Editor’s Note: This article appeared on Cricinfo in October 2008. And the uncanny thing is that it is, word by word, as true and topical today. Only Ganguly is now sitting in the commentator’s box.
There is something extremely seedy about the way the inexorable finish to the glittering careers of India’s finest ever quartet of middle order batsmen is being dissected with complete insensitivity. Compare this to the times when we peacefully bid adieu to the other fab four nearly 30 years ago, the incomparable and finest ever quartet of spinners.
Ah but those were different times! The mind goes back to the 60s and 70s — the era of this unmatchable spin quartet. No live TV coverage for almost the entire part of their career, those were the days when the fruity voice of Pearson Surita and the nasal drone of Ananda Rao in India, and the vivid description of John Arlott in England and Alan McGilvray in Australia brought them into our lives. Remember Arlott in the summer of 1971 describe Venkat and Chandra….”Here comes Venkat, tall, slightly flat footed, 5 languid steps, left hand reaching for the sky…” and “Chandra, shirt tail flapping in the breeze, sleeves buttoned down, turns, begins his run, 1,2, 3….11, 12 past Umpire Eliot…”
Yes, very romantic times those… we won a match or two now and then and were happy to hug those memories. And then we won some more and we realised that these four magicians were in fact setting up opportunities for victories more frequently than ever before. And so this quartet was forged over 15 long years. Prasanna the eldest came into the Indian side in 1960, Chandra in 1964, Venkat in 1965 and Bedi in 1966. Each of them made their debut at age 20 or earlier. For their entire careers four spinners, brothers in arms, but fighting forever for three places in the team.
Each was poetry in motion… fluid, smooth, economical of action and with unending guile. Bedi the supreme artist, warm hearted, always the first to applaud the sixer from the batsman but owner of the best arm ball in cricket history; Chandra the least demonstrative, quiet, magical, unplayable destroyer; Prasanna, cunning, cocky, plotting all the time to make a fool of the batsman; Venkat, of fierce tigerish resolve, almost a fast bowler’s temperament to complement his spinner’s brain, bowling for team satisfaction than for his own ego…..
By the time the Indian team went to Pakistan in 1978 – to resume cricket ties after 18 long years – it seemed that these four icons had been playing for ever. Prasanna was 38, Venkat and Chandra 33 and Bedi just a year younger. And between them they seemed to have bowled a million overs! They had bamboozled Sobers and Lloyd, lulled Chappell and Walters to doom; toyed with Fletcher and Edrich….they seemed to have taken every wicket for India in the last 15 years! But 15 years is a long time and these intelligent men knew that they were approaching the end of wonderfully illustrious careers.
What they did not know was that in a matter of weeks, just three test matches to be precise, the quartet would hurtle from the twilight of their careers to oblivion. What these maestros received in Pakistan was a hiding of soul searing proportions from Miandad and Zaheer, Asif Iqbal and Majid Khan. No newspaper devoted columns to discuss the imminent demise of the quartet. The end was almost instantaneous for three of the four spinners. Prasanna never played again after returning from Pakistan. Bedi and Chandra made a token appearance in a couple of tests and were dropped. Venkat, the warrior kept plugging away for a few more years but must have been a lonely man missing his three comrades till he too faded away. There is perhaps a lesson for us here from the way the spin quartet went out of our lives. None of the fab four spinners ever announced their retirement from test cricket. They were fearless samurai, when the time came for them to be dropped they accepted this with dignity and the press gave them the space and the respect that they deserved.
When four great spinners with 900 wickets between them could go with grace and dignity, is it too much to ask that four great batsmen with 35000 runs between them also go the same way? I agree we live in noisy strident TRP times but surely we can lower our tones, stand aside, and salute them as they go back to the pavilion one last time. Tendulkar, Dravid, Ganguly and Laxman, rare gems all and for all four to be playing at the same time for India… We will never know how blessed our country was till they are all gone.