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On the 45th anniversary of his debut, Chandra recalls his glorious career

Thursday, January 22, 2022

Chandrasekhar Unplugged - 'Nobody taught me anything'

Sai Mohan

Mumbai: It took India 39 years and 2 months to win its first Test in England. Bhagwat Chandrasekhar was the hero with his 'spell of the century' haul of 6-38 at The Oval.

When Chandra spun India to victories abroad…

  • 1971 in England: India’s first-ever Test victory in England. Chandra bags 8 wickets.
  • 1976 in West Indies: India beats a West Indies outfit comprising of Richards, Lloyd and co.
  • 1976 in New Zealand: Chandra claims six wickets in the first innings. India square series.
  • 1978 in Australia (2 Tests): From 0-2 down in the series, India went on to square it 2-2.

    India conquered all nations except Pakistan thanks to Chandrashekar's bamboozling leg-spin bowling.
  • It took India exactly 30 years to register its first Test win in Australia. Guess what? Chandrasekhar took six wickets in both innings and led India to a famous victory at the Adelaide Oval.

    It was on – 21st January in 1964 – when a 19-year old Bhagwat Chandrasekhar made his Test debut at the Brabourne Stadium in Bombay against England. India's original match-winner – the only bowler who can stick his neck out and claim to have spun his country to numerous Test victories – overseas of course.

    Overall he spun India to five famous victories abroad – in which he claimed 42 wickets. Once the fastest Indian bowler to get to 100 Test wickets, Chandra boasted of a unique record. India won every time he claimed a six-wicket haul but lost when he took more than 6.

    Never-say-die spirit
    In the history of Indian cricket only on two occasions in a five-Test series have India come back to win the third and the fourth Tests after losing the first two Tests:-

    1974-75: Against West Indies in India. India lost the first two Tests at Bangalore and Delhi. They went on to win at Calcutta and Madras. Chandrasekhar was the highest wicket-taker on both occasions. However India lost the last Test at Bombay.

     1977-78: Against Australia in Australia. India lost the first two Tests quite embarrassingly until Chandra led a fabulous fightback. At Melbourne, he took six wickets in both innings and India went on to square the series 2-2. Unfortunately they lost the fifth Test at Adelaide. However Chandra's last trip Down Under was memorable.

    Sir Vivian Richards, who?
    The Antiguan legend was nothing more than Chandra's bunny. When Sir Viv Richards made his debut in 1975 against India at Bangalore, he was dismissed cheaply by Chandra in both the innings. The leggie missed the next Test due to an injury and immediately Richards cracked a hundred. Chandra was back in the third Test and once again Richards failed to score any runs.

    Richards went on to hail Chandra as 'the most dangerous bowler' that he had ever faced in his illustrious career. He even went on to say that 'some of his deliveries were faster than that of Thommo'!

    Excerpts from an exclusive interview with the legend himself:-

    If you could handpick the greatest moment of your career?
    I think my first year in the sport. Within three or four months of my debut in first-class cricket I was playing for India. That was a fabulous achievement I thought. But when it got really special was when I returned to the team in 1971 after missing out for 2 years. I saw the team win in West Indies (in 1971) and then I returned for the tour of England. Obviously that spell of 6-38 at Oval is still fresh in my memory and it was truly special.

    Chandra has a unique record. India won every time he claimed a six-wicket haul. However they lost whenever he took more than six. 

  • Madras Test, 1972-73
  • Oval Test, 1971
  • Auckland Test, 1975-76
  • Trinidad Test, 1975-76
  • Melbourne Test, 1977-78
  • You spun India to it's first-ever wins in England and Australia. Pick one – 12-108 at MCG (1978) or 8-144 at The Oval (1971).
    Like I said before it has to be 1971 since I was making a comeback to the team. However two of my best spells were both at Brabourne Stadium in Bombay. Firstly, 1964 against England when I took four wickets on debut and then 1967 against West Indies.

    There is a lot of fuss today when Indian spinners go abroad. Seamers are played to try and get assistance off the pitch. You used to take wickets on green tops. What did you do that was so special?
    It's a simple theory. I never planned anything – I bowled the same way wherever I went - whether it was in England, Australia or India. For me it was just about running in and having a short-leg, leg-slip and slips in place. I didn't know anything about pitches or rough patches on the pitch or whatever else theory that is circulated these days. I never used to think so much. My captain used to give me the ball and I used to take wickets.

    It is well documented that you used polio to your advantage as a bowler. Is it true?
    Absolutely not! I didn't even know I had polio so how would make use of it? I obviously got to know but I never bothered about it. I succeeded at everything. I used to bowl medium-pace, off-spin, leg-spin and even left-arm spinners. Nobody taught me anything you know. I learnt a lot by myself. These days it's possible with all these strategies and all that but in my time it was just pure, natural cricket and cricketers. We never faked.

    India never lost a Test when you took a 6-wicket haul. But lost every time you took more than six wickets. What was all that about?Oh really! I was not aware of this. I remember we lost at Delhi to England when I took seven wickets in the first innings. That's a strange fact I must admit.

    Sir Viv Richards could never score off you. It is a well known fact….
    Yeah it was one of those things you know. I never planned anything special for him or never thought twice while bowling to him or something. It was a destined scalp for me. Even my last-ever game against him while he played for Somerset I remember I bowled a short, long hop and Viv struck the ball straight to the fielder. So it was just destiny and nothing else.

    You rated Ken Barrington as the best batsman you bowled to. Why is that?
    He was no nonsense kind of a player. Just kept it simple and could score with so much ease. He could read the spinners faster than anyone – even faster than our own Indian batsmen. There were others who would get beaten but this guy would just stand tall. I have enormous respect for Barrington.

    You were the fastest to 100 wickets (22 Tests) until Prasanna (20) and Kumble (21) broke that record….
    Yeah the funny thing is that I didn't that all these years until someone told me recently. I just used to love going out and bowling my heart out. I never cared about the results.

    Is the future of leg spin bowling healthy?
    Actually during the '80s I thought it was almost dead. But luckily Abdul Qadir, Shane Warne and Anil Kumble came to the rescue. The problem I feel is one-day cricket. It has almost killed the beautiful art of spin. Bowlers are out to contain batsmen all the time. However I have been impressed with the latest kid Amit Mishra. He is really good.