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India vs South Africa: Virat Kohli a fantastic batsman, but as captain has work to do, says West Indian legend Michael Holding
Michael Holding is never known to mince words and when Mirror approached the West Indian great for his thoughts on the India-South Africa series, he spoke his mind out candidly. Excerpts from an interview…

Pitches have been the talking point of the series, not cricket. What do you have to say?
I was not comfortable with the Centurion pitch at all. South Africa would be happy that they won the Test. My problem with Centurion was that cricket was entertaining there. The bowlers were struggling, the batsmen were struggling. It was not a spectacle that people would want to go back and watch again. The first Test match (Cape Town) pitch was very bowler friendly but I am sure people will want to see the first Test match again rather than the second.

Twenty wickets were difficult to come overseas for India but when they are coming, they are coming at a cost. You agree? I won’t say that. The bowlers have done a good job. Batting is what has failed India. I said on the first morning of the series that it was all about India’s batting line-up. I don’t think India have too much to worry about their bowling. They need to get some runs on the board. The South Africa’s is an outstanding attack, not an average attack. India have to find ways to get the runs.

So how do you analyse the Indian bowlers and the team?
Bhuvneshwar Kumar bowled beautifully at Newlands. I was not sure why he did not play in the second Test. Bumrah (Jasprit) bowled better in the second Test than in the first. Mohammed Shami bowled differently in the Tests but he was not impressive in the first. I was disappointed with Ravi Ashwin in the second Test. I thought he bowled a wrong line. If he had bowled more off-stump line with flight, he would have been successful. Having said that, the bowlers did a good enough job.

Personally I think Bhuvneshwar Kumar is the best of the seamers. Ishant Sharma is good but I think he is a fourth bowler than an attacking frontline new ball bowler. He has done well still. He does not give runs away. People say he is young but has played 80 Test matches which take their toll on the body. There is a difference between 29 years old after 80 Tests and 29 years old after 40 Tests. Fast bowling is hard work. There are of course issues with the team. I am not sure why Rahane (Ajinkya) is not playing. I know he did not do well against Sri Lanka but you need to play who did well overseas. India do not have too many players who have done well overseas.

What about Bumrah?
I don’t know enough about Bumrah because I have seen him bowl for the first time here. I was not very impressed in the first Test. At Centurion, he bowled better. I think he was successful in the second match because of the nature of the pitch. The two wickets that he got in the second innings would not come on a good pitch. The balls would have bounced to the normal heights and the batsmen would have cleared them normally. At his pace, he became successful because the ball was keeping low.

So, who is the best bowler in the world and why do you say so?
It is hard to decide who is or are the best. Because a lot of times I don’t see them. I don’t watch cricket when I am in the US. I follow the games only when I am in England or South Africa. I follow the scores but I don’t actually watch it. But I did say before the Ashes started that Australia will win the se-ries because England cannot take 20 wickets away from home.

You must be unhappy with the way the Indians have fielded?
When people talk of about the four-pronged West Indies pace attack, they forget the quality of fielding we had. Once the ball goes past the bat, we had ensured that the catch was going to be taken. There would be odd dropped- catches but only the hard ones. As I said, fast bowling is hard work and you don’t want to run hard when you don’t have the confidence on the wicketkeeper or the slip fielder. Once you have that confidence, you can concentrate on your bowling. Some runs go away here and there but they are not detrimental, the dropped catches are detrimental.

Do you really think India are worthy of being No 1 side in the world?
No, I don’t think so. I don’t pay much attention to these ICC rankings. When India went to England, they were the No 1 ranked team and I said they are not the best in the world. England beat them 4-0. David Gower and Ian Botham asked me if England are the best and I said South Africa were the best. They said ‘we will see next year’. South Africa went to England and beat them.

So which is the side that is capable of winning home and away?
I think it is South Africa. They lost to India and lost badly too. But when they lost to India, the bowling was not what it is now. When Australia come here next month, that series will tell us alot. Because both sides will be playing under conditions that are familiar to them – hard dry pitches and bright sunshine.

What about Virat Kohli the batsman and the captain?
Virat Kohli is a fantastic batsman. I was asked to name three top cricketers and I included Kohli in that list. He is a very very good player. When I see him score runs in England, I would call him a great player. I like people who score runs everywhere. He is an extremely good player.

