If there is a cricket quiz being held somewhere, the one trivia about Bhagwath Subramanya Chandrasekhar that may invariably find a place is the leg-spinner’s record of being one of those incredibly rare players in Test cricket to have taken more wickets than runs scored.
But he means more to Indian cricket than just that factoid.
Chandra, as he was popularly known, was one of Indian cricket’s greatest match-winners away from home. That it happened in an era when winning Test matches away from home were a new feeling for the Indian cricket fan adds to Chandrasekhar’s legendary status. His contribution to Indian cricket goes way beyond this dubious batting record. In fact, his journey to the top tier of cricketing echelons probably deserves a biopic of its own.
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Born on May 17, 1945 in Mysore, Chandrasekhar was struck down by polio when he was around five years old and lost sensation in his right hand, the very hand he used to win matches India later on in his life. He grew up playing table-tennis and badminton with his left hand. He had caregivers massage him and adopt various therapies in an attempt to help him gain some strength in the right hand.
Those efforts bore fruit. It also helped that his family had by then shifted to Bengaluru and Chandra got a chance to play leather ball cricket for City Cricketers. And soon, the young boy could slowly but surely not only lift a rubber ball but also hurl it towards the batsman with alarming speed for a spinner.
Part of the spin-quartet that comprised Bishen Singh Bedi, Erapalli Prasanna and S Venkataraghavan, Chandrasekhar claimed 242 wickets in 58 Tests and played an important role in India’s landmark victories in England and Australia. But more than his effort on the field, it was the effort to make it to the Indian team that epitomises his fighting spirit.
He tried different bowling styles before settling on wrist-spin in 1963 and broke into the Indian team within a few months.
Though Chandra’s right hand never really gained the strength his left hand had, the spinner used his medium pacer like run-up and fast action to deliver the balls that would rear up viciously. His leg-breaks would rarely turn but he had enough variety in his top spin and googlies to fox the batsmen.
In a show on Chandrasekhar, former India batsman Arun Lal spoke about how they could hear sound of the seam cutting the air since the bowler would give so many revolutions on the ball.
While Chandrasekhar had a reputation for being erratic, he was a mystery spinner long before the term has become all the rage in cricket. There is a theory propagated by some that Chandrasekhar himself had little clue about what he was bowling. He would just release the ball at speed and the ball would do the rest, they said. Those who know him believe that to be untrue and in 2011, on a tour of Australia, he dismissed it.
“The only thing I had was a polio arm, which is weak even now. But I utilised it somehow. People thought I just let the ball [go] from my hand and the ball was doing the rest. That is ridiculous, I knew what I was bowling,” he was quoted as saying in The Age.
Hero in England
Having made his India debut in 1964 against England, Chandra was the star for India in the 1971 Test series triumph. The first two rain-affected Tests had finished in a draw, and extended England’s unbeaten run in Tests to 26 matches. In the third and final match, England had scored a formidable 355 in the first innings before rain washed out play on the second day. India were clearly chasing the game after they were bowled out for 284 in their first innings but the leg-spinner had other plans.
He began by running out John Jameson and then claimed six wickets for just 38 runs at Old Trafford in Manchester to set up India’s first ever Test series win in England.
“He almost hypnotized their batsman,” recounted Wadekar, later in the documentary Indian Cricket: Great Moments. “I kept continuing Chandra and he kept responding so well.”
Chandra played an important role in helping India win a Test in New Zealand in 1976 where he and Prasanna shared 19 of the 20 wickets, and in Australia two years later where he returned with identical figures of 6/52 in both innings.
His international career spanned across 15 years in which he also played one ODI and returned with figures of 3/38 against New Zealand. He was also named the Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1972 for his performance in the 1971 Test series.
BS Chandrasekhar's Test career summary
|in New Zealand||3||4||11||6/94||26.72||2.45||65.3||1|
|in West Indies||4||6||21||6/120||31.23||3.25||57.5||2|
His Wisden Alamanack profile reads, “Chandrasekhar must be unique in that he has turned his deformity, a withered arm, into an instrument of success. The belief is that the thinness of his arm gives it the flexibility of whipcord, enabling him to produce the extra bite in his top-spinner.”
When BS Chandrasekhar played for India
Pick any footage or old photograph of Chandrasekhar, the chances are that you will see him wearing a full sleeve shirt. In a feature for the Cricket Monthly, Indian sports journalist Suresh Menon wrote: “I saw him without a shirt on. Let alone bowling legbreaks and googlies and top-spinners. It is amazing that he can actually hold a ball in his right hand, or a pen even, so emaciated does it look. It took extraordinary courage to step onto a sports field.”
The man who has touched the heart of many, looked at it with a sense of humour as he told Menon: “I have heard all kinds of theories about my hand. That I have no bones, that my wrist can turn around 360 degrees, and so on.”
Theories apart, what is undeniable is, as another Indian cricket great Gundappa Viswanath said: “You will never get another match-winner like Chandra.”