If the great West Indian side of the 70s and the 80s used pace bowling to decimate and destroy the opposition, the Indian spinners gently teased the batsmen and led their downfall with a smile on their faces.
Picking the greatest Indian spinner of all time is certainly not an easy task. Just like the olden day Maharajas of India were blessed with jewels of a rare kind, most Indian captains have been blessed with spinners whom they could bank upon at all times.
If one goes by the numbers game, then Anil Kumble would surely win it hands down. But it certainly is not only about numbers. Though statistics plays a major role in cricket, sometimes they alone do not tell the true story.
While picking the candidates in itself is a very daunting task, selecting the best among them would be very challenging.
They even formed partnerships and hunted in pairs, with the famous ones among them being the Vinoo Mankad-Subhash Gupte pairing, the famed Indian spin quartet which included Bhagwat Chandrsekhar, Erapalli Prasanna, Srinivas Venkataraghavan and Bishan Singh Bedi, who picked up 853 wickets between them in 231 Test matches and the modern day, and the combination of Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh, who took 976 wickets, having played 233 Tests, being the most successful one.
The list of India’s greatest spinners include:
With 162 wickets, he was India’s leading wicket taker for a long time, and it took many years for someone to climb up the ladder and even come near him. His 12 wickets against England led India to their first ever Test win.
The leg-spinner took 149 Test wickets. In the words of Gary Sobers, he was better than Shane Warne, and it speaks more than anything else about the spinner’s abilities.
Bishan Singh Bedi
He was a left-arm orthodox bowler and the leader of the famed Indian spin-quartet. He picked up his 266 Test wickets by teasing the batsmen and playing with their ego.
Bedi broke Mankad’s record for most wickets by an Indian.
He was a leg-spinner from Mysore and one of the many humble cricketers produced by the state of Karnataka. He picked up 242 wickets in 58 Test matches, but played in only one ODI in his entire career.
He was India’s biggest match-winner before Kumble and he too bowled his leg-spinners at a fastish pace.
Another of those modest cricketers from Karnataka, Prasanna often made batsmen look foolish with his flight. When a flighted delivery was hit for a six, he was someone who would come back and flight the next one even more, trying to induce the batsman into a mistake.
His 189 wickets came at an average of 30.38.
The man from Madras, just like the city’s climate, was hot to handle for his opponents.
Being an off-spinner, he had to compete with the other off-spinner, E.Prasanna, in the quartet. This made him take his batting and fielding seriously, and he was one of India’s better fielders at that time. He finished his career with 156 victims.
Coming from the state which produced the likes of B. Chandrasekhar and E. Prassanna, Kumble was India’s biggest match winners, both home and away.
He is India’s leading wicket-taker, with 619 Test wickets, and the third overall in the world.
He was equally effective in the ODIs and has even left a mark in the shortest format of the game, though not at the international stage. He is also the second man after Jim Laker to take all 10 wickets in an innings.
Along with Kumble, Bhajji formed a potent attack, which led India to many memorable triumphs.
Only the second Indian spinner to play in 100 Test matches, he is also the first Indian to take a Test-match hat-trick. With 413 Test wickets, he is in the list of top 10 wicket-takers in the world.
He is the only spinner in this list to have been part of a World Cup winning team and has also won a T20 World Cup.
His exploits in the legendary series win against Australia in 2001 led to a turning point in his career and India’s emergence as a top force in world cricket.
Who is the greatest of them all? Find the answer on the next page.
Among this list of arguably some of the world’s best spinners, the greatest would be the one who has led India to many victories and along with the modern day greats like Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman, marked the golden era in Indian history.
For someone who was not lucky enough to see the famed Indian quartet or the likes of Vinoo Mankad, Subhash Gupte or Dilip Doshi in their prime, Anil bhai remains the biggest inspiration with his fighting qualities and a never-say die attitude.
Who could ever forget him bowling with a broken jaw in a Test match in the West Indies and taking the wicket of Brian Lara?
He has single-handedly led India to some famous triumphs. Though he could never turn the ball a great deal or flight it, he held his own in an era which saw two other world-beaters in Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan. He played at a time when the bats became longer and the pitches became placid.
He even proved that he was a strong leader during the infamous monkey-gate scandal and led India to a path-breaking win at Perth in the next Test match.
For his fighting qualities, match-winning and leadership abilities, longevity, all-round efforts in both Tests and ODIs, and also for the ‘small’ matter of taking 619 Test wickets, Anil Kumble remains India’s greatest spin bowler ever.