Bhagwat Chandrasekhar : The Wizard of Leg Spin
People in India consider Cricket more of a religion than sport. Ever since India has won the 1983 Cricket World Cup, it has emerged as the supreme powerhouse of cricket in the World. The legacy of Indian players has always been respected by the world. Be it Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Sachin Tendulkar, MS Dhoni or Virat Kohli etc. every Indian cricketer has earned success and plaudits which has set a bench mark of cricket in the world.
Apart from its players richly endowed with batting potential, India always has been a nation with quality spinners too. From Bishen Singh Bedi to Kuldeep Yadav, India’s victory many a times revolved around the performance of their spinners. In its list of all-time great spinners, one of the finest leg-spinners which played for India was Bhagwat Chandrasekhar. Named as a Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1972, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar against all odds emerged as one of the finest leg-spinners India had ever produced.
How Even Polio couldn’t deprive Chandrasekhar from his goals
Chandrasekhar was born in 1945 in Mysore, where he gained his primary education. He developed an early interest in cricket by watching the playing styles of Australian leg spinner Richie Benaud. But at the age of six, life took an ugly turn. An attack of polio dwindled his right hand. Three long months were spent lying in the hospital, and it was soon discovered that his right arm would remain withered and emaciated.
At the age of 10, his hand had recovered and Chandrasekhar started playing cricket. Even with some deformity, he turned this into a weapon. The thinness of his arm resulted in unique flexibility, helping him produce extra bite in his top-spin. With time, he developed a near classical loop, and started turning his leg-breaks more often.
By that time his family shifted to Bangalore and he got an opportunity to play for the “City Cricketers”. While playing for the club, Chandrasekhar tried different bowling styles and also tried setting his hands on fast bowling. It was in 1963 when he finally decided to play as a leg spin bowler. His idea proved to be right as he was soon selected to represent India.
Start of a Golden Journey
Bhagwat Chandrasekhar made his test debut for India against England at Mumbai in 1964. He was able to pick 4 wickets in the match. Same year he went on to win the Indian Cricketer of the Year award. The legendary spinner changed the complexion of national team in overseas test. The wizard helped the national team to win Test matches in overseas conditions for a long period of time.
Chandrasekhar played an important role in helping India win a Test in New Zealand in 1976 where he and Prasanna shared 19 of the 20 wickets, and in Australia two years later where he returned with identical figures of 6/52 in both innings. When the veteran spinner was a part of the team, he took 98 wickets in 14 wins in Test cricket at an average of 19.27 and a strike-rate of 45.4. On the whole, he played 58 Tests for the national team, scalping 242 wickets with the best bowling figures of 8/79.
On a tough tour of England, his 6 for 38 at The Oval in 1971 gave India their first series victory on English soil. He was instrumental in India’s first win in Australia in 1978, taking 12 for 104 at Melbourne. In a career which spanned for around 15 years, Chandrasekhar had more wickets 242 than runs he scored 167. was honoured by the Indian government by being presented the Arjuna Award and Padmashri both in 1972.
Chandrasekhar and India’s famous spin quartet
Bhagwat Chandrasekhar was a part of India’s famous spin quartet along with Bishen Singh Bedi, Erapalli Prasanna and Srinivas Venkataraghavan. Between them, they played 231 Test matches, taking 853 wickets. They were one of the deadliest combinations in the world cricket, especially on the dusty subcontinental pitches which favoured spin. These four men made important contributions to some of India’s greatest triumphs, including Test series victories in the West Indies and England, as well as Test victories in Australia and New Zealand.
The spin quartet were able to take 43 five-wicket inning hauls leaving the opponents nowhere in the game. Much of this success can be attributed to the different bowling styles these bowlers possessed. Bedi was an orthodox left arm-spinner, while Chandrasekhar was an attacking leg-break bowler whereas Prasanna and Venkataraghavan were both off-spinners.
This way, they could target all kinds of batsmen in the opposition and give their captains plenty of options. It was Chandrasekhar and Bedi who were the doyens of the attack. The two played 42 Tests alongside each other and had almost similar figures, of 184 wickets each. Bedi averaged 27.22, while Chandra averaged 28.70 in these games.
Chandra, as he was popularly known, was one of Indian cricket’s greatest match-winners away from home. That it happened in an era when winning Test matches away from home were a new feeling for the Indian cricket fan adds to Chandrasekhar’s legendary status. Indian cricket great Gundappa Viswanath said: “You will never get another match-winner like Chandra.” Such was his legacy that even the greats acknowledged Chandra’s contribution to Indian cricket.
(Views are personal)