Ghavri's under-utilised skill

Karsan Ghavri

At a time, in the 1970s, when spin was the king in India, left-arm medium pacer Karsan Ghavri commanded an attention of his own. Part style, part charm and plenty of skills, the graceful Mumbaikar was a show-stealer. The galloping long run-up, the flowing locks billowing though the air, the ball angling gently at the batsmen after release, the vintage visuals tinkle the old-timers and inspire the current generation.

Although renowned largely for his seam bowling, Ghavri had an unique skill which he didn’t unleash often because of a master who was in operation then. Ghavri could easily switch from left-arm medium pace to left-arm orthodox spin at the drop of a hat but since the great Bishen Singh Bedi was causing havoc, the Mumbaikar chose to stick to the fast line despite being good with the slow ones.

In a light-hearted chat, the 68-year-old Saurashtra coach recalled an incident during the February 1977 Test against England in Mumbai where he grabbed five wickets bowling left-arm spin! It was the eighth Test of a 39-match career.

“For India, I could not bowl spin much because we had great spinners in Bishen, (BS) Chandrashekar, (EAS) Prasanna and Venkat (S Venkataraghavan). The spinners were so highly regarded, I didn't get a chance to bowl spin. In my entire career of 39 Tests, I got only two chances to bowl spin, and both times Bishen was not on the field. That’s why I got the chance. When I got 5/35 (5/33 actually) against England at Wankhede in 1976 (1976-77 series), Bishen was our captain. He must have bowled 15-20 overs but was unlucky to not get wickets. He went in for a rub and asked Sunil Gavaskar to lead.

“Sunil gave me the ball and asked me to bowl spin. I bowled 8-9 overs and picked up five wickets. When Bishen was ready to come out to the field, he saw the England team had suffered a collapse. Bishen asked the manager, ‘How did this happen? Did we take the new ball?’. The manager replied, “No. With the old ball. Karsan bowled spin and took a fifer’. Bishen was surprised. Bishen told me not to bowl spin, not even in the nets. I said ‘Paaji why? I took five wickets’. Bishen said “If you take five wickets, then of what use am I?’. I laughed and agreed,” gushed Ghavri.

While Gavri kept up his promise to Bedi, he said switching to spin was not difficult because he started his cricket as a slow bowler before turning to pace. “I was a spinner right from school days. Once in school our captain injured his toe while playing football and could not play the tournament final. My coach asked me to run in from 10-12 yards and bowl with the new ball. The plan was to make the ball old in 5-6 overs. But in that 5-6 overs, I took five wickets with the new ball. And then he suggested that I should concentrate on the new ball. This is how I became a fast bowler.”

It was the start of a beautiful journey filled with some stirring performances that saw him create a legacy for himself in the rich history of Indian cricket.

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