But as a captain, he has some work to do. I don’t want to condemn him too much because I like to have my own way as a captain. I like to be given the team I want all the time. But it is still not the right way to go. There got to be discussions with the wiser heads from time to time, come to conclusions and flesh out different arguments. I get an impression that he is getting what he wants.

He is very emotional about his cricket. He means everything he wants to do. In time he will learn. Because he has been so successful since he took over, it is hard for him to change. He has to see other view points and arrive at consensus.

So, who is the best batsman in the world?
The three cricketers I think are the best now are Joe Root, Virat Kohli and Steve Smith. AB de Villiers has just come back into Test cricket and let’s see how he does. I don’t want to include him yet in that list.

You have always been critical of Twenty20. Do you think it is killing the game?
Everybody knows I have not changed my opinion. I have not seen any good that has come out of Twenty20. A lot of players are benefiting but I don’t think the game is benefiting.

Are you comfortable with the way ICC is functioning?
No. I am tiered of the ICC now. I don’t want to go deep into that.

By Vijay Tagore, Mumbai Mirror

I am entering my 50th year of cricket romance

Dear All

It gives me great pleasure to inform you all that I would be entering 50th year of my career in Cricket today, the 20th of December 2017. I was appointed as a Scorer in the Press Box for the Cricket match played between South Zone and Australians at Central College Grounds, Bangalore. This game was played on dates, 20, 21 and 22nd of December 1969

I recall a few memorable moments of this game. South Zone commanded the game all through. Australia conceded the first innings lead in this game. Australia was in verge of losing this game and drew the game. Australian captain Bill Lawry padded up to EAS Prasanna who reduced Australians with a haul of six wickets conceding mere eleven runs. Bill Lawry the first innings centurion for Australia remained not out with 10 runs in the second innings. Chandra bowled his hearts out and Lawry padded all through. ML Jaisimha captain of South Zone rang many bowling changes in order to clinch a win but Bill Lawry was in defiance. Old Timers who watched this game remember Bill Lawry’s padding.

I am very much indebted to my class mate Sri Sundar Raja Rao Cavale more affectionately/popularly known as “Cavale” in Cricketing Circles of the then Mysore/now Karnataka. He had already established himself as a scorer at Mysore State Cricket Association.  At his instance, I was appointed as a scorer. We were classmates in Pre University Course at Vijaya College, Bengaluru. A day prior to the match, he taught me the nuiances of scoring which helped me a lot when I became a scorer for Mysore State Cricket Association{later on KSCA} on a regular basis

The taste of scoring was meted out to me by AV Venkatanaryana who breathed his last two months back. I vividly remember the occasion. It was in the year 1959 and when I was in High School Second year.  It was a Saturday and the inter school match between my school – Acharya Pata Shala High School and National High School at National High School Grounds. The regular score did not turn up at the venue. The toss was over and APS had elected to bat. I was standing nearby the Scorer’s table and suddenly AV Venkatanarayana called me “Gopala, Come here and be a scorer for the match”. It was my first experience as a Scorer for the School game.

I took upto statistics in one of the most interesting situation. A Ranji Trophy match between Karnataka and Hyderabad was slated to be played at M Chinnaswamy Stadium.  I was already employed with Dena Bank, Sarjapura Branch. I got down at Richmond Circle and was walking towards Lavelle Road to collect the badge for the scorer from KSCA.   B Raghnath and Prasanna Simha Rao were heading towards their homes and Raghu was riding a motor bike. On seeing me he stopped the bike and called me to him. I went to him and he asked “how many runs I have scored in Ranji Trophy?. I told him that I do not know and as of now I have been just a scorer. To this reply of mine, he urged me to become a statistician as it would go a long way for your future. How true is urging words have become.

After this match, I got in touch with the legend BS Chandrashekhar’s father – Late BS Subramanya – who was residing in fourth block, Jayanagar. I was residing in Seventh Block, Jayanagar – a walking distance.

Chandra’s father had the collections of “Indian Cricket” – a journal published by the Hindu Group of Publications right from 1964 – Chandra’s test debut. I borrowed three to four books at a time and built up the statistical careers of Karnatka Cricketers in Ranji Trophy. I still have this register intact.

I have no regrets whatsoever for pesuing the career of a statistician. It has given me name and also fame. This career gave me a tour to Sri Lanka in September 1985, when All India Radio selected me as one of the two scorer-cum-statistician for the tour.

