Book Review: Wizards: The story of Indian spin bowling

The sub-title of “Wizards”, the fourth book of cricket history from Anindya Dutta, is “The story of Indian spin bowling”, but it could so easily be described as “the history of Indian cricket through spin”.  

Dutta presents a fascinating and thoroughly researched journey through more than one hundred years of Indian cricket teams whose journey from failure to success has been underscored by the efforts those slow bowlers, many of those still living having been interviewed by the author, who exercised their wizardry on the pitch. 

Dutta’s mostly chronological study begins with the remarkable story of Palwankar Baloo, the left arm bowler who broke through the caste barriers to play in England with the All India team of 1911. Rustomji Jamshedji was, at the age of forty, the first spin bowlers to play Test cricket, and Dutta gives space to Baloo, Jamshedji, and some seventy spinners, most of whom wore the Indian cap at Test, one-day or more recently Twenty20 level. 

Vinoo Mankad’s unfortunate entry into cricket’s lexicon is but a passing item in the chapter on his remarkable career. There is the account of Subash “Fergie” Gupte, capable of bowling two types of googlies and described by Sir Garfield Sobers as a better leg-spinner than Shane Warne. Gupte’s playing career came undone after a hotel incident involving room-mate Kripal Singh in which he was not involved. 

The greatest slow bowlers of the past two decades, Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh are featured in the second half of “Wizards” but much of the middle section is taken by the four spin bowlers who dominated for much of the 1960s and 70s: the “Spin Quartet” of Erapalli Prasanna, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar, Srinivas Venkataraghavan and Bishen Singh Bedi.  

Test matches in which some or all of the quartet played are described more than once in the book, but through the perspective of each bowler’s performance. Dutta invokes the theory more recently known as Blue Ocean Strategy to describe how the great captain “Tiger” Pataudi brought out the best in his Spin Quartet. 

Fine spin bowlers whose time in the Indian team never came because of the shadow of the great Quartet – Rajinder Goel, Paddy Shivalkar, Rajinder Singh Hans – and Dilip Doshi, whose opportunity was delayed by their presence – all take their place in Wizards. So too Maninder Singh and Laxman Sivaramakrishan, both unable to deliver all their talents had to offer. Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag find their way into the pages as “Breakthrough Bowlers”. 

Among the many examples of maladministration detailed in the book, players dropped, careers delayed, captains chopped and changed for reasons of politics or personal jealousies. There is perhaps scope for a history of Indian cricket as defined by how bad decisions by selectors and administrators have held the team back. 

As Kapil Dev says in his foreword, “Today is a different world”, and the role of the match-winning fast bowlers such as Jasprit Bumrah and Ishant Sharma is a world whose beginnings trace back to him. But as Dutta concludes this comprehensive and enjoyable history with the wrist-spin duo of Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal, he ponders whether they are the Wizards to take Indian cricket into the future. 

“Wizards: The Story of Indian Spin Bowling” is published by Westland Sport and available worldwide through Amazon. This review is based upon the Kindle edition. ISBN 9789388754514

The covers are off! The Net Sessions Episode 8

The podcast continues after fourteen years. Episode 8 (series 2, episode 1) of The Net Sessions is out.

A big thank you to cricket journalists Elizabeth Ammon, Melinda Farrell and Anand Vasu for taking the time for a Zoom chat reviewing and discussing various topics from the 2020 edition of Wisden Cricketer’s Almanack, in particular the Notes By The Editor, Five Cricketers of the Year, Leading International Cricketer In The World and Leading T20 Player In The World.

The 57 minute podcast can be streamed from Soundcloud, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn and Apple Podcasts.

The transcript of my editorial from the opening of the podcast:

“Welcome to Episode Eight of The Net Sessions, and to those of you who have waited fourteen years since the end of Episode Seven, thank you for your patience.

The theme in this season of The Net Sessions will be Cricket Book Club and I’m starting with the 2020 Wisden. But first: each edition of Wisden has its Notes From The Editor. I’m going to start this podcast with mine.

A lot has happened in the world of cricket, as in life itself, in those fourteen years since my last podcast. Without dwelling too much on that space, I’d just like to outline what I think are the three biggest developments in cricket since 2006, in no particular order:

One is the absolute explosion of Twenty20 as the most popular genre of the sport. The creation of the IPL was a game-changer which showed that the best cricketers could not just earn a full-time living from the sport, but earn the big money – up there with some of the world’s most successful athletes – to set themselves and their families up for life. Make no mistake, T20 and the IPL have been good for the game.

Second is the decision by the ICC in the past two years to roll-out recognition of international status for mens and womens T20 teams representing all of its one hundred-plus member nations. This is still in the early days of its development but taken seriously should enable cricket’s maturity into a truly global sport – and perhaps if it really has the will, into an Olympic game.

And the other, is the growth and growth of the women’s game. From a time when it was treated as a novelty, derided or completely ignored, to the stage where it is a normal, natural part of our sport. Where the talents of women are rewarded not just as players, but as umpires, officials, administrators, media. Where girls have the same opportunity as the boys. Full equality? That’s still a work in progress, but it will happen, and should not be far away.

And so we arrive at April 2020 and… there’s no one playing cricket. Sport, and much of public life, has ground to a halt as we face the biggest public health crisis that a lot of us have ever seen, and certainly at a global level. We will come out of this. Girls and boys around the world will be placing bat on ball, screaming Howzat and taking those classic catches again. At the Big Business end of the game, there could be major structural differences, but at the moment this is something we just don’t know.

