Mumbai: On a convivial Thursday evening in the city, the quaint ballroom of the Royal Bombay Yacht Club was packed to the rafters. A gathering had assembled to revisit the nostalgia of the famed Indian spin quartet – Bishan Singh Bedi, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar, Erapalli Prasanna and Srinivas Venkataraghavan – of the 1960s and 70s that was documented in a book titled 'Fortune Turners' written by Sachin Bajaj and Aditya Bhushan.
It was an era when Indian spinners ruled the best batsmen in the world, with the four, collectively known as the 'spin quartet' spun India to numerous victories. Between them they picked 853 wickets in 231 matches.
Expectedly, there were anecdotes galore, with former England captain and the chief guest for the launch, Mike Gatting, narrating how Bedi beguiled him in one of the tour games that he was playing in. Bedi, like he had many a batsmen before Gatting, lured him to his doom with his enviable flight, but it was Bedi's smile that the former England batsman was bowled over by.
"I remember when I was playing against Bishan, I ran down the wicket and hit him for a six and he smiled at it me," said Gatting, "I thought that was very strange. And two balls later, I thought I was going to be at the pitch of the ball again, but unfortunately I didn't quite get there. I hit the ball to mid on and he smiled at me again, as I walked out having just scored six runs. That's how he played his cricket. He was always smiling, he was always happy to have a chat with. Conversations with him formed a part of my education. I certainly remember talking about playing spin."
Having made his debut in 1978, Gatting's career didn't quite coincide with playing days of the Indian spin quartet and he lamented that he was unfortunate to not have known Chandrasekhar and Prasanna personally, but acknowledged their greatness. He said that he had heard many tales of their skill from older English cricketers.
"I didn't know others that well – Chandra and Prasanna but I did get to know Venkat as he umpired in one or two international matches that I played in and told me about the team that he played in, he was also very enlightening and shared very good insights on how to play spin bowling."
The advice from Bedi and Venkat seemed to have worked wonders for Gatting, who went on to establish himself as one of the finest English batsman of spin bowling. To his credit, Gatting scores two of his most memorable Test centuries in India. He achieved it against the home side during the 1984/85 tour when he struck a brilliant 136 in the second innings of the opening Test in Mumbai before going on to smash a double century in Chennai in the fourth Test.
Another former international Indian cricketer Yajurvindra Singh was present at the occasion - the host for the evening. He revisited his memories of playing besides and against the greats.
Describing their skills and the subtle variations as 'enchanting' for the viewers, Yajuvindra, said that it was 'nerve-wracking' when it came to playing any one of them.
Paying rich homage to all of four of the spinners, Yajuvindra said, "I have had the privilege of admiring them as a youngster. Playing with and against them and many happy days discussing cricket over the years. I owed a lot to them, apart from my batting and bowling, I was a specialist close-in fielder and it was because of these legendary spinners I was fortunate to be a part of cricketing history. So I do have personal debt to the quartet."
Yajurvindra represented India in only four Tests, but still has a world record that he jointly owns with few cricketers. During the fourth Test of England's 1977/78 tour of India, debutant Yajuvindra held five catches in the field to equal the world record for most catches in an Test innings. He became only the second man after Vic Richardson, who achieved the feat in 1936. In the second innings, he pouched two more catches to take his tally to seven catches in the match, which was also the world record until 2015, before Ajinkya Rahane snaffled eight catches at Galle against Sri Lanka.
Apart from revisiting the glory days of the Indian spinners, Gatting also shared his thoughts on current India captain Virat Kohli, the ongoing Ashes and usage of technology to overcome contentious decisions from the umpires.
Kohli deserves the tag of a 'great'
The Middlesex great hailed Kohli as a proper modern day bat, saying the Indian skipper thoroughly deserves the tag of a ‘great’. “The fact that he plays all forms of cricket with such greatness that I don’t think you see from a lot of other people and possibly might not,” the 62-year-old said.
“Kane Williamson is very good now. Steve Smith has reignited his career and his ability to play one-day cricket, but to see someone like Virat performs so regularly and so well in all three formats, he deserves that tag of a great.”
Booing will die down during the Ashes
The English crowds have not relented from booing the Australian trio of Cameron Bancroft, David Warner and Steve Smith in the Ashes, carrying on from the World Cup. At Edgbaston, during the first Test, despite Smith's herculean effort of scoring centuries in both innings, the English have not let a chance slip by to reminder the former Australian captain of the misgivings of the ball-tampering scandal. However, Gatting believes that things will be better at Lord’s. "Look, I’ve been to Australia plenty of times and you get booed for nothing over there," he said.
He was also quick to cite Stuart Broad's example, who was booed for not walking at Trent Bridge during the 2013 Ashes. "Remember, Stuart Broad got booed for not walking at Notts (Nottingham) and that made a huge story about it and stayed right through the series."
With Smith having a dream return to Test arena, Gatting conceded that Smith is one of the toughest batsmen to bowl at.
“He has been one of those guys who is in form. He is difficult to bowl at. One thing he does is gets his head still on the off-stump and he is good at manoeuvring the ball around, which is a great skill. It’s just a question of whether we can get him out early,” former England skipper said.
Front foot no-balls and Umpire's call
Gatting, who chairs the World Cricket Committee at the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) and has been its former president, was also quizzed about the contentious umpire’s call that props up while making use of the Decision Review System (DRS) and his thoughts on how it could be improved.
“We have talked about it in the World Cricket Committee," he said, "One or two guys have quite rightly pointed out that the same ball can be ruled out or not out despite hitting the stumps. Anyway, that’s another one that we have been discussing. There is a slight discrepancy about the technology that we use and will need some more discussion…”
The front foot no-balls is another area of debate within cricketing community and TV replays have time and again showed the on-field umpire missing out on calling them during a game. With every mistake, there's added call of making use of the TV visuals to determine the landing of the bowler's foot.
The ICC recently announced they will be identifying few upcoming limited-overs series over the next six months in which trials will be conducted wherein TV umpires would be calling the front-foot no-balls. If the experiment turns out to be a success, on-field umpires could lose the right to call no-balls for overstepping in future.
“With all the technology they have got now, they have been looking up to get it right. They have got a chance. It’s worth chatting about. I haven’t made up my mind,” Gatting stated.
Find latest and upcoming tech gadgets online on Tech2 Gadgets. Get technology news, gadgets reviews & ratings. Popular gadgets including laptop, tablet and mobile specifications, features, prices, comparison.