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Vol. XXX No. 5 June 16-30, 2020

Mesmerising the Opponents at Chepauk

by Partab Ramchand

Erapalli Prasanna turned 80 on May 22 and in the midst of the celebrations his mind must have also gone back to the many glorious triumphs he helped shape for the Indian cricket team in the 60s and 70s. And among the blur of memories, his sinuous bowling at Chepauk where he took 36 wickets in five Tests between 1967 and 1977 must have taken pride of place. He was always one of Chepauk’s favourite cricketers notwithstanding the fact that his rival for a place in the playing eleven was local hero S. Venkatraghavan.

Prasanna was making a comeback after five years to the Test arena when he was selected in the team to play the West Indies in January 1967. He replaced Venkat largely on the back of his eight for 87 in the West Indies first innings while bowling for South zone at Bangalore in the match prior to the Test. This was incidentally the first Test in which the trio of Prasanna, B.S. Chandrasekhar and B.S. Bedi played together and the varied tricks of the trade that they displayed in their own inimitable manner frequently had the star-studded West Indian batting line-up consisting of Conrad Hunte, Rohan Kanhai, Clive Lloyd, Basil Butcher, Seymour Nurse and Gary Sobers in trouble.

Prasanna settled down quickly to an impeccable line and length besides making the ball turn appreciably and even as the West Indies raced a total of 406 he finished with two for 118. But it was in the second innings that he really displayed his manifold skills. The West Indies, left with a victory target of 322 in just under a day, were struggling thanks to Prasanna and Bedi who spun webs around the batsmen. At tea, the West Indies were facing defeat at 197 for seven with Bedi taking four and Prasanna three; but with Sobers bringing all his experience into play and Charlie Griffith playing more with pads than bat kept the spinners at bay. The West Indies ended with 270 for seven. Prasanna finished with three for 106 and had served enough notice that he would be the fulcrum of the Indian spin bowling from then on.

And so it proved for by the time India next played a Test at Chepauk in December 1969, Prasanna was acknowledged as the best spin bowler in the world. He fully lived up to this exalted status with a bag of ten for 174 but the Indian batting was so brittle that despite his gallant effort we went down to a 77-run defeat. Prasanna was at his most deadly on the third morning when he had Australia gasping for breath taking 24 for six. His morning spell read 3.2-2-8-4 as he, in double quick time, removed Bill Lawry, Doug Walters, Paul Sheahan and Brian Taber for next to nothing. Thanks to a couple of dropped catches and Ian Redpath’s fighting 63, Australia recovered to a total of 163 which was enough to complete a victory with the woeful batting doing little to back Prasanna’s heroic effort.

It was in the Pongal Test of 1973 against England that Prasanna next displayed the art and craft of spin bowling at its very best. He took two wickets in the first innings and the second time around, despite a first innings deficit of 74, England had fought their way to 152 for six on a pitch that was fast taking spin. Prasanna started a fresh spell and very soon England were dismissed for 159 with the off spinner taking four for six on his way to innings figures of four for 16. India lost six wickets while getting the required 86 runs for victory putting Prasanna’s match winning spell in the proper perspective.
Prasanna again proved his match winning abilities two years later against the West Indies. Replying to India’s first innings total of 190 the visitors were 138 for four with Clive Lloyd and Vivian Richards firmly entrenched in a fifth wicket partnership that could well ensure a match winning lead. In a matter of a little over half an hour it was India who was headed for a first innings lead with West Indies sliding sharply to 165 for nine with Prasanna taking all five wickets. In the second innings as West Indies tried to chase down a victory target of 255, Prasanna was again in the forefront taking four for 41 and ensuring a 100-run victory for the hosts. The piece de resistance was his dismissal of Richards with one that moved the other way with no perceptible change of action and the batsman, who knew little of the delivery, edged it to the wicket keeper. He also had Lloyd stumped, dismissing the two master batsmen for a second time in the match. With match figures of nine for 111, Prasanna put Bedi and Chandrasekhar in the shade as he often did at Chepauk.

Prasanna’s last hurrah at his favourite ground came against England two years later when he had match figures of six for 100. Unfortunately the batting was so woeful that his effort could not be crowned with success with India going down to a 200-run defeat.

Prasanna’s love affair with Chepauk actually started with the Duleep Trophy final against Central Zone in December 1965. Playing for South zone he had a match haul of eleven for 80 as he and Chandrasekhar, who had match figures of nine for 66, bowled their team to an innings victory in two days. Yes, the Karnataka spin twins shared all the 20 wickets, a precursor to their many memorable performances to come over the next decade.

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