On this show, however, we’re going to focus on last year, 2019.

In each edition of The Net Sessions I will look at one or two books with a panel discussing the book and its underlying themes. I’m going to start with cricket’s longest running annual publication – Wisden Cricketer’s Almanack. Neither world wars nor global pandemics have stopped it from rolling off the presses. This month saw the release of its 157th annual edition.”

Pat Cummins, was one of Wisden’s Five Cricketers of the Year for 2019. The occasion seen in this Instagram was discussed in the podcast.

The 157th Wisden Cricketers Almanack is published in hardcover and paperback by Bloomsbury, as is The Shorter Wisden 2020 which contains most of the feature articles from the Almanack, and is available in epub, kindle and audiobook editions.

Tweets by @rickeyrecricket for 28 Dec 19

A hundred

The Hundred is a camel designed by a Horse Committee. A Horse Committee specially convened despite all the perfectly fine thoroughbreds grazing the paddock. 

A contrivance, built on the run by an organisation that got it right sixteen years ago, with what we now call the T20 Blast, but decided they wanted more. And a contrivance that had to be different for the necessity of it being different if it was going to exist. 

A development process that looks from the outside like it was written for a Project Management How Not-To Manual. A program in which participation by female cricketers seems to have been an afterthought which still hasn’t been fully fleshed out. 

There are many reasons why I believe The Hundred should never have happened. But it is happening. The teams are created, the coaching staff hired, many of the players drafted. The sponsors – all brand names of one “snack food” manufacturer – have been announced, as have the team kits which look deliberately like said snack food wrappers.  

The rules of The Hundred may or may not be so simple that “mums and kids” (shorthand, presumably, for “Grocery Shopper With Child”) can understand them. I am sceptical that they will be. Every aspect of The Hundred can almost be visualised by the scribble on the whiteboard upon which they surely were invented. 

I am sceptical about The Hundred’s entire Reason For Being. But now it’s time to move forward. The ECB has staked so heavily on The Hundred that it is entering the Too Big To Fail category. But even if this brave new Cricket-As-Game-Show is a success, and by whichever metric is convenient on the day it surely will be, will the rest of English cricket flourish along with it? 

What of the eighteen-team major county system? What of equal playing opportunity for women at county level and above? What of the T20 Blast? What of England’s competitiveness in fifty and twenty-over World Cups? What of the kids? 

I look forward in the coming years to new and exciting creations from the ECB’s Horse Committee. 

Steve Smith wins the 2019 Midwinter-Midwinter

Australia’s Steve Smith is the winner of the Midwinter-Midwinter for 2019.

Smith accumulated the most points during the 2019 Ashes for the Best-on-Ground awarded on each day of each of the five Tests as announced on the @rickeyrecricket Twitter account.

Smith, playing his first Test series since his twelve-month suspension for a Cricket Australia Code of Conduct breach, scored 774 runs in four Tests at an average of 110.57, with a top score of 211 among his three centuries. In only one of his seven innings did he fail to reach 80.

The first player in Test history to be substituted because of concussion, Smith missed one-and-a-half Test matches yet was still rated Best On Ground on five separate days during the series.

With the best three players ranked each day on 3-2-1 basis, Smith amassed an exceptional 19 points for the series. This was Smith’s second victory in the Midwinter-Midwinter, having come first in the 2017-18 Ashes with a score of 17.

There was a three-way tie for runner-up between Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Jofra Archer, who each scored 11 points.

Full tally:
19 – Steve Smith;
11 – Jofra Archer, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins;
8 – Joe Root;
7 – Stuart Broad, Joe Denly, Ben Stokes;
6 – Rory Burns, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon;
5 – Matthew Wade;
3 – Mitchell Marsh;
2 – Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler, Tim Paine, Chris Woakes;
1 – Sam Curran, Travis Head, Jack Leach, James Pattinson, Mitchell Starc, David Warner;
0 – Moeen Ali, James Anderson, Cameron Bancroft, Marcus Harris, Usman Khawaja, Craig Overton, Jason Roy, Peter Siddle.

In total, Australians scored 67 points to England’s 54.

The full spreadsheet of the daily scores can be seen here.

The Midwinter-Midwinter is the @rickeyrecricket BoG (Best on Ground) award given for the most valuable player of each Ashes Test series.

There is no physical award as such, and the Midwinter-Midwinter is not endorsed by any cricket board, advertising agency or anti-doping authority. But most importantly, it’s not the Compton-Miller Medal.

Points are awarded for the best three players on each day of a Test match in the series, on a 3-2-1 basis. 

The Midwinter-Midwinter is named for Billy Midwinter (1851-1890), the only person to have played Test cricket for both Australia and England in Test matches against each other.

Further explanation of the Midwinter-Midwinter, its background, the scoring system and past winners can be seen here.

Don Bradman’s eleventy-first birthday, a thread

On the occasion of the 111th anniversary of Donald George Bradman’s birthday – August 27 2019 – I searched up a number of unusual non-cricketing items about The Don from contemporary newspapers, with thanks to the National Library of Australia’s glorious Trove database:

Dennis Lillee at 70, a thread

A thread I posted to Twitter to commemorate Dennis Lillee’s 70th birthday on July 18 2019: