Bishen Singh Bedi a perfect left-arm spinner

Bedi had deceived the best of batsmen both in the air and off the pitch throughout his career. He had a smooth run-up and an enchanting action with no hint of strain or tension whenever he was operating with his colourful ‘patka’ on.

He was disappointed about the unbearably long and silly stalemate that existed between India and Pakistan. He longed to play against the nation which was once a part of his own motherland. That he had been rubbing his broad shoulders with Mushtaq Mohammad while playing for Northamptonshire in English cricket was a different story altogether. The Pakistani allrounder was not only his captain but also a “close” friend. It seemed as if the Indian had been hoping against hopes to realise his ambition.

Then, all of a sudden, Bishen Singh Bedi’s dream became a reality. In 1978, the two neighbouring nations were scheduled to meet in Pakistan for a three-Test series after almost sixteen years, much to the undisguised delight of millions of cricket aficionados on the subcontinent.Fittingly enough, Bedi and Mushtaq were to lead their respective countries.Unfortunately, no sooner did the first Test at Iqbal Stadium in Faisalabad ended in a draw than the tour turned into a nightmare for Bedi and his team.

Bedi was hammered by Zaheer Abbas and Javed Miandad in the first essay (and by Asif Iqbal in the second) and the champion left-arm orthodox spinner was reduced to an ordinary bowler. His other spin colleagues, Erapalli Prasanna and Bhagwat Chandrasekhar, did not fare well either. But for Gundappa Viswanath’s masterly 145 and good innings by Sunil Gavaskar and Dilip Vengsarkar, India would have struggled to avoid the followon.However, with humiliating defeats in Lahore and Karachi, India’s fall from grace was complete.

Bedi did not have any serious interest in cricket until he was 13 or so. But once he listened to the radio commentary of the 1959 Kanpur Test between India and the West Indies, he fell in love with the willow game.

Before he landed in Pakistan, Bedi was regarded as the best spinner of his kind in the world. As the series progressed, it appeared as though he were a shadow of his former self. His 6 wickets in the rubber cost him 449 runs. Eyebrows were raised about his captaincy, too. The pundits felt the second and third Tests could have been saved honourably if only Bedi had shown some intelligence and imagination when Pakistan quite daringly chased those seemingly out-of-reach targets in terms of time.

The price had to be paid. Bedi was sacked from captaincy immediately after the tour. His very place in the team was in jeopardy now. He was dropped midway in the 1978-79 home series against the West Indies – for the first time on purely cricketing grounds in his career. He took 7 for 324 in 3 Tests against the Caribbeans. He was lucky enough to find a berth in the Indian team for the England jaunt in 1979. Though he excelled in other matches,he cut a sorry figure in the second World Cup and the three out of four Tests he got to play against the hosts.

He was far from his best and Geoffrey Boycott, David Gower and Ian Botham scored prolifically off his bowling. Bedi never represented India again in the heavyweight division of cricket. But there was not a shadow of doubt that at his best Bedi was one of the greatest leftarm spinners of all-time. Flight was his forte. He never hesitated to flight the ball even when the batsman was in a punishing mood, sometimes at his team’s cost, like at Lahore and Karachi when Imran Khan was going berserk and scoring the required runs against the clock.

Of course, Bedi had deceived the best of batsmen both in the air and off the pitch throughout his career. He had a smooth run-up and an enchanting action with no hint of strain or tension whenever he was operating with his colourful ‘patka’ on. His whole rhythm was a connoisseur’s pleasure. He would go on bowling even after a spell of 30 or 40 overs and always appeared fresh as a daisy in spite of being no fitness fanatic. He was capable of delivering six different balls in an over.

He was the first Asian bowler to reach the 200-wicket mark in Test cricket. He finished his glittering career with 266 wickets at 28.71 in 67 Tests.

Besides the chinaman, arm-ball was his most potent weapon. Bedi was in love with the subtleties of spin bowling. He had a rare gift to bowl the most subtle and the sublime as a perfect left-arm spinner in the classical mould. He was one of those few spinners who could applaud an audacious shot by any batsman off his own bowling. But then he tended to flummox the finest of batsmen by luring them into attack. His control over flight was superb and there was a child-like delight on his face when he bowled the batsman or saw him being stumped off his bowling.

Bedi did not have any serious interest in cricket until he was 13 or so. But once he listened to the radio commentary of the 1959 Kanpur Test between India and the West Indies, in which leg-spinner Subhash Gupte took 9 for 102 in an innings, he fell in love with the willow game. Till then he had always tried to bowl fast as he wanted his fat body to “slim down”! His friends at St. Francis.

High School in Amritsar used to tease him for being plump and he was very sensitive about his size and bulk at the time.Within a couple of years Bedi was playing in the Ranji Trophy as a 15-year-old boy.Two years later he played for the North Zone against Mike Smith’s English side.His consistently good performance in first-class cricket finally brought him to the threshold of Test cricket. He made his Test debut against the mighty West Indies at Calcutta in 1966-67 and dismissed Basil Butcher and Clive Lloyd for his first two wickets. It was also the first Test he ever witnessed. Most Caribbeans, including Gary Sobers, were impressed and predicted a bright future for Bedi.

Many Indian cricketers and critics began to compare Bedi with Vinoo Mankad.Unlike Mankad, Bedi was more fortunate in that besides finding an ideal spin partner in Prasanna, he had an army of hawklike close-in fielders to help him attack the batsmen. Bedi did fairly well on the difficult trip to England but was woefully unsuccessful down under in 1967-68. The four-Test series was completely dominated by Prasanna. Bedi missed the first two Tests in Australia due to injury and returned figures of 4 for 223 in the remaining two.


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