From 35 Wickets Against England in 1972-73 To The 12-For At The MCG – The Best of Chandra On His 76th Birthday
Bhagwath Chandrasekhar was one of India’s greatest spinners in history. The maverick leg spinner bowler picked 242 wickets in 58 Tests at an average of 29.74 and strike rate of 65.9. He had a unique run-up and bowled unplayable leg breaks and googlies and bamboozled the best in the world with his variations and quick pace. He was one of India’s greatest match-winners overseas with great returns in England in 1967 and 1971, West Indies in 1976 and Australia in 1977-78.
On his 76th birthday, we look back at some of his career highlights.
Most Wickets By An Indian Bowler in A Test Series
Leg-spinning maverick, Bhagwath Chandrasekhar set a record in the 1972-73 home series against England which remains unbroken till today. He picked 35 wickets in 5 Tests (9 innings) in the series at an average of 18.91 and strike rate of 49.9 including 4 five-wicket hauls in the series. His best in the series was 8-79 in 41.5 overs in the series opener in Delhi. Chandra’s 35 wickets remain the maximum wickets taken by an Indian bowler in any series, home or away in their Test history!
Chandra’s Best Bowling Figures In An Innings
India vs England, First Test, December 20-25, Delhi, 1972: India, electing to bat first in the series opener against England in Delhi in 1972, were routed by Geoff Arnold who returned with 6-45 in 23.4 overs. The home team capitulated for 173. England got off to a fine start courtesy their opening pair of Barry Wood and Dennis Amiss. India needed some magic to make a comeback into the match. And the magic came from their maverick leg-break bowler, Bhagwath Chandrasekhar.
Chandrasekhar broke the opening-wicket stand of 61 dismissing Wood for 19. That opened the floodgates for England as wickets started falling like ninepins. Chandrasekhar ran through the top and middle order. The only resistance was provided by Tony Greig who scored 68 as the England innings folded for 200. Chandrasekhar returned with brilliant figures of 8-79 in 41.5 overs. His sensational leg spin had brought India back into the match. However, England put up a better show in the second innings and chased down the target of 207 with six wickets in hand.
A Great Overseas Record
Chandra’s Away record – 100 wickets in 26 Tests (42 innings) at an average of 32.66 and was the best amongst his generation and one of the most outstanding in India’s Test history. What stood out was his wicket-taking prowess and his strike rate of 67.7 is only second to R Ashwin amongst Indian spinners in overseas conditions.
He picked 28 wickets in 5 Tests in Australia in 1977-78 and was the architect of India’s first ever Test win Down Under at the MCG in 1977-78 returning with 12 wickets in the match (six in each innings).
Chandra bagged 21 wickets in four Tests in the Caribbean in 1976 and had tallied 16 wickets in England in 1967.
The Maiden Win In England
On 24th August 1971, after 15 losses and six draws, the Indian cricket team registered their first ever away Test victory and also their first ever away series victory against England.
After draws in the first two Tests of the series, India headed into the final game with hopes of getting a win but a favourable result seemed an improbable possibility halfway into the game.
Despite half-centuries from Dilip Sardesai and Farokh Engineer, India conceded a 71-run lead in the first innings after getting bowled out for 284 in reply to England’s 355, led by half-centuries from John Hameson, Richard Hutton and Alan Knott. But the course of the match changed on day four.
India captain Ajit Wadekar, on seeing the wicket getting slower, introduced the spinners early. The spinners, especially Bhagwat Chandrasekhar rose to the occasion. John Edrich’s defence was breached on just his fifth ball and Keith Fletcher followed him the next delivery. His spin-partner, S Venkataraghavan dismissed Basil D’Oliveria and Allan Knott in quick time before Chandrasekhar cleaned up the tail to dismiss England for a partly 101, finishing with the second-best figures by an Indian bowler in England at the time.
Sardesai and Wadekar held fort after the early loss of the openers and Engineer, with Abid Ali, took India home on the final day to mark a historic moment in India’s cricketing history.