bishan

Bishan Singh Bedi, born September 25, 1946, is widely regarded as the most skilful spinner India has produced. The only Indian bowler with over 1,500 First-Class wickets, Bedi, with his picturesque action and perfect loop, was the epitome of classical left-arm spin. One of the most outspoken cricketers in India’s history, Bedi was arguably the most talented out of India’s famed spin quartet of the 1960s and 1970s. On his birthday, Shiamak Unwalla lists 18 interesting things to know about the man fittingly christened ‘The Sardar of Spin.’

1.  Early development

Suresh Menon wrote in his biography of the young Bedi he used to play with marbles, which helped strengthen his spinning fingers. Once he took up spin bowling he would practice endlessly in the nets. Menon writes, “He could pitch six balls in an over on a fifty-paisa coin, but the batsman seldom realised that each time it came from a slightly different direction.”

2.  Pacer turned spinner

Like a lot of spinners, Bedi initially wanted to be a fast bowler. However, while in college in Amritsar his captain, Gurpal Singh, urged him to try his hand at spin instead. As we now know, the rest is history.

3.  The first Test

Most cricketers have vivid memories of watching their heroes in action as children, and speak of how watching them play inspired them. That is not true in the case of Bedi. According to an article by Ramachandra Guha in The Telegraph, “the first Test Bedi watched was the one he made his debut in.”

4.  Spin king

Among all Indian bowling pairs with more than 300 wickets between them, Bedi (184) and Bhagwat Chandrasekhar (184) have the best bowling average. Their 368 combined wickets came at just 27.96. The most prolific combination for India has been Anil Kumble (281) and Harbhajan Singh (220), who have 501 wickets together but at 30.22. Incidentally, of the three pairs of Indian spinners with over 300 Test wickets, Bedi features is two of them — the other being with EAS Prasanna.

5.  Place among the pantheon

With 266 wickets, Bedi is the third-most successful Indian spinner in Test history behind Anil Kumble (619) and Harbhajan Singh (417 and counting). His bowling average of 28.71 is the second-best among all Indian spinners with at least 100 wickets, behind that of Ravichandran Ashwin (28.44 — a number that keeps fluctuating). His economy rate of 2.14 is behind only fellow left-arm spinner Vinoo Mankad (2.13) among all Indian spinners with at least 100 wickets. Bapu Nadkarni tops the list (1.67) if we reduce the requirement to 50 wickets.

6.  Delhi stalwart

“Bedi was Delhi cricket.” — Madan Lal. Indeed, Bedi led Delhi to their first two Ranji titles — in 1978-79 and 1979-80 (Delhi were also runners-up twice under him: the four finals came in a span of five years).

Bedi played 57 First-Class matches for Delhi, taking 298 wickets at a mind-numbing average of 14, taking 27 five-fors and 7 ten-wicket hauls in the process, with best innings figures of 7 for 5 (no typo there). He also captained Delhi for a bulk of those games. His commitments with Northamptonshire meant that Bedi could not play more for Delhi.

7.  County veteran

Northamptonshire benefitted from having Bedi play as many as 102 matches for them between 1972 and 1977. Only Farokh Engineer (164 matches for Lancashire) has played more county cricket than Bedi among all Indians. Bedi was outstanding for the Northants, captured 394 wickets — the most by an Indian in County Cricket — at just 21.16 with 23 five-fors during his stint with them. Bedi remains the only Indian with over 1,500 First-Class wickets.

8.  Choking East Africa

One of the most miserly spells ever bowled in ODIs came during the 1975 World Cup. India had lost their opening game to England after Sunil Gavaskar’s infamous 60-over 36 not out, and India were desperate for a win. Bedi, who was not a part of the first match, came in for the game against East Africa. What followed is hard to describe; even setting aside the fact that East Africa were probably the worst team of the tournament, Bedi’s spell of 12-8-6-1 is hard to comprehend. He was impossible to score off, and India managed to restrict East Africa to 120, and won by 10 wickets. It was India’s first ODI victory.

9.  Picture perfect

Arguably the most memorable photograph of Bedi is one taken by a veteran cricket photographer named Ken Kelly. It features a side-on view of Bedi in his delivery stride, eyes firmly at the other end, arms high above his shoulders, with the ball in his left arm while his right arm gives support. It was a photo that Kelly took four years to perfect. According to ESPNCricinfo, Kelly said capturing that image took him immense discipline. “Capturing Bishan took me all of four years, an exercise in self-discipline, patience and dedication. I followed him around, studied him from every angle. ‘What, you again?‘ said Bishan every time. Eventually, in 1974 I got it, I could always sense his right thumb firmly levering the ball into his left-hand grip just as his arm unwound to come over, an amazing final unconscious check to establish that his purchase on the ball was exactly perfect. Or was I imagining it? Then, wow! Suddenly there it was on a perfect print! ‘Well,’ said Bishan when he saw it. ‘I could never have posed for that, because I never realised I did it.’ But he was doing it — for 1,560 First-Class wickets-worth.”

10.  Laker’s Paradise

Photographers were not the only species to be enticed by Bedi’s mesmerising action. As Jim Laker once said, “My idea of paradise is Lord’s in the sunshine, with Ray Lindwall bowling from one end and Bishan Bedi from the other”.

