Bernard Hollowood wrote in his book Cricket on the Brain that at "appreciably more than medium pace he [the former England fast bowler Sydney Barnes] could, even in the finest weather and on the truest wickets in Australia, both swing and break the ball from off or leg. Most deadly of all was the ball which he would deliver from rather wide on the crease, move in with a late swerve the width of the wicket, and then straighten back off the ground to hit the off stump."

Hollowood, who played with Barnes for Staffordshire in the 1930s, quoted his father, Albert Hollowood, as saying: "Oh, yes, he could bowl 'em all, but he got his wickets with fast leg-breaks. Marvellous, absolutely marvellous, he was. Fast leg-breaks and always on a length."

Break the ball from leg to off and off to leg? Did new-ball bowlers of the late-19th and early-20th centuries bowl offbreaks and legbreaks, and that with the accuracy and vicious effectiveness of Barnes, who had the incredible career bowling figures of 189 Test wickets in 27 Test matches at an average of 16.43 and strike rate of 41.6? If you go by the match reports and player profiles of that era, it seems many bowlers regularly did. They bowled swing, seam and spin, all of it - including spin - at considerable pace, with no attempt to flight the ball.

Growing up in the Madras of the 1960s, I frequently heard of bowlers who bowled offbreaks and legbreaks with the new ball. There were a couple of fast bowlers in the local league, tall and quite rapid and capable of steep bounce. They were a handful on the coir matting wickets of Madras. One of them, BR Mohan Rai, was for a brief while considered a Test prospect. The other, PR Sundaram, could bowl a wicked googly off his full run-up as the very first ball of a match. He once clean bowled a bewildered opener with one such delivery. The batsman's expression was priceless. Of my father, a club cricketer, it was said that he bowled a natural outswinger that broke back on pitching, and for this ability he was likened to Alec Bedser. Did Bedser really bowl an outswinger that became an offbreak on landing? Was spin bowled as a variation once the norm among pace bowlers?

Today we have fast bowlers resorting to offcutters and legcutters as their slower delivery, and quite often without much control over where the ball will end up. We do not come across seamers who can consistently employ spin as an attacking variation. How much more exciting will the game be if in the middle of a good spell of quick bowling a Dale Steyn or a James Anderson could actually bowl a genuine offbreak or legbreak? How thrilling can it get if a genuine spinner could learn to bowl swing or reverse swing with perfect control? Or if international teams had chinaman specialists as their front-line bowlers and not as some freak sideshow?

Growing up in the Madras of the 1960s, I frequently heard of bowlers who bowled offbreaks and legbreaks with the new ball. They were a handful on the coir matting wickets

We have heard talk of Australian efforts to unearth and train ambidextrous fielders. Ambidextrous bowlers would take a lifetime of training to produce, but if we did have such prodigies playing competitive cricket, the game would be turned upside down. Team selection would be a dream, with the same bowler doing two different jobs, though the batsman's life could be a nightmare, with the potential for the bowler's rough on either side of the wicket being exploited by the same bowler, who could switch his bowling arm. He would bowl offbreaks to left-handers and left-arm orthodox to right-handers! This is, of course, too fanciful even for schoolboy fantasies.

But didn't Sachin Tendulkar mix legbreaks and offbreaks, outswingers and inswingers, legcutters and offcutters, all within the space of an over or two, baffling some world-class batsmen in the process? (I wonder if the boy in him ever decided to bowl left-arm in a first-class match, like how Sunil Gavaskar once batted left-handed for Bombay to remain unbeaten on a rank turner in Bangalore).

With ever-increasing bat weights and shortening boundaries, the doosra and carrom ball virtually outlawed, a new breed of all-round bowlers would seem to be the only hope for the balance to be restored in favour of the bowler.

V Ramnarayan is an author, translator and teacher. He bowled offspin for Hyderabad and South Zone in the 1970s