Allrounder August 17, 2010

Two skills, four men

In Indian cricket, the term allrounder has often been used with a disclaimer. But not for these players

The true allrounder comprises two roughly equal halves. Specifically, he ought to be able to make a century and claim five wickets. Indian allrounders, with few exceptions, have had their skills in somewhat different proportions, sometimes a third and two-thirds making up the whole, or a quarter and three quarters.

The smaller fraction has often enabled those deemed allrounders to make it to the national side ahead of specialists. The bits-and-pieces allrounders sometimes switched roles - becoming batsmen when they were expected to be bowlers and vice versa. Often the term allrounder in Indian cricket has had to appear within inverted commas to denote embarrassment.

This was partly political. For years a top-class offspinner like Venkataraghavan was passed off as an "allrounder" to give him a more impressive CV than his rival Erapalli Prasanna. It suited the powers that controlled Indian cricket then. At other times it was merely about convenience or desperation. Suru Nayak went on a tour of England in 1982 as a mystery cricketer - was he batsman or bowler? - and returned with the mystery unsolved. Sachin Tendulkar is probably a better allrounder than many who played within those inverted commas.

Many have had dual personalities, as it were. Roger Binny, for example, opened the batting for Karnataka and scored a double-century in a 451-run partnership, but in international cricket he was a medium-pacer. Chandu Sarwate went to England as a spinner but was an opening batsman against Bradman's Australians. Wicketkeeper Budhi Kunderan opened India's bowling after telling his skipper, who asked him what kind of bowler he was: "I'll have to bowl to find out."

Lala Amarnath, India's first centurion, also opened the bowling, once dismissing Denis Compton first ball. He also kept wicket as substitute and finished with five victims. His bowling (off the wrong foot after just a few paces) improved as his batting declined in the latter part of his career, justifying the call made by many players to have more than one arrow in their quiver to extend their careers.

Amarnath was, in fact, the first Indian allrounder to claim five in an innings and score a half-century in the same Test, at Lord's in 1946. Amar Singh had come close a little over a decade earlier, with his 7 for 86 and a second-innings 48 in the Madras Test against England.

The candidates

Kapil Dev
Quite the most remarkable thing about him - apart from his 5248 runs and 434 wickets - was how he kept himself fit over 131 Tests without missing one through injury. A natural athlete, he brought to the game a sense of joy that communicated itself to those watching. With the last man at the crease, he once hit four sixes in a row to avert the follow-on. In the land of spinners, he led the medium-pacer revolution.

Dattu Phadkar
To those who worshipped him on the Kolkata maidans, he was not so much a prototype of Kapil Dev as the original from which a lesser version emerged. Phadkar was not only a fine medium-pacer, he was one of the finest players of medium pace in the team. A century against Bradman's Australia gave him a series average of 52. His eight wickets included those of Bradman, Morris and Miller.

Vinoo Mankad
Was the quickest to the double till Ian Botham broke the record. Held the record of India's highest individual score and most wickets in an innings, extending that to most in career till a new generation of spinners took over. At Lord's in 1952 he scored 72 and 184 and claimed 5 for 196 in the first innings, bowling 97 overs in the match.

Manoj Prabhakar
One Test century and 96 wickets in 39 Tests do not tell the story of Prabhakar's value to the team. The first Indian medium-pacer to master reverse swing during a tour of Pakistan, he made up in variation what he lacked in pace. He opened the batting too, making 95 in a Test in New Zealand from that position.

We'll be publishing an all-time India XI based on readers' votes to go with our jury's XI. To pick your allrounder click here

Suresh Menon is a writer based in Bangalore