The great magician of spin delivering his unplayable balls and the former captain of the Indian cricket team, Bishan Singh Bedi, at 77, couldn’t deceive the hammer of death the same way, as he mesmerized the famous batsmen of his era, including Garfield Sobers (West Indies), Greig Chappell (Australia), Alvin Kalicharan (West Indies), Zaheer Abbas (Pakistan), Mike Dennis (England) Bobby Simpson (Australia) and many others!
I remember, while I was at Modern School Barakhamba Road New Delhi, Bishan Singh Bedi, one of the greatest spinners of the game was at the rostrum on the occasion of the institution’s Sports Day in 2016 when he implored the students, eagerly waiting to listen to his words of wisdom,
“Either you face the challenges head-on in life or back out and I was not someone to back out!” He also quoted the attitude of Mahatama Gandhi,”One should always do a thing with all the heart and soul in it. It is better not to do anything than do half-heartedly!”
About Bedi’s slow left arm spin, an interesting incident as told by Vijay Datta, principal, Modern School is that he used to coach the school team and one day he told the boys to treat them for a magic! He asked a cricketer to put just one stump and claimed that he would uproot it continuously six times on six balls. The boys couldn’t believe him but he did it in front of their eyes! Even late Yashpal Sharma told me that once instead of the stump, they kept a coin and Bedi hit that coin even. No one knew how he managed but he did!
During his time time, Bedi belonged to the few greatest spinners of his era, including, ESR Prasanna, Venkata Raghwan (India), BD Chandrashekhar, Lance R Gibbs (West Indies), Derek Underwood (Jack Birkenshaw (England) and Jim Laker (Australia) besides others. The global greatness of Indian cricket today has not only been owing to the playing expertise of Bedi and teammates like, Sunil Gavaskar, Farokh Engineer, Eknath Solkar, Syed Abid Ali, Gumdappa R Vishwanath, Amarnath brother, Karsan Ghavri and others but also because these people prepared the pitch for the cricketing ambiance for the future Indian team that had lifted the first one-day cricket world cup in 1983.
Though there were many but one of the most mesmerizing spells of his was during the first test against Australia at Brisbane, December 2-6, 1977, while in the first year at KM College at that time, on my black and white “Televesta” television, I saw him playing havoc with the world class Australian batting line in a blitzkrieg by claiming 5 wickets through his unplayable spin bowling!
Some of Bedi’s best spells were while he had played for Northamptonshire. While playing against Kent once, he took ten wickets including the wicket of the illustrious Asif Iqbal of Pakistan, who said that all his playing career, he wasn’t duped by such a spinner as Bedi!
It might just be of academic interest that Bedi played 67 test matches, too 266 wickets from 1966 to 1979’ that he was born in Amritsar or that he was awarded a Padma Shri or CK Nayudu Lifetime Achievement Award or how many Man of the Match awards but the fact that through the core of his heart, he was a humanist. Cricketing pundits swear that he would fight for the rights of his teammates and after retirement, for any player who was being deprived of his dues by anyone. He happens to be the only Indian spinner to have taken 1,560 wickets in the first class matches.
Tony Greig, the 6 .7 feet England all describes Bedi in his inimitable pink trademark”patka” (turban) as a wily and most vicious of the spinners he had ever faced. Batsmen were mortally scared of playing his deceptive balls spinning like a top. The very freewheel, easy going run up to the wicket sent shudders to the batsman.
The way Bedi flighted the ball to the highest trajectory, like a table tennis too spinner, he was the most difficult and unplayable of the spinners of his time. He was more lethal than even BS Chandrashekhar, another top Indian spinner! Many times, he was picked as a player in the World-XI teams by the connoisseurs of the game.
Bedi, a true son of the soil and a fierce critic of any anomaly in the game from the selection of players to the support from the government. Many didn’t like him because he had always called a spade a spade. Many players now and before in the Indian cricket team owe their entry in the team to him because he was able to see the latent talent in them like Yashpal Sharma, Gautam Gambhir, Chetan Sharma and many other cricketers. He was a true reader and researcher of the game besides being a genuine critic, often falling into the machinations of his critics. Nevertheless, he will always be living in the memory of those who love him!
The author is the Former Chancellor at the Maulana Azad National Urdu University in Hyderabad.