Calcutta, May 31: Twenty-four years after his last India appearance, Bhagwat Subrahmanya Chandrasekhar still can’t pinpoint the one quality which made him an extraordinary matchwinner.
“I was unorthodox and, therefore, unpredictable… However, I can’t say how it all came about. But, yes, the records show I finished with 242 Test wickets,” Chandra, who is on crutches (the consequence of being rammed by a truck 12 years ago), told The Telegraph this morning.
Speaking before his return to Bangalore, after adding value to yesterday’s Board-convened (spinners’) brainstorming session, he continued: “Getting wickets is what matters, not whether you can flight or spin the ball… For instance, I never quite knew the intricacies of flight…”
Chandra, whose bowling (right) arm was affected by polio, revealed that while he didn’t idolise any one bowler, he “imagined” how a Richie Benaud or even a Ray Lindwall would bowl and went about his business the ‘same’ way.
“Those days, when I was growing up, exposure was only to tennis ball-cricket… And, without any photographs or footage, I merely imagined how the Benauds and Lindwalls bowled and did likewise.”
In Chandra’s opinion, talent and luck are essential for making it big. “Of course, the dedication bit is there, but some amount of talent is definitely needed… At times, you also need to be lucky.”
He added: “I wasn’t ever either highly nervous or tense… More often than not, my mind was free and that made a difference.”
Smiling (in between sips of coffee), Chandra, now 58, recalled that “just three months” changed his life at the start of the 1963-64 season. “I took six wickets for the City Cricketers in an important knockout game (in Bangalore) and, then onwards, never looked back…”
Indeed, a few months later came his Test debut (versus England, at the Brabourne Stadium) and India’s most mercurial matchwinner was off the blocks.
Asked whether captains actually needed to handle leg-spinners — both conventional and ‘unorthodox’ — with care, Chandra replied: “Yes, because leg-spin is a difficult art… Having complete control isn’t always easy and a sensitive captain can ease much of the pressure.”
Some of his finest performances were under Mansur Ali Khan ‘Tiger’ Pataudi and, appropriately, Chandra paid tribute.
“Pataudi was an attacking captain, keen on having a go even if half a chance was on offer… I can’t forget how he kept faith in me even after I had been taken for 20-odd runs in three overs, by the West Indies, at the Eden (1974-75). For us, it was a do-or-die situation and, thankfully, I got the breakthroughs…”
The quick (Chandra-plotted) dismissals of Alvin Kallicharran, captain Clive Lloyd and Bernard Julian ensured India won by 85 runs that New Year’s Day. More to the point, Pataudi’s move remains among the most inspired (and courageous too) by any captain.
Chandra picked Colin Cowdrey and Ken Barrington, both of whom are no more, as the ones who faced him with supreme confidence. That he was so quick must surely have made it that much more challenging.
Incidentally, Chandra grinned when asked if he could put a figure on his quickest delivery. “My faster one was probably in the region of 85-90 miles per hour. Can’t say for sure, though.”
It’s not insignificant, perhaps, that Viv Richards once quipped: “Maan, Chandra’s quickest would be as fast as Thommo’s…”
Moving to the present era, Chandra avoided a direct answer on whether Anil Kumble, for whom he has always had time, should quit ODIs and concentrate on Test cricket. “It’s up to Anil… He alone has to make that decision, but I do feel he has a couple of years left…”
Despite the pressure of time, one simply had to seek Chandra’s views on Team India 2003. “Well, it’s a good side but, if you want a frank assessment, our bowling isn’t terribly strong. Having said that, let me add most teams worldwide have the same shortcoming…”
As wife Sandhya favoured a round of shopping before setting out for the airport — the day, by the way, began early with a visit to the Kali temple — there was time for one last question: Today, what would his message be to youngsters'
“Don’t imitate and, at every stage, learn to enjoy,” was Chandra’s answer. Coming from an absolute original, that has to be respected.