On a gloomy August day at the Oval in 1971, a one man show was responsible for one of Indian cricket's finest hours. After the series win against the West Indies in their backyard, India played Illingworth's England side in England. While India were hardly world beaters, their opponents were a strong side. England had beaten West Indies and Australia, two of the best sides around at the time, and were unbeaten in Test cricket for over three years and 26 Tests.
With a strong batting lineup consisting of Brian Luckhurst, John Edrich, Keith Fletcher, Basil D'Oliveira and Alan Knott, England fancied their chances against an Indian side which had only Sunil Gavaskar who was still in his first international season, Ajit Wadekar and GR Viswanath. Even though Dilip Sardesai had made a memorable double hundred in the West Indies, he was at the end of his career. But India also had Chandra!
The rest, as the cliche goes, is history. Chandra ran through England to finish with 6 for 38 and match figures of 8 for 114. India then overcame the mandatory hiccups to win the Test by four wickets and the series by the margin of 1-0. There was no doubt about who India's man of the moment was, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar, who celebrates his 55th birthday today.
Chandra was termed a 'freak' bowler. He was also extremely unpredictable. His bowling ranged from the extremely unplayable to the downright mediocre. An attack of polio at birth left him with a weak right arm. However he fought the handicap to become one of India's best spinners ever.
He was not in the Bedi or Prasanna mould, buying the batsman's wicket by inviting him out of the crease to have a hit. Chandrasekhar bought his wickets by bowling at speeds which would make a medium pacer happy. His main wicket-taking ball was a skidding top-spinner. He also bowled googlies and rarely bowled the legbreak. He was an extremely attacking bowler. But at the same time, he has confessed that he himself did not know what the ball would do. Like Jeff Thomson once said about his own bowling, Chandra just trotted in and let it rip.
Chandrasekhar made his debut in 1963-64 against the visiting Englishmen led by Mike Smith. As a premonition of things to follow, he was dismissed for a duck. This was ironical considering he wanted to model himself on Richie Benaud, as an allrounder. However he snared four wickets in the first innings and one in the second to finish with five wickets for the game. He got his first five-wicket haul two years after his debut, 7 for 157 in a losing cause against the West Indies at Bombay.
After the Indian tour to Australia in 1967, he missed four years of international cricket. He sustained a leg injury during the Australian series and shortly after his return to India midway through the series, he was involved in a nasty scooter accident. Four years in the wilderness, he returned as part of Wadekar's Indian team to England in 1971. After that there was no looking back for Chandra.
In the 1974-75 series against the visiting West Indians he gave Vivian Richards a torrid time, snaring him twice on debut for 4 and 3. Coincidentally enough, Richards made 192 in the next match. But Chandra was dropped for that Test !
In 1979 when India toured England, Chandra had his man again. This time it was in a tour game against Somerset. Richards allegedly told wicketkeeper Surinder Khanna 'What has he been brought on for ?' when the acting captain Viswanath introduced Chandra into the attack a while after Richards started his innings. Predictably, Richards perished to Chandra's bowling. In fact, legend has it that when Richards came in to bat, Chandra welcomed him with the words 'Here is my bunny'. Such was Chandra's hold on Viv. He is probably the only bowler who can claim that honour !
When Chandra bowled, particularly at the Eden Gardens, the crowd used to get totally involved with the game. Chants of 'Chandra, Chandra' and 'Boowwlledd' filled the stadium as he ran in to deliver the ball . Most definitely, it would have been an unnerving experience for the batsman.
The most telling indicator of Chandrasekhar's contribution to Indian cricket in the 1970s has been the number of victories he played a major part in. In his 58 tests, he contributed to over 10 Indian victories. When India won at The Oval in 1971, he was the star. When India defeated England at Madras in 1973, Chandra made a vital contribution.
Chandrasekhar's eight-wicket haul at Auckland was instrumental in Gavaskar's first win as captain. When India created a world record making 406 for 4 in the memorable test at Port of Spain in 1976, he played his part with eight wickets in the game. In the 1977-78 series in Australia, he bowled India to victory in consecutive Tests at Melbourne and Sydney.
Bhagwat Subramaniam Chandrasekhar was thus truly a great match-winner, the man who made 'King' Richards his bunny.