Saluting The Sardar Of Spin
Bishen Singh Bedi: A legend, both on and off the cricket pitch
His initials stood for Best Spin Bowler and indeed he was the sardar of spin. As a cricketer he was fiercely competitive, and as a person he had a combative streak for he was outspoken, never afraid to voice his views, never afraid of courting controversy.
As a leader he was the player’s captain always solidly behind his teammates. This in a nutshell was Bishen Singh Bedi who passed away on Monday.
Yes, he was many things to many people but for all his qualities as a captain and as a person the overall image of Bedi will always remain that of the classical left arm spinner. He was one of the best of all time.
His model action had writers raving about him along poetic lines. But an ethereal action is not enough to make for a successful bowler. Bedi had all the other attributes that made him a great bowler.
Little wonder then when he retired he had played more Tests and taken more wickets than any other Indian bowler. And if those records have been broken several times over with the frequency of Test matches, he still remains unique as the only Indian bowler to take over 1500 wickets in first class cricket.
Bedi was nothing short of being a prodigy. He made his first-class debut at 15 and played for North zone against the visiting MCC team in 1963-64 at 17.
Instantly successful on making his Test debut at 20 he continued as a top flight bowler for almost 13 years being the fulcrum of the famed spin quartet that made India a force to reckon with in Test cricket in the 70s. It was the exploits of Bedi, Erapalli Prasanna, BS Chandrasekhar and S Venkatraghavan more than any other factor that saw a rise in India’s fortunes during the decade.
Watching Bedi bowl was to see the apotheosis of the art and craft of left arm spin bowling. Easily the most subtle and artistic bowler of his type of his generation he ran in on the balls of his feet and delivered from the highest possible point with a balance and poise which would please the connoisseur no end.
He was the master of every nuance of the spinner’s art, changes of pace, variations both of flight and of degrees of spin, curve and loop through the air. There would also be the “armer’’, the sudden faster one bouncing high because of the perfection of the action.
The manner in which Bedi bewildered, bamboozled and befuddled the best of batsmen was a sight to behold. He could bowl for long spells and thanks to the economy of his action gave little away. This is reflected in his Test career economy rate of just 2.14
At a time when India’s opening attack was a joke and a farce with Pataudi, Gavaskar, Subramanyam, Kunderan, Wadekar and Durrani being among the opening bowlers, the pressure on the spin quartet was enormous. They had to be both stock bowlers and wicket takers.
Indeed so often did we see even as the opening bowlers were going through the formalities Bedi would be warming up so that he could send down the third over of the innings. The overload did not affect his skills.
Twice against England in 1972-73 and four years later he took 25 wickets in the five Tests and against Australia in 1977-78. He was simply unplayable taking 31 wickets, a record for an Indian bowler in an away series.
Bedi’s lofty reputation as a bowler somewhat camouflages his role as captain. He led in 22 Tests the highlight being the first two Indian victories in Australia in 1977-78 and one of the greatest triumphs in the history of Indian cricket – Port of Spain in 1976 when India chased down 406 for four then the highest winning total ever in the fourth innings of a Test.
As a person Bedi was forthright in his views and was unafraid in taking on officialdom He scolded the Vidarbha Cricket Association officials in 1975 for providing substandard dressing room facilities. He came down hard on “incompetent’’ umpiring as he put it.
In Australia, when he was captain, Bedi declared the innings closed at Kingston in 1976 as a protest against intimidatory bowling by the West Indian pacemen. He conceded an ODI in Pakistan in 1978 when the umpires unfairly refused to call balls going well over the head as no balls.
Bedi’s brush-ins with those in authority at the DDCA have been well chronicled. He asked for his name to be removed from the stand named after him when the stadium was named after politician Arun Jaitley.
Possessing a classical action he could not stomach bowlers with doubtful actions taking the stance that “chucking was a bigger threat to the game than bribing or betting”. Bedi came down particularly hard on Muthiah Muralitharan. Asked for his views on the Sri Lankan spinner he replied curtly, “let him start bowling first’’ and went on to describe him as a “javelin thrower”.
All this then was Bishen Singh Bedi. A character as colourful as one of his several patkas that attracted a lot of attention. He was also one of the most popular cricketers of his time particularly in England where he spent six years in county cricket with Northamptonshire.
He was always ready to share a joke bordering on earthy humour but at the same time never shy of calling a spade a bloody shovel. Verily a cricketer of the times.