Bowled over by Bedi

Ashok Ogra
We all know the legendary spinner Bishan Singh Bedi has been a forthright man. Blunt not diplomatic. He once described the umpires too weak to put a stop to intimidatory and dangerous bowling by West Indies during 1976 tour.
But he can also be generous. Being of a rare blood group, he gave blood in Karachi on a tour in response to a newspaper appeal; Benazir Bhutto sent him two carpets and a tea-set, while shopkeepers invited Bedi to help himself. He was also choosy in his choice of patkas, often pink or bright blue.
But it was his magic with the ball that brought him fame and success across the world, and earned him millions of fans. He was a fascinating bowler to watch. To batsmen too, Bedi appeared a harmless bowler until they came to grief when facing him.
One of the best finest descriptions of the magic and dominance of Indian spin bowlers during 1970s is penned by the former Australian Captain Ian Simpson. In an article he contributed to a special issue on South Asia’s Sporting Mosaic brought out by India International Centre, Ian Simpson writes: the local press employed a particular vocabulary drawn from the trope of Oriental wizardry to explain the dominance of India’s quartet of spin bowlers- Bedi, Prasanna, Venkataraghavan and Chandrasekhar. The Australian batsmen were frequently said to be ‘mesmerized’ by the Indian slow bowlers, or ‘held in trance,’ or even ‘throttled by the Indian rope trick.’
To celebrate the 75th birthday of one of India’s greatest spinners-a book titled The Sardar of Spin’ – a Celebration of the Life and Art of Bishan Singh Bedi has been published. It is a tribute by his teammates, friends and admirers.
The book chronicles the cricket career of Bishan Singh Bedi and traces the evolution of one of the greatest cricketer-from his humble background to scaling the heights of glory on cricket fields all over the world. His bowling mesmerized batsmen and seemingly lured them to their doom.
Brainchild of the former first-class cricketer Venkat Sundaram, the book has a foreword by Kapil Dev, messages from Sunil Gavaskar, EAS Prasanna and Farookh Engineer, and contributions by Neha Bedi (his daughter), Sachin Tendulkar, BS Chandrasekhar, Venkat Sundaram, Ramchandra Guha, Anil Kumble, Greg Chappell, Ayaz Memon, Dr.Narottam Puru and many more.
The first epithet that comes to mind for Bishan Singh Bedi’s bowling is “beautiful”. More than with any other slow bowler, this is the word that stays. He prepared to bowl with remarkably supple stretches for a man who was not slim.
In his article ‘Watching Bedi Bowl’ Ramchandra Guha writes: “I can picture the ‘Sardar of Spin’ at the top of his run-up. He pushes up the steel bangle on his right arm and sets off, easily but purposefully, on his diagonal five step run. From the edge of the crease, he bowls a ball of perfect length on the leg stump that spins sharply to take a tentative edge towards the slips.”
Bedi’s bowling partner legendary Chandrasekhar describes him as an all time great – both as a cricketer and as a man. ‘Bishen is many people in one, and I have been privileged to know all of them,’ writes Chandrasekhar. He adds: ‘As a great bowler, colleague, captain, a warrior against authoritarianism, selector, coach, administrator, commentator and columnist, he was unique – brining each of his callings a singular perspective and honesty beyond compare.’
Kapil Dev says there is no one like Bedi, who was his first captain. “… He was a cricketer who knew his rights well. He stood up for the cricketers, fighting for better match fees, travel facilities and accommodation.
Ayaz Memon describes him the most eye catching leg spinner in the history of cricket. His stamina is a story in itself, his courage unlimited.
As a Manager of the India’s tour to New Zealand in 1990s, Bishen would emphasize on discipline and traning. In his message, Sachin Tendulkar writes: Bihan Paaji was ahead of the times in terms of preparing us for the matches. The nets were conducted in a serious manner, and he would, many a time, by bowling to the batsmen.
In his piece ‘Bish: Taking us from Club Class to World Class’, Venkat Sundaram among other things mentions batting skills of Bedi: Bish was a capable batsman who sacrificed his batting for his bowling exploits. During a Test match in Madras in 1974, against Clive Lloyd’s team, where he partnered the maestro G R Viswanath, who played a brilliant knock of 97 not out. Bish scored 14 priceless runs that ensured a decent stand and helped India win the Test.
The West Indies fast bowler Michael Holding cherishes the fact that he played the game with men like Bishan.
The book is about Bishan’s cricketing career but full of anecdotes, from cricketers he admired and from cricketers who admired him.
Venkat refers to Bishan’s affable and friendly demeanor- reaching out to friends and fellow cricketers in a foreign land to create a culinary experience. He once invited Pakistani cricketers Zaheer Abbas, JavedMiandad, Mudassar Nazar and others for dinner in Australia and cooked delectable food for the 25-odd guests.
Venkat Sundaram (book’s Consulting Editor) and sports administrator and businessman Sachin Bajaj who has edited the book – both deserve congratulations for presenting us the views and opinions of a galaxy of noted cricketers and admirers and sports writers.
Bishan’s daughter Neha recalls her early childhood – dad was against raising ‘entitled children.’ He used to say, if you can’t earn it, don’t use it. Never indulge in self pity, he would say whenever I felt short-changed by him. When Bedi suffered a heart-attack that needed a by-pass surgery, Neha stood by her father like a rock. Her chapter reflects on the beautiful relationship that she shares with Bedi. “I am not going to write about Bishan Singh Bedi, the cricketer. I am writing about Bishan Singh Bedi, my father.”
As Priya Kapoor of Roli Books explains, “Bishan Singh Bedi is a cricketing legend. However, the love and respect he has garnered off the field is just as commendable. He does not mince his words, is generous to a fault, and puts the game above all with incredible integrity.
(The author works for the reputed Apeejay Education Society.)