11.  Not one to mince words

Of all Indian cricketers, past and present, Bedi will certainly be thought of as one of the most frank and outspoken of the lot. If Bedi felt something was wrong, you could be sure that he would voice his opinion without a thought. This led to a few controversies during his days as captain and team manager. He remains as outspoken today (he is very active on Twitter) as he was in his playing days.

12.  The West Indian routing

During India’s 1976 tour of West Indies, Clive Lloyd decided to drop all his spinners and load the side with pacers. It was a sign of things to come, and came as a reaction to their defeat at the hands of hosts Australia in the previous series. India were the unfortunate team to bear the brunt, and the third Test saw as many as five Indian batsmen retire hurt due to getting hit by the West Indian pacers. Bedi, who was simmering with rage, declared the Indian innings early for fear of the well-being of his tailenders. He was scathing in his criticism of the West Indians’ tactics.

13.  Batting hurrah

Though not quite a walking wicket, Bedi was far from accomplished with the bat. His 67 Tests brought him 656 runs at 8.98, but he managed one half-century. It came in the latter half of his career, against New Zealand at Green Park, Kanpur. Batting first, India scored 524 for 9, with Bedi declaring after getting his half-century. He might have rued the late declaration, as New Zealand managed to pull off a draw with three wickets remaining.

14.  Overseas pioneer

Interestingly, Bedi was the only man who was a part of India’s first overseas Test victories against New Zealand, West Indies, England, and Australia. Though he did not play a starring role in any of the victories, on each occasion it was one of India’s other three tweakers who ran through the side.

15.  Controversies galore

On another occasion, in an ODI against Pakistan in 1978 Bedi chose to forfeit a match that India could have won easily because of blatantly unfair umpiring. With 23 to win off 18 balls and with eight wickets in hand, India ought to have cantered to a win at Sahiwal. However, Sarfaraz Nawaz bowled four consecutive bouncers that went over the batsman’s head, and none of them were called wide. A furious Bedi, then India’s captain, called his batsmen back and conceded the match. Incidentally, Sahiwal never hosted another international match.

There were plenty more controversial moments. Bedi once accused John Lever of using Vaseline to extract more swing, but the claim was refuted vehemently by the bowler, who was cleared of all charges.

After his retirement, Bedi claimed that then-captain Sunil Gavaskar had forced Bedi out of the side toward the end of his career. Bedi claimed that Gavaskar would give him small spells from unfavourable ends so as to not let him take wickets. He also accused Gavaskar of wanting to include his ‘yes-man’ Ravi Shastri in the side at Bedi’s expense.

Bedi was appointed manager of the Indian side to New Zealand in 1989-90. When India lost a Rothmans Cup match against Australia at Christchurch, Bedi notoriously commented: “The entire teams should be dumped into the Pacific.”

In 1990, this time as Indian coach, he threatened to drop the entire Indian team into the sea on the return journey after their abysmal performance. More recently, he compared Muttiah Muralitharan with a javelin thrower, and has been a huge opponent of T20 cricket.

16.  Gavasinder

It is difficult to imagine how sour the relation between Bedi and Gavaskar got, considering that the former named his first-born child ‘Gavasinder’ in honour of Gavaskar’s feats against West Indies in 1971.

17.  Personal life

In 1967-68, Bedi met and subsequently fell in love with an Australian woman named Glenith. Apart from the aforementioned Gavasinder, he also has a daughter named Gillinder with her. Sadly, the marriage ended in divorce. Bedi married a second time, and had two more children, Neha and Angad. The latter is a popular model and actor.

However, before switching professions, Angad had taken to his father. A left-arm spinner, Angad had routed Himachal Pradesh Under-16s on his debut with 4 for 27 and 4 for 55. In Under-16 matches across formats Angad claimed 32 wickets at 17.72 before he vanished for good.

18.  Giving back to the game

Bedi is one cricketer who firmly believes in sharing his knowledge. He has worked with a number of young spinners, both Indian and foreign. His most notable pupils are Maninder Singh and Murali Kartik, but he has also found the time to impart his wisdom to travelling spinners. He once told Pakistan left-arm spinner Iqbal Qasim that “On a turner the most dangerous ball is the one that goes through straight.” Qasim responded by routing India in a low-scoring thriller at Bangalore that Pakistan won by 16 runs. Years later when Australia toured India in 2008, off-spinner Jason Krejza was taken to the cleaners in a warm-up match. He asked Bedi for advice, and ended up taking 12 wickets in the match, though he also conceded 358 runs at well over four runs per over.

19.  Commendations abound

Among Bedi’s many achievements, he was named Indian Cricketer of the Year in 1967, won the Arjuna Award in 1969, got a Padma Shri in 1970, was honoured with the CK Nayudu Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004, and was inducted into the Wisden India Hall of Fame in 2015. Curiously, he was never named one of Wisden’s Cricketers of the Year despite having a number of prolific seasons with the Northants.

(Shiamak Unwalla is a proud Whovian and all-round geek who also dabbles in cricket writing as a reporter with CricketCountry. His Twitter handle is @ShiamakUnwalla)