Spin has always been the strength of the Indian cricket team as very few world class fast bowlers have emerged from this country.
It has been more than eight decades since India played its first Test match against England at Lord’s in 1932, and spin has remained India’s forte right through these years.
So let’s take a look at some of the fantastic Indian spin bowlers of yore, who captivated the spectators with their talent and guile whenever they took the field.
Babaji Palwankar Baloo
He is the father of Indian spin bowling who is remembered for his heroics on the field in the first half of 20th century. It is a pity that he never got to play any international Test match because by the time India played its first Test, Baloo was in his mid-50s.
But take a glance into his first class record and you will be amazed how an outcast Dalit of that time could play against the English specialists and take 179 wickets in just 33 matches at an astounding average of just 15.21, which not even the Hall of Famers that came after him have come even close to achieving.
He was the first true all-rounder to come out of the subcontinent. Although he is more famous today for his record opening partnership of 413 runs with Pankaj Roy and notorious for running out batsmen by “Mankading”, he was also an accomplished spinner.
Years after Baloo had stopped plying his trade, Mankad carried forward his legacy through his left-arm orthodox spin and went on to take 162 wickets from 44 Tests at an average of 32.32.
Regarded by many as the greatest Indian spinner till date whose skills with the ball were lauded by none other than the great Sir Gary Sobers himself, Subhashchandra Pandharinath “Fergie” Gupte made his Test match debut post-independence and quickly took over the mantle of the main spin bowler of the Indian team from Mankad.
In his decade long career, he played in 36 Test matches and scalped 149 wickets at an average of 29.55. The reason for the premature end to his career is both tragic and stupid considering that he had to pay the price for the promiscuousness of his team-mate A.G. Kripal Singh as they were both dropped from the team when the latter went overboard with his romantic gestures towards a hotel receptionist.
Rameshchandra Gangaram ‘Bapu’ Nadkarni made his Test debut when Mankad was in the twilight of his career, and quickly established himself as a slow left arm orthodox spinner of repute.
If you look at his career statistics of just 88 wickets from 41 Tests, you may wonder what he is doing in this elite list we have compiled.
Well, the reason is his unbelievable career economy rate of just 1.67 runs per over. He was extremely thrifty when it came to giving out runs and holds the world record for the most consecutive maiden overs bowled in 6-ball overs (21 maiden overs and 131 dot balls).
Bishan Singh Bedi
Bedi was a part of the legendary Indian spin quartet of the 60s and 70s that also consisted of B.S. Chandrasekhar, Erapalli Prasanna and S. Venkataraghavan.
The fact that he is considered as the leader of that amazing pack goes on to show his genius. Bapu Nadkarni passed on the mantle of slow left-arm orthodox spin to Bedi and Bedi never faltered.
His 266 wickets from 67 Tests at an average of 28.71, is the best statistical tally among the awesome quartet. One day international (ODI) cricket was just a recent phenomenon then, and Bedi went on to play in just 10 of them, picking up 7 wickets at an average of 48.57. So it is as a Test cricketer that he is more famous.
Bedi’s classic left-arm spin bowling and deceptive skills left most of the batsmen baffled, and he stands second only to Lance Gibbs in terms of maiden overs bowled per Test (16.35).
After Bedi, it was Bhagwat Subramanya Chandrasekhar with his leg break, who tortured opposition batsmen the most. He was an antithesis of Bedi with not a single orthodox bone in his body, spinning the ball at almost the speed of a medium pacer.
Although his 242 Test wickets from 58 matches at an average of 29.74 is less than Bedi, his strike rate of 65.9 as compared to Bedi’s 80.3 is much better.
His greatness can be gauged from the fact that his tally of 6 wickets from 32 runs against England at the Oval in 1971 was adjudged the “Best bowling performance of the century” by Wisden.
Besides, his fantastic overseas record was what sets him apart from the rest of the Indian spinners. He played in just one ODI, taking 3 wickets at an average of 12.
Erapalli Anantharao Srinivas Prasanna was the first great off-spinner of India who played less matches than the other three of the spin quartet, as he took a break of four years at the start of his career to complete his engineering degree.
Still, his 189 wickets from 49 Tests at an average of 30.38 at a strike rate of 75.9 is something worth gawking at. The reason that Venkataraghavan doesn’t make it to our present list is that, being an off spinner as well, his accomplishments were pretty modest as compared to Prasanna.
If Bedi was a part of the famous Indian spin quartet, Dilip Rasiklal Doshi belonged to the tragic trio which also consisted of Padmakar Shivalkar and Rajinder Goel, who forever remained in the shadows of the quartet.
Doshi was the luckiest of the lot as he finally managed to break into the Indian team, albeit at an age of 32, when his best cricketing days were far behind him.
The fact that he still managed to scalp 114 wickets from the 33 Test matches he played in at an average of 30.71, is adequate proof of his bowling acumen. He also took 22 wickets in the 15 ODIs he featured in at an average of just 23.81.
Anil Kumble came as a breath of fresh air with his right-arm leg break bowling after all the slow left-arm orthodox Indian bowlers that came before him. If his contemporary Shane Warne was known for his unimaginable talent of turning the ball, Kumble hardly ever spun the ball and rather caught the batsmen unawares with his subtle variations of pace and flight.
And unlike those who featured before in this list, Kumble also had a pretty good ODI career. His career statistics read 619 wickets from 132 Test matches at an average of 29.65 and 337 wickets from 271 ODIs at an average of 30.89.
He is also the only player after Jim Laker of England to scalp 10 wickets in an innings, a feat he achieved against Pakistan in 1999.
The bowler whom we are the most familiar with, Harbhajan Singh Plaha is beyond doubt the greatest off-spinner of India, barring perhaps the inimitable Prasanna.
“The Turbanator” made a very poor debut against Australia in 1998 and was sidelined for many years before his resurgence against the same team in the legendary Border-Gavaskar trophy of 2001, partly thanks to the then Indian captain Sourav Ganguly who fought with the selectors to help Harbhajan bag a position in the team.
He never looked back since then and has taken 413 wickets in 101 Tests at an average of 32.37 till date and another 259 wickets in ODIs from 229 matches at an average of 33.40.
He also has a decent T20 International record, having scalped 22 wickets in 25 matches at an average of 26.04. He also has the distinction of being a part of the Indian team that won both the ICC World Twenty20 in South Africa in 2007 and the ICC Cricket World Cup in 2011.