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Mr accuracy and the art of leg-spin

Chennai tweaker VV Kumar says he had no chance of playing for India when Bishen Bedi, Prasanna, Chandrasekhar and Venkataraghavan were around

Mr accuracy and the art of leg-spin
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Illustration by Varghese Kallada

Chennai

He was synonymous with accuracy. Though he played only two Tests for India, Vaman Viswanath Kumar was held in high esteem by the cricket fraternity. The Chennai cricketer had to watch the spin quartet of Bedi, Prasanna, Chandrasekhar and Venkataraghavan play Test after Test. Kumar was not the only unfortunate spinner to have the same fate. There was Padmakar Shivalkar, there was Rajinder Goel and many others who were good. Even Venkat had to fight hard for his place as Pras was the first choice at that time. 

VV Kumar was unlucky because he took five wickets in an innings on debut against Pakistan but played only one more Test. He had fitness issues in between but the competition was so intense that he had to contend with a classy leg-spinner BS Chandrasekhar to get a slot in the Indian team.

The earliest incident that I had heard about Kumar was that he used to bowl with only one stump during practice and made it a point that he hit it regularly. He took 599 first-class wickets and was rightly honoured by the Indian cricket board recently at its annual function.

Though he was successful in his first Test, his Ranji debut against the then Bombay in 1956 was not easy. “I had the privilege to bowl against Mankad, Mantri, Modi, Umrigar and Renny. It taught me how great batsmen negotiate spin,” reminisces the 82-year-old Kumar.

Naturally, Kumar admired Subhash Gupte, the legendary leg-spinner. “I idolised him for his expertise and supremacy in the art of leg-spin bowling. Met him and became good friends during an Inter-varsity match in Bombay in 1953. Our conversation usually covered the methods to dismiss batsmen with nimble footwork,” says Kumar.

Kumar made his debut against Pakistan in New Delhi in 1961 and took five wickets in the first innings and two in the second. “The atmosphere was charged since the Test was in Delhi. Polly Umrigar’s leadership nearly won the match for India. But a few dropped catches allowed them to get away with a draw,” notes Kumar. 

The last-wicket pair of Pakistan added 38 runs and India needed 74 runs in the end to win the Test. India ended at 16 for no loss in two overs. Kumar could have also become the man-of-the-match on debut. However, the Chennai spinner’s dream was short-lived as he had no chance of playing for India as long as Chandra, Pras, Bedi and Venkat were around. 

Kumar thinks Venkat belonged to the family of great off-spinners, which included Jim Laker, Ghulam Ahmed, Prasanna and Lance Gibbs. “They all had an incredible drift and hang. Ashwin is extremely good with accuracy and control. Comparatively Ashwin will have to develop more revolutions and overspin to obtain parabola,” explains Kumar.

Kumar feels both Muralitharan and Shane Warne had huge turn and deception, which led to their astonishing success in Tests. In contrast, he attributes control and accuracy as Anil Kumble’s assets.

So how did he miss the 600th wicket in first-class matches. “I was poor in maths,” jokes Kumar.

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