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Cricket World Rewind: #OnThisDay - Bhagwat Chandrasekhar is born - the spinner who flummoxed even the great Viv

Bhagwat Chandrasekhar
©ICC
 

May 17, 1945 - Bhagwat Chandrasekhar was a freak wrist spinner who converted adversity (his polio-stricken right hand) into a weapon and won India many a Test matches through the 70s.

 

When Chandrasekhar was just five years old, an attack of polio withered his right arm. The disability led to his arm becoming hyper flexible which provided the extra zip behind the ball. His wrist remained strong and that is where the power for his stock googlies and top spinners came from.

 

In his 16-year log international career, Chandrasekhar was part of India's spin quartet alongside Bishan Singh Bedi, Erapalli Prasanna and Srinivas Venkataraghavan as the combo bamboozled batsmen around the world, at a time when India had practically no pace bowlers.

 

It seems ridiculous now but there was a time when Sunil Gavaskar, apart from opening the batting, also opened the bowling for India. The aim was to roughen up the ball as quickly as possible to bring the spinners into the game.

 

Even within the quartet, there was no one more unpredictable than Chandra. He could be erratic at times and lose control of his line and lengths. But when he was on song, it was a nightmare for the batsmen to predict the trajectory of the ball.

 

The great spinner himself admitted that at times even he did not know the direction in which the ball would turn after pitching. One can only imagine the plight of the batsmen when faced with such pedigree, and at speeds way quicker than that of the usual spinners.

 

Even Vivian Richards, who is regarded as the greatest batsman of all-time across the board, found Chandrasekhar to be one of the toughest bowlers. It was on Sir Viv's Test debut that the great batsman got the first taste of Chandrasekhar's leg spin.

 

Richards was caught off Chandrasekhar in both the innings at Bangalore in 1974 for 4 and 3. For some inexplicable reason, Chandra was dropped for the second Test. This allowed Richards to write the first chapter of his epic career with a dominant 192, which included 20 fours and 7 sixes.

 

Chandra returned for the last three matches of the series. In the four matches that the leg spinner was a part of, Richards could manage only 161 runs at an average of 23.

 

“It took me a long, long time to come to terms with Chandra. He was the most teasing bowler I ever had to face, and I never quite knew whether I was in charge or not. That was his greatness. His ability to lure opponents into a false sense of security was deadly. How is a batsman supposed to dominate such a man? How can he build his own confidence when he does not know whether the bowler is faking or not? ... To this day he probably remains the one bowler for whom I have most respect. He could do things with the ball that seemed supernatural,” Sir Viv said of Chandra later.

Chandrasekhar's talent was spotted when he was just 17. He was included in the Mysore side and went on to play his first Test match just three months later.

 

When he made his debut, the leg spinner had only played four Ranji Trophy matches and had been part of the Board President's XI that played against the visiting MCC team.

 

He picked up 4 wickets in the first innings in his debut match against England. Chandra really began to come of age by the next year when a touring Australia had to contend with his fizzing top spinners.

 

Unfortunately, Chandra had to deal with several injuries throughout his long international career and a horrible accident meant that he had to sit out for a large period between 1967 and 1971.

 

Chandra featured in only one ODI, but of the 58 Tests that he played, the spinner picked up 242 wickets at 29.74, with a strike rate of 65.9 balls per wicket. The figures are remarkable on their own, but his numbers in India's victories are legendary.

 

Chandra bagged a total of 98 wickets in 14 wins, at 19.27, at an astonishing strike rate of 45.4. These include half of his 16 five-fers and 2 ten-wicket hauls. That 5 of these 14 wins were brought about on foreign soil is even more remarkable.

 

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