As on date, I have officiated 98 International Cricket matches – 37 tests. 56 one day internationals and 05 Twenty20 internationals.

Apart from this I have officiated domestic games such as Ranji Trophy, Duleep Trophy, Irani Cup, One day games such as Wills Trophy, Deodhar Triphy matches numbering over 100

Karnataka Government has bestowed me two prestigious awards – Dasara Kreeda Prashasthi in 1989  and Rajyotsava Award in 2010 and I remain the only Cricket Statistician in the  country to be bestowed with two state awards


Dav Whatmore: ‘Ravi Shastri knows how to manage people”

The India connection: Dav Whatmore had just set a cricket centre in Chennai when the offer to coach Kerala materialised.  

Dav Whatmore talks about what it takes to be a good coach, how his Sri Lanka side went the distance in the 1996 World Cup, and why he decided to steer Kerala’s fortunes in the Ranji Trophy this season

Dav Whatmore finds Kerala similar to Sri Lanka in many ways. The weather, the landscape, and the people remind him of the wonderful time he had in the island nation with its cricket team.

He guided Sri Lanka to its greatest sporting achievement – the World Cup victory in 1996. That triumph came against heavy odds.

The Kerala Cricket Association (KCA) was hoping he would do something similar with the Ranji Trophy team when it appointed him coach in April. The Sri Lanka-born Australian hasn’t disappointed.

Kerala has won four of its first five matches this season, and has a shot at making the knockouts. Not bad at all for a team that has underperformed with remarkable consistency for more than a decade and a half.

In an interview to The Hindu, he spoke at length about coaching and his playing days, including a memorable tour of India in 1979. Excerpts:

Why did you accept the offer to coach Kerala, which is not, by any stretch of imagination, among the glamorous teams in India’s domestic cricket?

I had decided to stop coaching international teams. That was something I had decided after discussing with my wife. I had already come to Chennai to set up the Whatmore Centre for Cricket. Then this offer from the KCA came, which I found interesting. I like the place and see this as another challenge.

You have had successes with underdogs before. You must be pleased with some of the astonishing results Bangladesh has had of late. You had faith in the team when many others wrote it off.

I had gone there after their previous coach Gordon Greenidge said the team wasn’t ready for Test cricket. At that time, they didn’t have too many opportunities to play Tests. They developed an A team and an academy. There were good competitions for the youth teams too. As the head coach, I supported all these initiatives. They have continued on that path. I spent four years of my life there. I am happy that I could contribute to the evolution of Bangladesh as a team. They have managed to produce good, strong, athletic cricketers.

Sri Lanka was already a good side when you took over, but not many expected it to win the World Cup in 1996. Did you?

Not before the tournament began. But when we beat India at New Delhi in the league phase, I felt we could be playing till the end of the tournament. It was a great team. Batting was the main strength; all the top seven could get hundreds. And we had quality spinners in Muttiah Muralitharan, Upul Chandana, and Kumar Dharmasena, besides Aravinda de Silva.

Sri Lanka was your first international assignment as a coach.

It was my first ever First Class team, in fact. I had worked at the Victorian Institute of Sport for four years when I got the offer from Sri Lanka; if it had been delayed by another day, I would have been appointed as the coach of Hampshire, as I had almost finalised an agreement with Mark Nicholas.

What makes a good coach?

A good coach needs to play a wide range of roles: a caring parent, a disciplinarian and a friend. He needs to have knowledge of a cross section of areas like psychology, physiology, nutrition. And he needs to have empathy. He has to understand people. You are working with individuals though they are a group of people. I think that is why Ravi Shastri is successful. He knows how to manage people. He has impressed me as a coach.

How do you view the Indian side?

The current Indian team under Virat Kohli is a very good one, as the results show. I find it a balanced side, too.

You are going to spend a lot of time in India. How do you look back to the tour of this country with the Australian team in 1979?

It was a tough, long tour, which lasted three months. I was a good player of spin bowling until I came here. The Indian spinners were so different

What about the Australian spinners?

They didn’t spin [it], those days. But it wasn’t easy for them on the hard wickets there.

And yet you had some success against the Indian spinners on that tour. You made 77 and 54 in the Delhi Test and helped Australia save the match, after following on.

Yes. And I got a bad decision in that match! Another strong memory from that tour is coming on to bowl, as the fifth change, within the first hour, in the Mumbai Test!

