Modern cricket is dominated by massive willows. Where the ball flies over and beyond the fine boundaries off genuine edges.
It has always been a batsman’s game. Batting is far easier to appreciate and romanticise. There are far more opportunities to cheer and applaud. The bowler’s task, in comparison, is a thankless one. There are 40 wickets in a Test match, as opposed to, say, 1200 runs. And often excellent deliveries beating the edge go through unnoticed and unappreciated, whereas even a single run to accompanying claps.
Do we see as many articles on SF Barnes as we do on Jack Hobbs or Don Bradman? We don’t.
Neither do we have the same number of fanatic followers for Dale Steyn as we do for AB De Villiers.
Current day cricket, with the super-bats and modified rules, has made it more of a batsman’s domain.
In this context, Spellbinding Spells by Anindya Dutta is a timely book which is all about some extraordinary bowling feats. Spells bowled by the toilers with the leather which were incredible in terms of statistics as well as effect, and more often than not went on to win the match for the side.
Of course, cricket remains a team game. There are occasions when one man’s supreme spell did not quite win the match for the side. Dutta does a good job in compiling such efforts in a separate chapter titled ‘Magnificent Spells, Heartbreaking Losses’. If one remembers the 6 for 14 by Imran Khan that blew India away before tables were turned on Pakistan in that magnificent Sharjah encounter, that is the chapter to look it up.
In fact, the categorisation of the spells is a highlight of the book. Apart from the exploits of Anil Kumble, Jim Laker, George Lohmann and others, which were the best ever spells in Test cricket, there are separate chapters for outstanding spells of bowling on debut and in the farewell fixtures, as well as best spells in the shorter formats of One Day and Twenty20 cricket.
Besides, there are two other chapters of special interest. Amazing Spells from Forgotten Cricketing Lands tells us about bowling feats from non-Test-playing nations with their often unknown heroes, and Best Spells from Cricketers Who Never Got to Play for their Country does a commendable service to cricketers who produced outstanding bursts in First-Class cricket, but never quite made it to the final level of the game.
As VVS Laxman observes in the introduction: “We owe it to cricket to keep these memories alive.”
And following in the footsteps of the great Stephen Chalke, this book does consider a cricket match to be the unit of the game, rather than a career. That definitely works in its favour.
Where the book suffers, however, is in the very evident lack of editing and proof-reading. One does wish that adequate rigour was dedicated to these very, very important sub-processes of publishing.
When one reads sentences like “Ramesh finally gets out at 96, hitting a ball back to Mushtaq Ahmed with his score at 96” it does leave one with a feeling of dissatisfaction.
There are certain events described in detail, and equally or more relevant phases covered very briefly … but that can perhaps be attributed to the license of the author.
For example, we learn that Sourav Ganguly scored a half century in the 1998-99 Chennai Test against Pakistan, but all that we get to know of Sachin Tendulkar’s legendary knock in the second innings is that he had a bad back, hit two consecutive boundaries and holed out 17 short of victory. And given it is a book on spells, it is surprising that Venkatesh Prasad’s 5 for 0 is not even mentioned — when that effort is covered it is merely with the words “Venkatesh Prasad takes 6 wickets.”
And given that Dutta writes informative historical articles for a number of sites, it is perhaps disappointing to note that Lohmann dismissing Robert Poore is not elaborated with a brief background of the fascinating personality of the latter.
However, these are more refined particulars and, to some extent, matters of opinion. As explained earlier, where the book undeniably comes up short is the lack of proofreading.
The problem is such errors, typographical and haste-linked inaccuracies, are littered throughout the book which takes much of the sheen off the work.
We read that Dravid at ‘gulley’ takes a catch off the gloves of the batsman. Tony Lock is written as ‘Locke’ multiple times.
When the 1956 series is tied 1-1 and the teams arrive at Old Trafford for the fourth Test, we are presented with a mathematical impossibility: “The teams come to Old Trafford, all squared for the series. Australia has an uphill task ahead to win both remaining Tests, while England just needs to draw the Tests to retain the Ashes.”
These are not shortcomings of writing. It is just that the text has not been subjected to the scrutiny of an able proof-reader.
And as one reads on, these errors do continue to dog the steps.
In trying to hit his way out of trouble, Benaud ‘holds’ out to Brian Statham … instead of holing out. During the second innings of his Old Trafford feat, Laker runs through the ‘England’ innings.
Laker suffers further, as he is introduced as ‘Born February 9th, 1922 in Frizinghall, Yorkshire, James Charles Laker was an elegant off bowler’.
Again, it was the proof-reader’s job to change ‘England’ to ‘Australia’ and add ‘spin’ or ‘break’ after ‘off’.
In short, the book can be summed up as a very timely and commendable effort at documenting some excellent feats of bowling but is marred to a great extent by multiple typographical errors.