E.A.S. Prasanna | A magical spinner turns 80

Many summers back, a senior citizen ambled across and turned his arm over in a leafy ground at Bengaluru. He was about to coach at a local academy and talk veered towards spin bowling’s seductive charms. It is a skill in which he was one of the leading practitioners. E.A.S. Prasanna, as always, had a twinkle in his eye, a mischievous grin and for a lark, he bowled.

On that warm day, the kind which makes Bengalureans yearn for either an ice-cream at Corner House or something frothy and potent at Koshy’s, Prasanna’s off-spin was spot-on. It had flight, dip and accuracy and harked back to the 1960s and 70s, when he along with Bishan Singh Bedi, B.S. Chandrasekhar and S. Venkataraghavan constituted the great spin quartet. But despite nostalgia’s warm embrace, time flies and the iconic Prasanna will clock a personal milestone on Friday as he turns 80.

When legends met

Back then while discussing the academy’s summer camp, he briefly spoke about his old tricks like the ability to hold on to the spinning ball as if it was attached to a thread. “I could shorten its flight subtly and lure the batsman into a foolish drive,” he said with a chuckle. Legendary batsmen have been sent to their doom through this method, and the irrepressible Ian Chappell once introduced Prasanna to Shane Warne and told the Aussie wizard: “Son, you are talking to one of the greatest spinners ever.”

The late Rajan Bala, in his book All the Beautiful Boys, wrote: “Prasanna will be remembered as the trickiest of them all. Rotund and cunning, it was always nicer being on his side.” With 189 Test wickets, most of which contributed to India’s epochal victories, and a whopping yield of 957 scalps in First Class cricket, Prasanna remained a key figure as first M.A.K. Pataudi and then Ajit Wadekar forged a unit that could take on the world’s best.

Staying relevant

Even if the 1978 Pakistan tour ended his tenure at the highest level while simultaneously heralding the arrival of India’s talismanic all-rounder Kapil Dev, Prasanna stayed relevant. Contributing in the nets and bouncing ideas, he played a key role in the backroom as the Indian team manager when the squad under Sunil Gavaskar won the 1985 Benson and Hedges World Championship of Cricket in Australia.

In another chat pertaining to that specific triumph, a tale further embellished with Ravi Shastri being crowned ‘Champion of Champions’, Prasanna recalled: “I was playing multiple roles — manager, supervisor at nets, sharing inputs with Sunny. I multi-tasked and those were days when we didn’t have a coach.”

The splendid tweaker of the ball, whose oft-repeated refrain on spin bowling is that ‘length is mandatory while line is optional’, has much to be proud about, including leading Karnataka to two Ranji Trophy titles. And as the clock ticks away, it is appropriate to say ‘Happy birthday, Pras’.

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