Why India is the land of spinners

No other country has produced so many spinners of class as India has over the last 70 years.

 |  4-minute read |   26-12-2017
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In the mid-1980s, the legendary opener of West Indies, Gordon Greenidge, was in the commentary box. The talk turned to the spin quartet of India Bedi, Chandrasekhar, Prasanna and Venkatraghvan. The West Indian declared that it was India’s fortune and misfortune that the four greats came at the same time. India was fortunate that the four combined to produce a lethal combination but unfortunate that at least one had to be left out and greater misfortune was that they retired more or less at the same time to produce a big vacuum in Indian cricket.

A look at India’s cricketing history from the 1940s onwards shows that India has produced outstanding spin bowlers. Vinoo Mankad was an outstanding all-rounder but a great left arm spin bowler. In the test at Lords in 1952, he scored 184 and 72 not out and took 5 wickets. That test match came to be known as Mankad v/s England. India’s spin prowess started with Mankad. The 50s also saw the emergence of Subhash Gupte another outstanding spinner who later settled down In West Indies. The mid-1950s saw the emergence of Borde, Durrani and Nadkarni. All three besides being good spinners were decent batsmen.

However, it was the mid-1960s that saw the golden era of Indian spinners. Prasanna made his debut in 1962 but came into his own from 1966. Chandrasekhar hit the test circuit from 1964 along with Venkatraghvan. Bedi entered somewhere around 1966. These four dominated test cricket right up to 1978 when barring Venkatraghvan the three others faded away. These four earned rare praise from their opponents. Ian Chappell called Prasanna the best off-spinner he had ever seen while Viv Richards called Chandrasekhar the most difficult bowler he had played.

Unfortunately for India, this quartet of spinners ruined the careers of other great spinners who played at the same time. The names of Rajinder Goel, Rajinder Singh Hans, Padmakar Shivalkar and VV Kumar comes to mind immediately. They were great spinners in their own right but had to be content playing domestic cricket. Such was the hold of the quartet.

Indian spin suffered slightly in the 1980s. Dilip Doshi who took over from Bedi was a great left arm bowler but he was nearing the end of his career. Shivlal Yadav and Ravi Shastri took over the mantle of the spin department but were not in the same class. The end of the 1980s saw the arrival of Anil Kumble who was to become an all-time great.


Anil Kumble along with Harbhajan Singh took over the reins of Indian spin department. The golden era was back. Kumble went on to take over 600 wickets and Harbhajan over 400 wickets. Their exit has brought two other greats Ashwin and Jadeja. Both of them are continuing the tradition of Indian spinners. Ashwin became the fastest bowler to take 300 wickets and both of them have led India to many victories.

Let us look at other countries. England has produced Jim Laker and Underwood, Australia Grimmett, Richie Benaud and the great Warne while West Indies just one Lance Gibbs. The subcontinent has produced many spinners. If one looks at Pakistan, one is reminded of Abdul Qadir and Saqlain Mushtaq Sri Lanka has produced the great Murlidharan who is considered an all-time great.

No other country has produced so many spinners of class as India has over the last seventy years. It is difficult to pinpoint the reasons for this feat. One reason could be the wickets we produce which are helpful to spinners. This could be the reason as to why we have been unable to produce fast bowlers of the same class though that appears to be changing now. Another reason could be we are temperamentally suited to produce spinners. We probably have the guile and the skill but lack the aggression. In any case, the spinners have given us much joy and enjoyment over the years besides victories over our opponents. There is nothing more thrilling than seeing a batsman beaten by a spinner in the air or off the wicket.

Instant cricket has its charm but the game is loaded in favor of the batsman. The bowler has too many restrictions on him. I feel aghast in T20 matches when the batsman is meant to clobber the bowlers. It is an unequal contest. It is wrong to believe that the batsman is the only one who entertains the spectators. There is nothing more thrilling than to see a great bowler in action. The run-up of Michael Holding or the spin that Warne got remain etched in our memories forever.

The cricket administrators must be fair to the bowlers. Cricket is a contest between the bat and the ball. Leaning too much in favor of the bat will kill the game. That would be a great tragedy!

Also read: Why Arshi’s eviction is not a shocker


Nishat Shah Nishat Shah @nishatshah2

Writer is an alumnus of IIM-A. He is an Ahmedabad-based commentator on business and economic affairs.

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