Calcutta: Collectively, Bishan Singh Bedi (266 wickets), Bhagwat Chandrasekhar (242), Erapalli Prasanna (189) and Srinivas Venkatraghavan (156) featured in 231 Tests, but just once — Edgbaston, 1967 — did all four figure in the XI. The defeat there notwithstanding, that Test remains special for India.
Thirty-six years on, the coming together of the legendary quartet, in the city, is reason enough for a nostalgic flashback. Incidentally, barring Venkat — who came late in the evening — the others had arrived by Thursday afternoon.
The four, of course, are invitees of the Board of Control for Cricket in India for a “brainstorming session” ahead of the creation of a spinners’ wing at the National Cricket Academy.
“It’s great to be back on one platform… Sure, I’m excited,” Bedi, the most successful (colourful and controversial too) among the quartet, told The Telegraph soon after touching down in Calcutta.
Getting a wee bit emotional, he added: “Only I can confirm how much I learnt from Pras, Chandra and Venkat — both as a cricketer and as a person. Besides being such great bowlers, they topped as human beings… It’s sad, however, they haven’t got their due.
“Equally, because of the circumstances, it’s sad that Pras and Venkat could just play together in 15 Tests… Their careers overlapped and...”
In Bedi’s opinion, while “no words” can adequately do justice to Chandra’s genius, Prasanna and Venkat would have been accorded demigod status had they been born in England or Australia.
“Invariably, Pras would script a plot and execute it brilliantly… Very crafty and a big thinker,” is how he saluted Prasanna, regarded by the Ian Chappells as among the greatest of spinners.
[Bedi, by the way, feels Anil Kumble’s contribution to Indian cricket has also been underplayed. “Kumble has 349 wickets in Tests and 308 in ODIs, which can’t be bad for someone often criticised for not being able to spin the ball much.
“Bottomline, though, is that you don’t need to be a big spinner. Even a slight deviation, enough to take the edge or hit the timber, will suffice… Kumble, who is a wonderful student of the game as well, definitely deserves much more recognition. Frankly, that he was played in only three World Cup 2003 games (all in the first round) is pathetic.”]
It’s widely believed that no captain nursed the spinners as well as Mansur Ali Khan ‘Tiger’ Pataudi but, in Bedi’s view, Venkat was one of the “best captains” he played under.
“Again, sadly, Venkat didn’t get his due as captain… Actually, I haven’t forgotten the disgraceful episode of his being replaced (by Sunil Gavaskar) while on the flight home from England, in 1979… The people who mattered, then, threw every single convention out of the window.”
Bedi, it may be recalled, was himself unceremoniously removed as captain (after the 1978-79 Revival Series in Pakistan).
Asked whether he and the others would have been as effective in ODIs — collectively, they made a mere 26 appearances — Bedi was candid: “Difficult to say… However, I’m glad we got to work on our skills in the longer version of the sport. My own belief (first conveyed through our World Cup magazine, in February) is that the U-17s and 15s ought to be kept away from limited overs cricket, which isn’t the right grounding.”
For good measure, he added: “In any case, in the sport’s shorter version, captains must get out of the containment-mentality. As I’ve said, a wicket is a dot-ball and, so, the spinners should be encouraged to attack.”
Significantly, Bedi declined to comment on Sourav Ganguly’s handling of spinners.
Acknowledging the role played by brilliant close-in fielders (chiefly Ajit Wadekar, Abid Ali, Eknath Solkar and Gundappa Viswanath) in their success, Bedi emphasised the need for “team work”.
Asked whether the state of India’s spin ‘industry’ was cause for despondency, he answered: “No… Indeed, this brainstorming session is a step in the right direction as we do need to review what has always been our strength. After all, it’s a fact that we lack the explosive energy of the Australians and South Africans…”
In Bedi’s opinion, among the younger bowlers, Murali Kartik is “most promising”. And, yes, he is disappointed that the selectors have been ignoring Sunil Joshi.