When BS Chandrasekhar achieved an unbelievable feat

Records are set only to be broken is the well known sporting cliché. And with the proliferation of international cricket matches it is not very often that a record stays for an extended period. But there are great feats that have endured the test of time and one such stands in the name of BhagwatSubramaniam Chandrasekhar. His record was set in February 1973 and it speaks volumes about the enormity of the feat that it has stayed on top for almost 45 years despite so many five Test and even six Test contests being played over this time.

Chandra as he is universally known was a feared bowler in that he could bowl the really unplayable ball. He also had this knack of picking up three or four wickets in double quick time. He could strike a purple patch but just as soon was also capable of bowling long hops that could be mercilessly dealt with. He remains one of the enigmas of Indian cricket but undoubtedly was a great match winner. It was always on the cards that his mode of bowling would be a menace particularly against England batsman given their traditional weakness against leg spin googly bowling. And at the Oval in 1971 he bowled India to a historic triumph with figures of six for 38.

So when England paid their return visit in 1972-73 it was obvious that Chandra would be the bowler they would be most watchful against. His bowling in 1971 had given him a sort of psychological advantage and the visiting batsmen were aware that at home he could really work havoc. Still it was a handy batting side that England possessed what with the likes of Dennis Amiss, Barry Wood, Tony Greig, Keith Fletcher, Mike Denness, Alan Knott and Tony Lewis around.

Chandra however did not waste any time in proving his mastery over the English batting. In the first Test at New Delhi India were dismissed for 173 but Chandra was used to defending smallish totals and he straightaway got among the England batsmen bewildering them with his mix of leg spinners, top spinners and googlies. England were restricted to exactly 200 and Chandra had achieved what remained his best innings figures in his 58-Test career. In 41.5 overs generally bowled in tandem with his good friend BishenBedi, Chandra finished with eight for 79. But the Indian batting failed a second time and despite his best efforts Chandra was restricted to one wicket in the second innings as England coasted to a surprise six wicket victory. In the second Test at Calcutta the Indian batting fared worse being restricted to totals of 210 and 155. This put tremendous pressure on the bowlers but again Chandra, supported by Bedi and ErapalliPrasanna pulled off a coup dismissing England for 174 and 163 as India won a thrilling low scoring game by 28 runs to level the series 1-1. Chandra had figures of five for 65 and four for 42 and this gave him a haul of 18 wickets in the two Tests.

Before the series started there was much discussion on which Indian bowler would reach the 100-wicket landmark in Tests. Bedi had 96 and speculation was that he would reach the three figure mark in the first Test itself. Bedi duly obliged but then S Venkatraghavan had 82 wickets and Chandra 75. With some luck it was reckoned one of them could get there by the end of the series. But here was Chandra with three Tests remaining already on 93. He wasted no time in getting to the coveted mark in the next Test at Madras. Figures of six for 90 in the first innings propelled him to 99 and with the lone wicket of Amiss in the second innings Chandra had taken his 100thwicket in only his 22nd Test. He was the joint second fastest among Indians to get to 100 wickets along with SubashGupte, just behind Prasanna who had got there in his 20th Test. Most important he had bowled India to another victory, the four-wicket win giving them a 2-1 lead in the series. But now with that mark behind him another came into focus. The Indian record for most wickets in a series was jointly held by Gupte and VinooMankad with 34 wickets each. While Mankad had picked up the wickets against England in 1951-52, Gupte had emulated the feat against New Zealand four years later. Could Chandra take ten more wickets in the two remaining Tests to set the new benchmark?

By now it was clear that it would really mean hard work for the batting on both sides had come into its own. In fact the first hundred of the series was notched up in the fourth Test at Kanpur by the visiting skipper Lewis. The pitches too were loaded in favour of the batsmen but then Chandra’s skills were manifold and he always had great determination whatever the odds. England batted only once in the fourth Test but that was enough for Chandra to pick up four more wickets. Now the suspense was terrific. Chandra needed six more wickets with one more Test to be played at Bombay. The Kanpur match had been drawn so the series was still very much open as the teams assembled at the Brabourne stadium. India led off with 448 with centuries from Farokh Engineer and GundappaViswanath but England too batted admirably. Fletcher and Greig got hundreds as England replied with 480. Chandra however was not to be denied his share of the scalps and another five-wicket haul took his tally for the series to 34. Could he get one more and break the record? AjitWadekar made a token declaration at 244 for five in the second innings leaving England to get 213 in the final session of 90 minutes.

It was a tough ask and England made it clear that they were not interested in going for a victory that would enable them to level the series. But the excitement remained at fever pitch thanks to Chandra. In the remaining time could he get one more wicket? It was Bedi who struck first when he bowled Jack Birkenshaw but Chandra was not to be denied his prize for he little later bowled Knott to pick up wicket No 35 for the series. Since then no one has even threatened to surpass his record – the ultimate tribute to Chandra’s match winning qualities.

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