Anindya Dutta’s book Wizards is about the legacy of Indian spinners


Anindya talks about digging out these obscure stories, his favourite Indian spinner, the weakness of modern Indian batsmen against spin and more

We know Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal, the contemporary Indian spin duo in limited overs cricket. We know Ravichandran Ashwin, who is on his way to be an all-time great, and the relentlessness of Ravindra Jadeja. We, of course, know the legendary Anil Kumble and the great Indian spin quartet comprising Bishan Bedi, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar, Erapalli Prasanna and Srinivas Venkatraghavan. All these names are rightfully recounted by Anindya Dutta in his fourth cricket book, Wizards, which attempts to be a compendium of spin bowling in India. The book also introduces to cricket fans, especially of this generation, the relatively unknown and lesser-celebrated spinners like Palwankar Baloo, who is called “the first great Indian spinner” in Ramachandra Guha’s Spin and Other Turns. Baloo, born to a family of leather workers, took 179 wickets from 33 matches at an average of 15.21 in a first-class career that lasted from 1905 to 1921.

Anindya talks about digging out these obscure stories, his favourite Indian spinner, the weakness of modern Indian batsmen against spin and more.


What prompted you to write a book on spinners?

The history of spin bowling, starting from Palwankar Baloo in the 1890s, has never been written in a comprehensive manner. A book dealing with history can easily become boring. I have treated the book like a series of small biographies of the spinners that talk about where they come from, the kind of batsmen they faced.

You have said no one has been able to match Erapalli Prasanna in terms of the craft of spin bowling. What makes him special?

I think Prasanna epitomised the art of spin bowling. Spinners across ages will tell you that no other Indian bowler was better at imparting spin and flight to the ball than him. My first match, as a seven-year-old, was India versus West Indies in Eden Gardens. It had Bedi, Prasanna and Chandrasekhar bowling. All three were very different but beautiful to watch. So, I fell in love with spin.

The generation that followed Indian cricket in the ‘70s and ‘80s celebrate spinners more than the present-day fans. Do you agree?

I know a lot of Sachin and Kohli fans might disagree but I think Sunil Gavaskar was the greatest batsman India has ever had. In terms of technique and sheer guts, he was ahead of most Indian batsmen. But Gavaskar alone couldn’t have won matches. In the period of the ‘spin quartet’, the responsibility of taking 20 wickets rested solely on them. And even outside the quartet, you had Rajinder Goel, Dilip Doshi and more. The quality of spin bowling was at its peak. Which is why people of that generation hold spin bowling close to their hearts.

Anindya Dutta

Anindya Dutta   | Photo Credit: K Bhagya Prakash

You have written about spinners, who aren’t well-known, like Baloo. How difficult was it to get their stories?

This book took a lot of effort... it took 18 months. For Baloo, I read Ramachandra Guha’s works, looked at old scorecards, archives and papers that are rarely accessed. I also got out-of-print books. I read over 60 books and over 4,000 articles. I was also lucky to speak to yesteryear players such as Abbas Ali Baig, Madhav Apte and Prasanna.

What was the most interesting story you discovered while writing the book?

How India lost the services of Subash Gupte. It is perhaps among the most unfortunate stories in Indian cricket. Subash Gupte was called the greatest leg-spinner the world has seen. Gary Sobers had said, “he didn’t take many Test wickets but he took many good wickets.” During a Test in New Delhi, Gupte’s roommate AG Kripal Singh asked the hotel receptionist if she would have a drink with him. You have to remember this was the ‘50s or ‘60s. The receptionist complained to the team manager, who happened to be an ex-armyman. And Gupte was suspended just because he happened to be his roommate. The inquiry committee asked him why he didn’t stop Kripal. They didn’t let him play in the next series. Later, he married someone from the West Indies and emigrated there and never returned.

For a long time, India was heavily dependent on its spinners...

The first few decades after Independence, the nutritional level was a reason why we didn’t have good fast bowlers. So, when (Mansoor Ali Khan) Pataudi became the captain of the team, he said ‘What’s the point of having mediocre pacers? I need to pick wickets. So, I will have good spinners instead’. He stopped picking fast bowlers at all. And, because he didn’t pick them at Test level, even at the University level fast bowlers weren’t being produced. It was only after the arrival of Kapil Dev in the 1970s, this trend changed. And, now, it is amazing… when I spoke to Kapil for this book, he said he can’t even believe the number of quality fast bowlers we have.

There is a criticism that contemporary Indian batsmen don’t play spin very well.

The reason why Gavaskar, G Viswanath, Mohinder Amarnath and Dilip Vengsarkar were good against spin is because they were facing the best spinners in the world in first-class cricket. We have great spinners today also. But our batsmen don’t face them because they don’t play first-class cricket.

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Printable version | Dec 13, 2019 6:00:37 PM |

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