Article courtesy – The Hindu dated 25 Nov 2017 – Article penned  by PK Ajith Kumar



BCCI scorer and veteran journalist Sanghi is no more

Rakesh Sanghi

A veteran scorer with 350 first class, 50 Test matches and over 100 ODI’s under his belt, Sanghi was the North Zone statistician for BCCI.


Punjab Cricket Association (PCA) chief scorer and veteran journalist Rakesh Sanghi, 59, breathed his last after brief illness in PGIMER on Friday. He is survived by his wife Madhu Sanghi. A veteran scorer with 350 first class, 50 Test matches and over 100 ODI’s under his belt, Sanghi was the North Zone statistician for BCCI.


A hard core cricket follower, Sanghi wrote books on statistics and was known to all the big cricketers. Sanghi started scoring at the young age of 16 years and slowly graduated to Ranji matches covering matches for Haryana. A journalist with over three decades of experience, Sanghi’s wife Madhu is also a qualified scorer. He will be cremated at Sector 25 cremation ground at 2pm on Saturday.


Haryana CM Manohar Lal and Punjab CM Capt Amarinder Singh also mourned the demises and expressed condolences to the family.


In his condolence message, Punjab CM described Sanghi as a “professional par excellence, who always upheld the ethics of journalism”.


Unfair to target MS Dhoni – Virat Kohli

India captain Virat Kohli has spoken out in support of MS Dhoni, pointing to his importance in the team and emphasising on Dhoni’s fitness despite his age. Questions were raised about Dhoni’s strike rate and his inability to being able to clear the boundary the way he used to, after a 37-ball 49 in the second T20 in Rajkot where India were unable to chase down 197 on a flat track. Kohli himself scored a fighting 65 off 42 balls but Dhoni could not strike at a similar rate.

“First, I don’t understand why are people only pointing him out, I’m not able to understand this,” Kohli said on Tuesday after the third T20I against New Zealand in Thiruvananthapuram. “If I fail three times, no one is going to point fingers at me because I’m not over 35. The guy is fit, he is passing all the fitness tests, he is contributing to the team in every way possible, tactically on the field, with the bat. If you look at the series against Sri Lanka and Australia, he did really well and in this series he hasn’t got much time to bat.”

Questions have also been raised about Dhoni’s batting position. He usually bats at Nos 5 or 6, giving him less time to build a knock in the latter half of an innings. In the second T20I in Rajkot, Dhoni walked out at No. 6 when India were 67 for 4 and needed 130 runs in just under 11 overs. Kohli believed the criticism against Dhoni for that innings was unfair as the asking rate had already shot up past 11 an over when he came out to bat.

“You have to understand, the position in which he comes out to bat, even Hardik [Pandya] could not score in that game,” Kohli said. “Then why are we only pointing out one man? Hardik also got out in the last T20 that we played in Rajkot. We are conveniently targeting only one man which is not fair. We also have to look at the fact that by the time he comes in, either the run rate is already eight-and-a-half or nine-and-a-half and the wicket is also not the same when the new ball is bowled.

“Also, the batsmen who are set from the top, they find it easier to strike the ball straightaway compared to the guys who come lower down the order. And the kind of wicket that we have played on, the wear and tear has been much more in the latter half. You have to assess everything.

“As team management and players, we understand the situations in which he goes out to bat. We don’t get emotional and excited by the opinions of people who are looking at things from a different point of view. If you are playing, you know how the wicket is and what the situation is like. So, I think he is doing absolutely fine. He understands his game, he understands his role, but it doesn’t come off every time. He hit a six in Delhi and it was shown five times in the post-match show. Everyone got really happy. And suddenly he doesn’t score in one game and we are after his life. I think people need to be a bit more patient. He’s a guy who understands various cricketers. He’s a very smart guy. He understands where he stands with his body, with his game. So I don’t think anyone else has the right to decide that for him.”

