RIP Bishan Singh Bedi: A master who symbolised India's tryst with spin | Cricket - Hindustan Times
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RIP Bishan Singh Bedi: A master of his craft whose career symbolised India's tryst with spin

Oct 24, 2023 02:03 PM IST

Once the ball arced out of Bishan Singh Bedi's left hand, it was as if it had a life of its own.

At his peak, which was for a really, really long time, Bishan Singh Bedi was an irresistible force. India had transitioned from the land of pace – Amar Singh and Mohammad Nissar had rocked England in the former’s debut Test at Lord’s in June 1932 – to the country of spin by the time Bedi arrived at the international scene, but it was during his glorious stint that India’s tryst with spin was to be inextricably intertwined.

Variously described as poetry in motion and the smiling assassin, Bedi was an amalgam of grace and cunning, of guile and intelligence.(ICC Twitter)
Variously described as poetry in motion and the smiling assassin, Bedi was an amalgam of grace and cunning, of guile and intelligence.(ICC Twitter)

Variously described as poetry in motion and the smiling assassin, Bedi was an amalgam of grace and cunning, of guile and intelligence. He didn’t seek recourse in the pseudo-exotic, but he didn’t need to. As it is, turbaned and all, he exuded exoticism and mystique; once the ball arced out of his left hand, it was as if it had a life of its own, whirring in the air, drifting towards the right-hander, breaking on turning after dipping wickedly, finding the outside edge or going past it and rattling the furniture.

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Bedi was the most visible and vocal of India’s famed spin quartet of the 1960s and 1970s, a quartet that had the same goal – wickets – but co-existed more than peacefully. Each of the four magicians was an institution by himself. Where Bedi was reputed to have the ball on a string, luring batters forward and then either pulling it back or making it drop without warning, EAS Prasanna was the self-confessed ‘sadist’ who enjoyed hitting batters on their ribs as much as getting them out. BS Chandrasekhar was the whirling dervish, a match-winner when the mood struck him, which was often. And while S Venkataraghavan might not have always been considered to be in the same league as this illustrious triumvirate, he brought his own special skill sets, not least the heart of a tiger and the most uncompromising of accuracies.

Whether Bedi was the first among equals is anyone’s guess. Statistically, though, he was the most successful of the four, with 266 Test wickets. On Monday, as news of his demise cast a pall of gloom over the cricket world, his peers reacted with shock and dismay. Prasanna was inconsolable, Chandra kept shaking his head over and over again as if he didn’t believe the news that had been conveyed to him. After all, they were not just teammates and colleagues, they were friends whose relationships had spilled over to a sixth decade, who always looked out for each other, and who lapsed into nostalgia without bitterness, talking about the others’ success and always putting themselves last.

Bedi was a flamboyant bowler who loved the scent of battle. Even when he was applauding a boundary from an opposition batter, his mind would be racing at the rate of knots, plotting his downfall. He was quite the master at setting batters up, appearing almost metronomically to drop the cherry at the same spot ball after ball when he actually wasn’t. A millimetre at a time, he would lull the unsuspecting batter into a false sense of security and then deliver the sucker punch, all without any change in his action and with a gleam in his eye that wasn’t boastful but a clear message that he wouldn’t be bested easily.

Anil Kumble and R Ashwin and Kapil Dev and Ravindra Jadeja, among others, have taken many more wickets, but they will be the first to acknowledge that there will never be another Bedi. (ANI)
Anil Kumble and R Ashwin and Kapil Dev and Ravindra Jadeja, among others, have taken many more wickets, but they will be the first to acknowledge that there will never be another Bedi. (ANI)

An excellent leader of men who led Delhi to two Ranji Trophy titles, Bedi’s phenomenal record – he also took 434 wickets for Northamptonshire in the English County circuit and a staggering 1,560 first-class sticks in all – is anything but flattering, magnified even more by the absolute lack of any pace-bowling support worth the name. Whether in the cold climes of England or in New Zealand where seam was pronounced, Bedi was expected to find his range and rhythm straightaway, often with a newish ball. To his credit, he seldom disappointed; such was his command over his craft that he took every challenge on, manfully. That he came out smiling more often than not was testament to his immense self-belief.

As odious as the numbers’ game is, there is no doubt that he will rank right up there among the greatest bowlers to have come out of this country. True, Anil Kumble and R Ashwin and Kapil Dev and Ravindra Jadeja, among others, have taken many more wickets, but they will be the first to acknowledge that there will never be another Bedi. Colourful, occasionally controversial, always honest and sincere to a fault, upright and forthright, outspoken and unafraid. Indian cricket is poorer for his demise; the cricket world is poorer for his demise. RIP, Mr Bedi.

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