He praised generously, criticised without concealing the hard edge and laughed with abandon
In the slow-art of spin, Bishan Singh Bedi remains a high-priest. Arguably the finest left-arm spinner to grace cricket, Bedi, with B.S. Chandrasekhar, E.A.S. Prasanna and S. Venkatraghavan, constituted a magical quartet of diverse strengths.
It is a reflection of Bedi’s larger-than-life stature that though he was one among the four greats, he was seen as a leader of that unit and, at times, deemed the oldest too. In reality it is only on Saturday (Sept. 25) that he will join the ‘75 Club’ in which his former team-mates are already members with Prasanna being the senior-most at 81!
Donned many hats
Bedi donned many hats, as a player, a captain under whom Kapil Dev made his Test debut, or later as a coach. But Bedi wasn’t just about cricket. He had a world-view and his friendships cut across nationalities as evident in his enduring bond with former Pakistan captain Mushtaq Mohammed. As a mentor, Bedi was both tough and fatherly in his affections, a facet that wards like Sunil Joshi, Murali Kartik and England’s Monty Panesar would vouch for.
The rules of the game were sacred and if they were breached as when England bowler John Lever was perceived guilty of using Vaseline on the ball in 1977, Bedi spoke his mind. Decades later during the 2008 Sydney Test’s ‘Monkeygate’ controversy, he texted Indian skipper Anil Kumble: “As a captain, take a decision you will be proud of when you look back in history.”
His deliveries may have seemed like polite enquiries but they were actually euphemisms that masked the fatal conclusion which awaited the willow-wielder. In life, Bedi, of the ‘how-are-you-son?’ query, could equally reveal a sharp tongue. He praised generously, criticised without concealing the hard edge, laughed with abandon and his humour was tongue-in-cheek.
Once at Bengaluru’s Chinnaswamy Stadium, Bedi asked Prasanna, “How was Calcutta?”. Prasanna had briefly relocated to the Bengal capital and while he answered, Bedi cut in: “So dadagiri?” There was instinctive laughter at the obvious reference to Kolkata’s Dada — Sourav Ganguly.
Quest for perfection
Bedi saw in sport both art and a quest for perfection. This obsession made him question Muttiah Muralitharan’s bowling action when he said: “He looks like a good javelin thrower.” Perceived as anti-establishment, Bedi ruffled feathers when he requested the Delhi District Cricket Association (DDCA) to remove his name from a stand in the Feroz Shah Kotla Ground after its nomenclature evolved into Arun Jaitley Stadium and the late political leader’s statue too was installed.
In a universe that has blurred lines between sport, commerce, politics and showbiz, Bedi remains a throwback to a utopian past. And as he clocks 75 while recovering from a health-crisis, here is wishing him many more summers.
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