by Vishal Dikshit – Article Courtesy –

Coffee with Chandra by Suresh Menon

Coffee With Chandra

Chandra’s directions are a commentary on the state of the roads in Bangalore. “Turn left at the coffee shop,” he tells me, and then, “drive on till you come to a huge pothole. Try not to fall in as you turn right. I’ll be waiting for you.” A few minutes later, he was waving me down outside the house he has lived in for 50 years. Chandra wears orthopaedic shoes, the legacy of a motor accident a quarter century ago that rendered him virtually immobile for months. He didn’t need to come out; I am touched. As we enter the house, I remember the many interesting places I have met Bhagwath Chandrasekhar over the decades. At a tailor’s in Jayanagar, then a suburb (now definitely urb) in the late ’60s. At a showing of the movie Jungle Book in Rex Theatre. At a civic reception following his triumphant return from the England tour of 1971 (I played the trombone in the welcoming brass band from my school). At the place I shared with a friend where he had dropped in to talk about his benefit match (he sat on a bed; my friend preserved a portion of the bed sheet!). And most startling of all, in a showcase at a Francis Bacon retrospective at Tate Britain in London. This last was a photograph of Chandra bowling to England’s Roger Tolchard in a Kolkata Test. Chandra gets balletic, seemingly on the toes of his left foot as the ball is edged. Wicketkeeper Syed Kirmani’s leap to his right, again with just the toes of his foot touching the ground, is no less balletic. It is a beautifully composed shot, by Patrick Eagar, and was under the “images that inspired Bacon” section of the show. The painter who has “Baconised” Ian Botham, and possibly David Gower (there is some confusion over this) may or may not have done the same to Chandra. I asked a Bacon biographer once, but he wasn’t sure. There is restlessness in the air. Chandra is awaiting the arrival of his passport stamped with a Schengen visa, but it hasn’t come yet. He is off to Europe on a holiday, and telephone calls interrupt our conversation. No, it hasn’t come. Yes, I am expecting it any moment. There is still time, no need to panic. He seems to be trying to convince himself rather than the callers. He is really looking forward to Vienna.

Chandra’s passion for Mukesh’s music converted many of his friends. Gavaskar sometimes hummed a Mukesh tune on the field to inspire Chandra

“Can I get you a coffee?” he asks and disappears inside when I tell him in some embarrassment that it would be a lifesaver after over two hours on the road. I am left to admire some of the cricket photographs on the walls. Greeting the Queen in England, receiving the congratulations of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in New Delhi. And just where the stairs begin to turn, the picture that inspired Bacon. The coffee arrives, and I sense the Chandra smile before I see it, “It was a great effort by Kirmani,” he says, “but the catch wasn’t taken.” I narrate the Tate story, but Chandra is unimpressed. He is more excited when I tell him later how, years ago, I enjoyed a programme on TV where he sang songs from Bollywood films. His partner on that occasion too was Kirmani, and I had marvelled at the manner in which he could the hit high notes so effortlessly while seated. “That was recorded before a live audience,” he says, “We had two sessions, and it was thoroughly enjoyable.” “Do you keep in touch with your mates?” I ask. “Yes, I was at a function at the KSCA last week,” he says, “Bishan [Bedi] calls up often.” Bedi once famously said that he “saw God in Chandra”, explaining there was something pure and innocent about the man who destroyed batting line-ups, the only bowler the great Viv Richards says “gave him nightmares”. Chandra, 72, is in a good place. His son, named Nitin, like the son of his greatest hero, the singer Mukesh, is in San Jose, California, and Chandra is a grandfather twice over. His wife, Sandhya, has reconnected with a passion for playing the veena and gives public performances

“I am her chauffeur,” explains Chandra proudly, “I drive her to practice sessions, and to performances.” As if on cue, the lady herself walks in from outside. She has taken public transport today. “Hello,” she says, “Did Chandra get you coffee?” Coffee for the guest before anything else – it is traditional south Indian hospitality. “Yes, he makes a good cup,” I reply, as Chandra smiles modestly, and the conversation glides towards movie songs. “I love Malayalam songs,” says Sandhya, and we talk of an old love song where the beau asks his lover, “Can you tune a veena?” Sandhya likes that – the question is not whether the girl can cook or converse or make love, but whether she can tune a musical instrument. Presumably if she couldn’t, she’d be disqualified. Music has been Chandra’s passion too. Very specific music, very specific musician. The singer Mukesh was over 20 years older and died in 1976, just a decade after meeting Chandra. But for Chandra he continues to be a living presence. “Thanks to modern technology,” he says, “I have been able to dig out obscure songs he sang, private recitals he gave. I spend hours tracking and recording his music.” He has no favourites, he says, he loves them all. “I often sang from ‘Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hain’ on the cricket field, or ‘Yeh Mera Deewanapan Hai’, or anything that came to my mind.”

