickets each! Venkat would get deeply involved in the match was a terrific close-in fielder and a great leader. He was great sportsman as well.
Coming to Prasanna the bowler with an artistic, stylish action, he had excellent control over spin and flight and never worried about bowling with teasing flight to any cricketer in the world. I recollect his brilliant bowling against Bill Lawry’s Australians in the final Test at Chepauk when he floored them to 57 for 7 and pushed them into a corner. lf wicket-keeper Farookh Engineer had not missed a stumping, the visitors would’ve slumped to 60 for 8.
Later, I remember a memorable dismissal Prasanna plotted against the West Indian all-rounder Bernard Julien in the first innings of the Fourth Test at Chepauk in January 1975. When Prasanna bowled to Julien, the batsman drove the ball all along the carpet to the extra-cover fence twice in succession. Then Prasanna went around the wicket and before the ball reached the batsman, he came to the right side of the straight umpire crossing the runner. Julien drove the ball in the air and Prasanna had him caught-and-bowled brilliantly. It was a superbly flighted delivery and Julien just couldn’t control his push to the onside. Even today, I wonder whether there is any off-spinner who could trap a batsman in that fashion.
As for Venkatramana, he was a very good off-spinner who was unlucky in not getting many chances to play. He was also a good bat. His stock delivery used to be the angular one, because he used to bowl a little diagonally with variations as well. He played just one Test in the West Indies and was very unfortunate like Padmakar Shivalkar and, now, Jayant Yadav, where the selectors stumbled very much.
Ashwin, with his performances, we have to accept as a great bowler. But he’s bowled and got the maximum number of wickets on turning tracks against weaker sides. In my view, however, no spinner is bowling on a wicket where there is a 50-50 chance for bat and ball. Hence, there is no point in comparing each of these guys with one another. Secondly, nobody will accept Ravindra Jadeja as a great bowler, but he’s taking wickets in heaps. That’s the order of the day.
Take Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh and how they gave their best when pitches were prepared for batsmen, yet they proved they were great by getting victories for India. There is a lot of difference between good and great. If a bowler bowls correctly, on a wicket that gives 70 per cent assistance, he should produce good results.
We should not compare the bowlers of the past with the present. They bowled in different conditions and there was no help like what’s offered at present. If the BCCI plays matches at neutral venues then perhaps we can say something in comparison. (Courtesy: Straight Bat).