An evening with EAS Prasanna

It is not often that one gets to hear Erapalli Prasanna, 83, speak at length. So, when I got the opportunity to attend an evening chat show in Bangalore two weeks ago, to celebrate 50 years of Karnataka’s 1973-74 Ranji Trophy triumph, I jumped at it.

From my seat at the Bangalore International Centre auditorium, I was regaled by Prasanna’s 1973-74 memories as captain of that championship-winning side, was reminded how fascinating cricket was in the 1970s and welcomed his candidness about T20 cricket which would make some cringe.

“The mindset of a spinner [in T20 cricket] is not to take a wicket, but to control the rate of scoring. T20 is not cricket at all, it is a spectator’s game,” Prasanna emphasised.

For someone who has read his autobiography, One More Over, much more than once, Prasanna still had so much to offer within and beyond the time of the book’s release in 1977.

His companions on stage—historian Ramachandra Guha, sports writers Suresh Menon and Sharda Ugra as well as some members of the audience—played fine catalysts for Prasanna to tell it like it is.

All four on stage were Bangalore-based and got Prasanna to rewind effortlessly. But Ugra (a mid-day staffer from 1989 to 1993, I’m proud to state), also fuelled Prasanna’s desire to speak on other Karnataka greats like Syed Kirmani, whom she admired as a young cricket enthusiast and Javagal Srinath whose career she covered entirely. In a way, Kirmani and Srinath are often unsung. Prasanna did justice to both these achievers. It must be said that Kirmani kept to Prasanna and BS Chandrasekhar in state cricket and was behind the stumps when BS Bedi and S Venkataraghavan as well as his two statemates operated in Test cricket from January 1976 to February 1979. “I rate Kirmani as the best wicketkeeper India has produced. To be honest, Chandra didn’t know what he was doing so how do you expect the batsman to know what he was bowling? So, he [Kirmani] could read Chandra’s uncertainty before the batsman could do so. We were all fortunate to have Kirmani as a wicketkeeper,” remarked Prasanna of the stumper who last played for India in 1985-86.

Srinath was appreciated as eloquently. “Javagal Srinath was probably the best fast bowler India has produced, but unfortunately did not get the same mileage as Kapil Dev. I feel very sorry for Srinath. He should have got the same write-ups as Kapil. Srinath was bowling as fast as anybody else,” Prasanna said, remembering the Mysore man’s hat-trick for Karnataka on his Ranji Trophy debut against Hyderabad in 1989-90.

A lot was spoken about Prasanna’s craft. The ball that bowled Sunil Gavaskar in the 1973-74 Ranji Trophy semi-final was remembered. “I bowled with a purpose. Whether it was Sunil Gavaskar or Garry Sobers or Rohan Kanhai, it didn’t bother me at all. I bowled to the batsman [not to the name]. It’s a batsman’s game, but the match will not start unless the bowler bowls,” he said, even though an umpire will beg to disagree.

Menon recalled Prasanna bowling to a young Mohammed Azharuddin in the nets during the second half of the 1980s. “He [Prasanna] kept getting his [Azharuddin’s] off-stump and one of the officials came to Pras and said, ‘please stop bowling to the Indian batsmen, their morale is going down.’ ” While Prasanna could just smile, earlier in the evening, he spoke about the time when he was manager of the Indian team on their victorious tour of Australia in 1985. “Until 1985, the Board of Control for Cricket in India never thought that players would be well supported with physical fitness. I managed the team in the B & H World Championship of Cricket. That was the first time I felt the need of support staff because I had to take the drinks to the players while they were practising. I needed to bowl to them in the nets and had to keep in touch with the nocturnals because our good habits were such [audience in splits]… all these things I was doing all by myself. So, 1985 onwards there was a change in approach. And I think now they have 25 support staff for 15 players,” said Prasanna.

“Another factor that may have helped was that I used to practise with them. Sometimes it is easier to demonstrate rather than explain it as theory,” Prasanna told journalist R Mohan in The Sportstar way back then.

More accolades flew thick and fast bit, but Guha probably saved the most fitting one for last. He recalled an incident which took place in Jaipur, where Australia played the West Indies in the 1996 World Cup less than two weeks before their exciting semi-final clash at Mohali: “Warne was bowling in the nets and Pras happened to be there. He walked across the ground, tapped Warne on the shoulder, shook his hand and said, ‘Son, you have great talent. I hope you keep on bowling for many years to come.’ Warnie looked at Pras and said who is this little man giving me this compliment. Ian Chappell happened to be overhearing the conversation and said, ‘Shane, that is Erapalli Prasanna—the greatest spin bowler of my generation.’ ” 

I messaged Chappell the day after the function, saying his pal Prasanna was in top form. He messaged back: “Good to hear it. He was a bloody fine bowler and always trying to get you out.”

Well, India’s finest off-spin bowler of the 1960s and 1970s bowled us over on an easy Bangalore pitch, causing us to reflect about how someone’s craft, content and contributions are not celebrated enough.

mid-day’s group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello

Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper

Leave a Comment