There is a scene in Downtown Abbey, the British TV serial, where a maimed soldier who has lost the fingers of his left hand asks for help in writing letters. He is asked whether his mother or teachers had discouraged him from using his left hand to write when he was at school. He replies, with a sad smile on his face – No. I wish they had.
Left-handed batsmen and bowlers have been highly prized in cricket over the last century or so. While they may have been rarities in the past (of course, someone like Garfield Sobers stood out for both being a left-handed bowler and batsman, and dazzlingly brilliant above all), several have graced the international scene as the game aged and progressed.
This piece, incidentally, is a kind of a corrigendum to the article ‘February Men’ written by yours sincerely not very long ago. After reading the piece, Haresh Pandya had pointed out that I had forgotten to mention Karsan Ghavri, who has a birthday on the last day of February (when it is not a leap year that is). I recall, very curiously, that as a five-year old (in 1977), Karsan Ghavri’s photograph was the very first I bought (for 10 paise) from a pedlar outside my school in Chembur. Sunil Gavaskar and the others joined the collection much later.
Fast bowlers for that matter – left-arm or right-arm – were almost absent from Indian cricket for a long time. If they played, their duty would be to see the shine off the cherry before the spinners could start using it to take wickets and restrict run scoring. Though one may wish to believe that fast bowling for India became something significant with the arrival of Kapil Dev, one would be in the wrong. It would be unfair to Karsan Ghavri, who debuted as a left-arm seamer for India in 1974.
He had a mean bouncer, and has done for India what Akram did for the Pakistanis much later – bowling right-handed batsmen round the legs. He was one of the 13 cricketers who have bowled ‘left-arm fast’ for India in Tests, and one of nine who have done so in ODIs. Seven have done it in T20s thus far. Taking into account all possible overlaps (cricketers who bowled in more than one variant of the game), we count 15 from June 25, 1932 till date. Too few, just enough or quite a few?
Of course, the answer would always have to be relative to other countries and thereby we would need to do an analysis of the other countries playing international cricket to answer this question.
The very first leftie Indian quick was Gul Mohammed, who debuted in 1946 for India, and then went on to play for Pakistan after partition (debuting for them in 1956). He was followed by Sukhlal Shah Nyalchand who bowled in only one innings in 1952, where he bagged 3 wickets. Then came Roshan Harshadlal “Deepak” Shodhan (he passed away last year) and Ghulam Guard.
It is pretty interesting that apart from Gul Mohammed, who was born in Lahore, the other three hailed from Gujarat! Quite interesting, isn’t it? Well, hold on. The next one was Rusi Framroze Surti, also a Gujarati (a Parsi to be more precise). Surti was the first Indian left-arm fast bowler to bag more than 10 Test wickets. He went on to get 40 of them. Then, there was UN Kulkarni who was around for a short time - just a couple of years in the late 1960s.
One Day Internationals came into the world in 1971. This would make Karsan Ghavri the first Indian left-arm seamer to bowl in ODIs. He also was the first to bag over 100 Test wickets (he finished with 109). Ghavri was, perhaps not so coincidentally, also from Gujarat.
The bowler who fell 9 wickets short of Ghavri in Tests (ending his Test career with a perfect 100), but went on to bag 201 wickets in the other two variants of the game (173 in ODIs and 28 in T20s), also hails from Gujarat: Irfan Pathan. There was Rashid Patel – also from this Western State of the country – who was given a chance to establish himself, but failed to.
One Rudra Pratap Singh in the late 1980s failed to stick on. But another one by the same name came along in the new millennium and played all the three versions of the game for India, bagging 124 wickets in all. Nehra and Zaheer Khan were inducted into the side just as the 20th century was fading away. While both were plagued by injuries from time to time, they have stuck around. Ashish Nehra, now an old warhorse, plays T20 cricket for India and leads the list of left-arm seamers as far as wickets bagged in this newest version of the game is concerned. Zaheer is not from Gujarat, though it must be remarked that he started his domestic cricketing career for Baroda.
In all, the 13 who have played Test cricket for India have bagged 659 wickets in the 409 innings they have bowled in (237 Tests in all). In ODIs, the nine who have represented India, have bagged 697 wickets in 518 outings; while in T20s, the total has been a little over 100, with Ashish Nehra scalping 34 of those.
Common to Tests and ODIs are the names – Zaheer Khan, Irfan Pathan, Ashish Nehra, Rudra Pratap Singh Jr., Karsan Ghavri, Rashid Patel and Jayadev Unadkat. Common to Tests and T20s are Nehra, Pathan, Khan, RP Singh Jr and Unadkat. Those who have not yet made it to Test cricket, but will surely do so someday, are BB Sran and S Aravind.
Zaheer has 597 wickets in all the three versions of the game taken together, Irfan Pathan has 301, and Nehra has 232. With Sran, Aravind and Unadkat and some more likely to be unearthed courtesy the IPL, in the years to come, Indian left-arm fast bowling will become a force to be reckoned with in the future. We know of course, how some have dominated the opposition entirely in the past – Garfield Sobers, Wasim Akram, Mitchell Johnson, Chaminda Vaas...
Figure: From top to bottom: Wicket-distribution among left-arm fast bowlers who played for India, in Tests, ODIs and T20s.
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