The “Spin Quartet” of the Indian Team

The “Spin Quartet” is a titular as well as a quintessential example of the 4 Indian spin bowlers who ruled the world cricket in the late 1960s and early 1970s with their variety-laden bowling attack.

We will look at all the 4 bowlers who possessed great skillsets and were able to dominate any time at any ground in the world, in no particular order.

1. Erapalli Prasanna

This right-arm off-spinner from Bengaluru was the oldest of the four. He played 49 tests for India between 1962 and 1978, taking 189 wickets at an average of 30.38 at an economy rate of 2.40. He debuted against England at Madras in 1962.

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His bowling action was just like the incumbent offie, R Ashwin. He liked flighting the ball a lot in the air and extract lots of bounce off the pitch. And this was the reason for his success even in overseas conditions. He had an excellent bowling record in countries like Australia and New Zealand, picking 31 wickets in 8 tests played in Australia and 35 wickets in 7 tests played in New Zealand. His best bowling figures of 8/76 in an innings incidentally came against New Zealand in 1976.

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Prasanna also took 95 wickets in 22 tests played in India and his most successful years were in 1968 & 1969, when he took 39 and 46 wickets respectively. He was highly successful in the 3rd innings of test matches, where he took 63 wickets in 21 tests at an average of 21 runs per wicket.

He retired in 1978 and his legacy was carried by Harbhajan Singh, who debuted only 20 years later in 1998 and now R Ashwin. Both Harbhajan and Ashwin are largely successful on Asian pitches and moderately successful overseas, unlike Prasanna.

2. Srinivas Venkataraghavan:

A right-arm off-spinner from Madras, just like Prasanna, Venkataraghavan played 57 tests for India and took 156 wickets at an average of 36.11 at an economy rate of 2.27.

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Unlike Prasanna, Venkataraghavan depended on accuracy and length, rather than on the speed and the flight of the ball. He was also a better batsman compared to Prasanna, notching up 2 fifties in his test career. In his first four tests, he took 21 wickets, including a 10-wicket haul only in his 4th test match. He debuted pretty early at the age of just 19 against New Zealand at Madras in 1965.

The biggest breakthrough for him came only in the test series against West Indies in 1971, when he took 5/95 to star in an Indian victory over the “Invincibles”. He also took 13 wickets in 3 tests against England in the following series, thus recording another overseas series win and the first one in England.

Venkataraghavan had a good amount of success on the home turf, taking 94 wickets in 32 tests and barring West Indies, where he took 39 wickets in 13 tests, he didn’t play much anywhere else and his record was also modest.

His place in the Indian team was more or less a surety, with the team management considering Prasanna and either of the other two spinners of the spin quartet. Once the spin quartet broke in 1978, Venkataraghavan was given an assured run not just in the Indian test team, but also in the ODI team. He was also the first captain to lead India in a World Cup. He retired in 1983 by playing his last test against Pakistan.

3. Bhagwat Chandrasekhar:

His willingness to fight against the deadly Polio disease could be aptly summarised by the quote.

“Abled does not mean enabled. Disabled does not mean less abled.” 

Born and brought up in Mysore, Karnataka, Chandrasekhar was diagnosed with Polio when he was just 6 years old and his right hand withered because of it. However, his disability became a strength for him and he became a leg-spinner. He played 58 tests, taking 242 wickets at an average of 29.74 and at an economy rate of 2.70.

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Chandrasekhar had a long run-up towards the crease, bowled leg-breaks, top-spinners at medium-pace, as well as, bowled googlies very often to flummox the batsman on strike. He was instrumental in winning the series against England in 1971, taking 6/38 at The Oval. He also took 12 wickets against Australia at Melbourne in 1978 to register India’s first test win in Australia.

Chandrasekhar had good bowling records in Australia, India as well as in the West Indies. He took 35 wickets in 7 tests in Australia, 142 wickets in 32 tests in India and 21 wickets in 4 tests in West Indies.

Chandrasekhar was also one of the only two players, the other being Chris Martin, to have taken more wickets than scoring runs in test cricket. He never batted above 10th position in either tests or ODIs. He retired in 1979, playing his last test against England.

4. Bishen Singh Bedi:

Arguably the best bowler amongst the four according to the statistics. Bishen Singh Bedi was from Punjab and also happened to be the youngest cricketer amongst the quartet. He was a slow left-arm orthodox bowler. He played 67 test matches and took 266 wickets at an average of 28.71 at an economy rate of 2.14.

Bedi had good bowling records in India, Australia and West Indies. He took 137 wickets in 30 tests played at India, 35 wickets in 7 tests played at Australia and 33 wickets in 9 tests played at West Indies.

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Bedi, just like his contemporary Prasanna, liked to flight the ball in the air and extract lots of bounce from the pitch and invite batsman to play a lofted shot. He liked to make the batsman dance down the track, only to see himself getting stumped or miscue the shot, only to pouch a wicket.

Bedi was aggressive on the field too, once insulting the mighty West Indies team for declaring India’s innings only because their pacers were bowling menacingly to the Indian batsmen. He was an aggressive cricketer and also a good fielder, pouching 26 catches. He, along with Chandrasekhar, built a formidable spin-pair from late 1960’s till late 1970’s. The duo played 42 tests together and collectively took 368 wickets. Bedi retired in 1979, playing his last test against England at The Oval.

Such was the persona and the presence of the spin-quartet in the world cricket that all the oppositions, including Australia and invincibles West Indies, feared their presence.

Trivia: The Spin-Quartet played just one test match together! All four of them played once against England at Birmingham in 1967, a test which India lost. In all other test matches, either of one or two players used to warm the bench. They played 231 test matches and took 853 wickets collectively.

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