Chandra told Kumble, “Coaches will tell you, flight the ball more, turn more, bowl more slowly, because they cannot understand you. Have the strength to ignore such advice”

There is a famous story of Chandra once beating Sunil Gavaskar in a match with a legbreak, and following on through to the batsman. Not to sledge him but to ask, “Suna kya?” (Did you hear that?), as a Mukesh song wafted to the pitch from a spectator’s transistor. Indians of an earlier generation took transistor radios to first-class matches – and listened to the running commentary. Often they tuned in to popular stations playing Bollywood songs. The volume was turned up when a Mukesh song came on during a match involving Chandra, or a song involving Sharmila Tagore when her husband, Tiger Pataudi, was in action. When players acknowledged the tribute, the crowd roared. It was a way of connecting with the stars in the pre-television and pre-selfie days. Chandra’s passion for Mukesh’s music converted many of his friends. Kirmani, Gundappa Viswanath, and even some journalists. You didn’t have to be a Mukesh fan to be in Chandra’s inner circle, but it certainly helped. Gavaskar has written about how he sometimes hummed a Mukesh tune on the field to inspire Chandra. Gavaskar had also told me about Chandra’s backlift as a batsman. “He might have scored all those zeroes,” he said, “but watch his backlift. The bat always came down straight.” I ask Chandra about this; he laughs. “This is true. Sunny and I got into this discussion during some games in the US. Usually I never stayed at the crease long enough for anybody to notice my backlift.” I joined in the laughter this time, knowing he had more wickets than runs in Tests, 242 to 167. “Hey, I nearly hit a six at Edgbaston,” he suddenly recalls. This was in the course of his highest score, 22, in the only Test featuring all four spinners of the great quartet – Bedi, Erapalli Prasanna, Srinivas Venkatraghavan and Chandra. No bowler, not even Chandra, wants to be seen as a poor batsman. After all, he played as an opener in school, kept wicket, and later bowled medium pace too.

Perhaps the weak right hand helped this one aspect, the backlift, of Chandra’s cricket more than any other. Perhaps this is just another one of those convenient theories. “I have heard all kinds of theories about my hand,” says Chandra, “That I have no bones, that my wrist can turn around 360 degrees, and so on.” Chandra always wore his sleeves buttoned down on and off the field; his right hand was so weak that he often had to support it with his left when he wasn’t bowling. He threw with his left hand, and as an adolescent, contemplated becoming a left-arm spinner. “I could not have bowled left-arm spin because my non-bowling arm would have been of no help,” he says. Once, many years ago, I stayed over at Chandra’s house after a late-night outing. We were both bachelors for the evening, as Chandra’s wife was out of town. I saw him without a shirt on. Let alone bowling legbreaks and googlies and topspinners. 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 – he had the attack of polio that left his arm withered when he was five or six. In his teens, he went from club cricket to first-class cricket to Test cricket in the space of six months. He was 18, and had to evaluate what worked best for him. Success came from self-awareness. Soon after Chandra’s Test debut, Pataudi told him that he would be India’s main strike bowler. Chandra smiles at the memory of a team led by a player with one eye, and a lead bowler with one arm. Yet nobody noticed these drawbacks or were even conscious of them when these two high-class performers were in action.

After he saw Chandra in action, Yagnanarayan invited him to join City Cricketers. It didn’t happen immediately because, says Chandra, “I found the joining fee of two rupees too high”

Chandra was lucky to have captains who understood him both as player and person. He describes it evocatively: “You know the four stages of the butterfly? It was like that with me. At the egg stage, I had my parents and Yagnanarayan, who led me to my club, City Cricketers; at the larva stage, there was V Subramanyam, captain of Karnataka. Then came the pupa stage where ML Jaisimha led my South Zone team, and finally as an adult, I had the fortune of playing under Tiger Pataudi.” Chandra as a butterfly is an apt image; delicate, gentle, inspiring. He was probably the only player who nursed no ambitions of leading India. “I did lead Karnataka once or twice,” he recalls, “to this day some of my team-mates remind me of how I finished an over, then went and stood at third man as usual, till someone reminded me I was captain and needed to decide who would bowl from the other end!” I always thought Chandra would have made a good coach. Time spent in his company talking cricket is always rewarding, and I have usually found his insights on players spot on. “X will play for India,” I would say watching a young player in action, and he would come back with why that might not happen, and events would prove him right. “Coaching is a different game today,” he says. Yet it was Chandra who gave Anil Kumble, India’s most successful bowler, the advice that made the difference. “I asked him to lengthen his run-up.” More importantly, he told Kumble, “Coaches will tell you, as they told me, flight the ball more, turn more, bowl more slowly, and a whole lot of things, because they cannot understand you. Have the strength to ignore such advice.” “You know,” he says, “I held the ball like a medium-pacer, on the smooth side along the seam, not across it like spinners. It felt natural, and may have accounted for the bounce off the wicket.” No coach would have allowed a spinner to grip the ball like that. Luckily no coach tried to force Chandra to change anything

