Wizards: The Story of Indian Spin Bowling
Twenty-six years have passed since Shane Warne caused that stunned expression on Mike Gatting's face at Old Trafford on a Saturday afternoon in early English summer. Only the blond Australian could have conjured up a ball like that. The leg-break turned prodigiously to beat Gatting comprehensively before hitting the off stump. With his 'Ball of the Century', Warne made the world fall in love with spin bowling all over again. There is indeed something magical, artistic and romantic about spin.
Anindya Dutta's third book is not about Warne, though. It is about Indian spinners, many of whom had caused considerable headaches to batsmen around the globe, long before the Aussie wizard made an unsuccessful Test debut against India in 1992 at Sydney. Wizards: The Story of Indian Spin Bowling is a comprehensive history of the country's slow men.
It traces, at some length, the fascinating journey of Indian spin over a century. It begins with Palwankar Baloo, who was an 'untouchable', not just socially. Few spinners in the early 20th century could reach the level of his left-arm bowling. A man of political conviction, he contested an election against fellow-Dalit B.R. Ambedkar, who was one of the organisers of a reception after his successful tour of England in 1911. He took 75 wickets in 14 First Class matches.
It would be a while before India would find a true successor to Baloo's legacy - Vinoo Mankad. He was one of cricket's greatest all-rounders, though he may be more familiar to the present generation because of a dismissal named after him. Dutta, in the chapter on the gifted Mumbai cricketer, heaves a sigh of relief that the ICC has amended the rules and that the dismissal will no longer be termed Mankading. But, in the scoreboard of the recent Vijay Hazare Trophy match between Bengal and Railways at Jaipur, the BCCI's official website recorded that Agniv Pan was Mankaded.
Among the present crop of spinners - not surprisingly, Ravichandran Ashwin, whom Mankaded Jos Buttler at the last IPL - has featured prominently in the book. So does his spin twin, Ravindra Jadeja. More space is devoted to their predecessor and India's greatest match-winner Anil Kumble as well as the legendary spin quartet of Bishan Singh Bedi, E.A.S. Prasanna, B.S. Chandrasekhar and S. Venkataraghavan.
For an avid follower of India's cricket history, some of the tales described in the book may sound familiar, but the author's conversations with the likes of Prasanna, Bedi, Syed Kirmani and Kapil Dev are enlightening and insightful. Repetition of facts and phrases could have been edited out, though.
In the same paragraph about the 'Kumble Test' at New Delhi in 1999, in which the leg-spinner took all the 10 wickets in Pakistan's second innings, we are told about skipper Mohammed Azharuddin making 67 and Sourav Ganguly playing a 'captain's knock' of 62.
This labour of love from Dutta, a self-confessed fan of spin bowling, is still a welcome edition to the growing volume of writing on Indian cricket.
Courtesy: THE HINDU