In 1978-79, India toured Pakistan with hopes resting on three legendary but ageing spinners. But what unfolded was tragic. The 0-2 defeat practically ended the career of Bedi, Prasanna and Chandrasekhar. Arunabha Sengupta draws parallels between that horror tour and the current one, and tries to find hope amidst despair.
“History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme,” Mark Twain had wisely observed.
The beleaguered followers of Indian cricket will be hard-pressed to find an identical instance of an enormously celebrated batting line up imploding into catastrophic collapses. However, as we turn the pages of history, some cadence may be observed in a chapter scripted 33 years back. The structure has been reset but parts do match, and the verses that result are similarly blank.
In 1978-79, Indians had toured neighbouring arch-rivals Pakistan. The team had been upbeat. True, they had been recently beaten by an Australian side, distressingly depleted with most of their talents enriching the coffers of World Series Cricket. But, the expectations had run high and the spirits had soared. The margin Down Under had been 2-3 with one loss by a wafer thin two-wicket margin. This was the first time India had ever won Test matches in Australia.
The three legends
The trio of Bishan Bedi, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar and Erapalli Prasanna had spun a web around the Australian batsmen. Captain Bedi had picked up 31 wickets in the series, Chandrasekhar 28. Prasanna had not been that successful, scalping just six, but had bowled the team to victory at Sydney, and had been extremely difficult to score off.
Together, the three had 655 wickets between them. Srinivas Venkataraghavan had played just one Test match during the tour, but with 113 wickets in his kitty, what a man he was to have as a back-up option! If the Indian bowlers had woven such magic on the not too helpful Australian tracks, one could only wonder about the harvest they would reap from the far more fertile fields of Pakistan.
On paper, and in retrospect, a side boasting Sunil Gavaskar, Gundappa Viswanath, Dilip Vengsarkar and Mohinder Amarnath in the batting line-up, in tandem with the spin quartet, should have been one of the strongest-ever fielded.
What the team had not bargained for was that by the time the tour got underway, Prasanna was over 38. Bedi and Chandrasekhar were relatively young at 32 and 33 respectively, but given the fitness levels and training methods of the Indian team of the 70s, they had already stepped over the hill, and the descending slope would soon turn out to be spitefully steep.
With a bowling attack that had the likes of Imran Khan and Sarfraz Nawaz, the home team prepared fast, green tracks. The batting line-up of Zaheer Abbas, Asif Iqbal, Javed Miandad and Mushtaq Mohammad used their formidable bats and quick feet to plunder runs off the ageing Indian spinners.
Careers crash to conclusion
The second Test match proved to be the last of Prasanna’s career, the great off-spinner ending the series with two wickets for 251 runs.
Chandrasekhar’s leg-spin brought home eight wickets for 385 in the three Tests. Bedi desperately over-bowled himself, trying to pull out the many tricks up his sleeve to stop the Pakistanis from racing to super-quick fourth innings chases in the second and third Tests. Imran Khan, in particular, tore into his bowling in Karachi while chasing 164 in just over 100 minutes, helping himself to two sixes and a four in one crucial over that effectively lost the match. The unhappy left-arm spinner ended up with six wickets in the three Tests at an average of almost 75.
The 0-2 verdict clashed discordantly with the predictions of the experts and fans alike. The resulting tremors also unsettled the established core of the team. Prasanna bid a hasty adieu to International cricket. Bedi and Chandrasekhar stuck around for six and five Test matches respectively, but they were feeble final footnotes to the emphatic achievements of their illustrious careers.
Hope amidst despair?
If we try to study the rhyme of history, play around with the structure, substituting batting for bowling, and detect repeating patterns, the results evoke despair.
Three masters of their craft, leading the dreams of the nation, only for the soaring hopes to come crashing to earth, shot down by the arrow of time. One career ending immediately and the other two after a few further futile forays.
However, even from that tour certain positives emerged. A rookie fast-medium bowler did prompt Sadiq Mohammad to call for a helmet; and although he ended the series with just seven wickets at 60.85, he did go on to capture 427 more in his career.
Is it too much to ask from the rhythms of time to match the Kapil Dev of 1978 with a similar star of the future in the form of Umesh Yadav or Virat Kohli? At least, the rhymes of history can keep our hopes alive.
(Arunabha Sengupta is trained from Indian Statistical Institute as a Statistician. He works as a Process Consultant, but purifies the soul through writing and cricket, often mixing the two into a cleansing cocktail. The author of three novels, he currently resides in the incredibly beautiful, but sadly cricket-ignorant, country of Switzerland. You can know more about him from his author site, his cricket blogs and by following him on Twitter)