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The Magician

When the occasion was big, Chandra was bigger.

The Magician
The Magician

August 23,1971

Bhagwat Chandrasekhar was called a legspinner for lack of a word in the dictionary which could describe him. His bowling arm, the right one, had been affected by polio in his childhood, and was so weak that he couldn't even throw with it; but like a wiry mechanical implement out of some sci-fi fantasy, it would gyrate ferociously at the end of a longish run-up, whirling through the air in a dazzling blur, a revolution in more ways than one. Right at the end of the motion, his wrist, as if at the behest of a divine power that wanted to reassert its hold on mere mortals, would release the ball at a stunning speed, for a spinner at least. His googly, and a slithering top spinner, were his main weapons; the leg breaks were occasional.

At The Oval in 1971, he was responsible for India's greatest Test victory till then. Shortly before lunch on the fourth day, England began its second innings, 71 runs ahead. At best, it seemed, India could hope to draw; an honourable series result. Enter Chandra.

The slide began with John Jameson's run-out in Chandra's Second over. Brian Luckhurst's straight-drive deflected off Chandra onto the non-striker's stumps, with Jameson out of his ground. Fortune had struck. Then Chandra took over.

John Edrich came out to bat, and lasted just five balls. Unable to read Chandra, bewildered by the pace he got off the wicket, Edrich was beaten and bowled, which brought Keith Fletcher to theWicket. Not for long. First ball, he prodded forward certainly, and Eknath Solkar at forward short leg took a good catch. Lunch.

Basil D'Oliveira was next; beaten by Chandra, then dropped off his bowling, he fell to S Venkataraghavan at the other end, almost relieved to get away from Chandra. A rare leg break from Chandra trapped Ray Illingworth, caught and bowled. Luckhurst then edged him to slip, and, with England bewildered and mesmerised, he snapped up John Snow and John Price. England was all out for 101, in just 2-and-a-half hours. Chandra finished with 6 for 38. India, needing 172, wrapped up the match, and the series 1-0.

India won just six matches overseas in the 70s; Chandra played in five of them, in which he took a mind-boggling 42 wickets. He was special, and this was his greatest moment.

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