Yagnanarayan, a patron of cricket in Bangalore, sometimes gathered a team to play local tournaments. After he saw Chandra in action, he invited him to join City Cricketers. It didn’t happen immediately because, says Chandra, “I found the joining fee of two rupees too high.” Chandra was a mystery both on and off the field. “I needed just two fielders,” he says, “a slip and a short leg. If I was bowling well, I didn’t need anybody else. If I was bowling badly, 22 fielders would not be enough.” It has never been easy for Chandra. India played 84 Tests in the 15 years that his career lasted, but Chandra played in only 58 of them. One-time chairman of selectors Vijay Merchant thought he was “a freak” and didn’t pick him for India’s first triumphant tour of West Indies in 1971. His selection for the England tour that followed was “a risk” in Merchant’s words. Yet it was his 6 for 38 at the Oval that won the Test and series for India, a first. Seven years later, his 12 for 104 (6 for 52 in each innings) in Melbourne led to India’s first Test win in Australia. What excites him today about the Oval Test? “I bowled a faster one to John Edrich and hit his stumps,” he recalls. “The newspapers got it wrong calling that a googly.” In fact, it was the famous “Mill Reef” ball. Mill Reef was a champion horse in England, tracked by Chandra and Dilip Sardesai. It was Sardesai who named Chandra’s faster delivery Mill Reef. Chandra tells the story of how he had planned to bowl a googly to Edrich when Sardesai came up to him and said, “Mill Reef dalo” (Bowl a Mill Reef). “I changed my mind and bowled the faster one. Edrich could not bring his bat down in time. In my mind’s eye I saw the stump cartwheeling and reaching the pavilion ahead of Edrich, but of course that cannot have happened!” For such a successful international bowler, Chandra had to live down the impression of being someone who “didn’t know what he bowled”. Even today, short biographies of the man insist that he was a great bowler because of this: if the bowler didn’t know what he was bowling, how would the batsman know? I think the canard originated with the great Australian bowler (and a prototype of Chandra) Bill O’Reilly, who first said something like it. It was cute, romantic, Cardusian. And like some of Cardus’ comments, it was fanciful. It is unfair, and makes no sense either. You don’t pick up over 200 Test wickets without knowing what you are doing.

Chandra was a mystery both on and off the field. “I needed just two fielders,” he says, “a slip and a short leg. If I was bowling well, I didn’t need anybody else”

My first boss, Rajan Bala, would wish all kinds of curses upon the head of anyone who thought Chandra didn’t know what he was bowling. The bowler himself alternated between amusement and irritation in the days when the three of us would spend an evening going yo-ho-ho with a bottle of rum. Chandra’s wife returns to the room. “Stay for lunch,” she says, and Chandra nods in agreement. But I am meeting someone for lunch – the same friend who had cut out a portion of the bed sheet Chandra had sat on all those years ago. “That’s not all,” my friend tells his wife when I tell her the Chandra story. “I didn’t wash my hands for days after shaking hands with Chandra.” In Chandra’s final Test, Kapil Dev claimed his first five-wicket haul. There is a neat symmetry about the passing of the baton from one strike bowler to the next. “We must meet more often,” Chandra says, as he sees me to the door, and then to the car. “You don’t need to,” I tell him about his accompanying me out, but he only smiles. Some passers-by walk on, then stop abruptly to turn back and look. There is a sign of recognition on their faces, but they don’t rush to take selfies, merely allow the great man to walk back slowly into his home of half a century.

Suresh Menon is the editor of the Wisden India Almanack – Article courtesy – ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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