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Epitome of artistry, few cricketers were as forthright as Bedi, called spade a spade

By Harsh Thakor* 

Legendary Bishen Singh Bedi just left us. An ornament has departed from the cricket world. Without doubt one of the greatest spin bowlers or left arm bowlers of all time. Bedi was the ultimate epitome or mascot of cricketing grace. His was easy run up, action and follow through poetry in motion, with the rhythm of a snake dancer.
Above all he was one of cricket's great gentlemen, upholding sportsmanship at any cost. Few cricketers possessed such a philosophical touch.
There were few spin bowlers who turned and looped a cricket ball more deceptively or as artistic in flight. Bedi literally converted spin bowling into an art form. Bedi was part of the quartet that turned a new epoch in Indian cricket from 1971. His bowling was as rhythmic as a ballad dancer and as tantalising as a snake charmer.
Rarely did any bowler master left arm flight as Bishen. Very few spinners created such subtle variations of flight. He was simply the epitome of grace. Very few slow bowlers were more of a personification of aggression.
Bedi took spin bowling versatility or variety to a scale rarely penetrated, capable of bowling six completely different types of deliveries. In a over, he could create a sensation of a complete twist and turn in a novel. He could vary his pace flight, turn and height of a ball.
Quoting former England skipper Mike Brearley, "A few easy rhythmic steps, perfectly balanced, and he moved smoothly into the delivery stride. His run up was not too long There was no sense of striving, nothing rushed or snatched,no hiccups, just an essay flow. Like most great bowlers his variation was subtle. No slow bowler required you to commit yourself later, as Bedi."
Sunil Gavaskar ranked Bedi the best left arm bowler he ever saw, before the advent of Wasim Akram. Remarkably, attack or offensive was permanent feature of his bowling, which never resorted to defensive bowling.

Career

Bedi made his debut for Northern Punjab in the Ranji trophy at the age of 15. He excelled representing Northamptonshire from 1972 to 1977, twice taking 100 or more wickets in a season. He led India in 22 tests from 1975 to 1977, always placing more emphasis on winning than drawing. Even though only six matches were won, Bedi always played to win.
Bedi gained his baptism into test cricket against West Indies on new year’s day in 1967. He did not come out trumps, but gave glimpses of his nascent talents to bloom into a superstar. Ironically, in the next test at Madras, a dropped catch by Rusi Surti of Gary Sobers at backward short leg, of the bowling of Bedi, possibly denied India a victory.
Against Australia in late 1969, his nine wicket haul at Delhi won the game, while two weeks later in Kolkata, Bedi captured 7-98. Quoting Aussie star Doug Walters, “Bedi, calm and phlegmatic, and possessing everything possible in accuracy, flight and change and pace, was the one who seemed to force the Australians in to most errors.”
Bedi first came out with flying colours against New Zealand in 1969, when he captured six wickets in Mumbai, propelling India to a famous victory.
In West Indies in 1970-71, Bedi was one of the architects of India carving its first ever series win on Caribbean soil. He weaved magic spells, to make even genius like Gary Sobers and Rohan Kanhai, look pedestal, at times. Bedi’s tantalising length teased the West Indies batsmen, which paved way for Venkataraghavan to capitalise and capture the wickets.
Representing Rest of the World team in 1972, in a World XI game at Sydney, Bedi dislodged brothers Ian and Greg Chappell, with successive deliveries. He played an important role in the 2-1 triumph of the Rest of the World team against Australia.
Although India lost 3-1 in 1976-77 at home against England, Bedi took 25 wickets, simply bowling like a workhorse.
Bedi was at his best when capturing a record 31 scalps in a five tests series in Australia in 1977-78, which all but won India the rubber, who magnificently resurrected themselves after being 2-0 d In spite of bowling spectacularly in the first two tests at Brisbane and Perth, India were denied victory by the margin of a whisker. His turn and flight bewildered the Aussie batsmen, winning two tests matches for India by overwhelming margins. At Sydney he was involved in a spectacular duel with Kim Hughes. After receiving battering of one delivery, Hughes was sensationally removed by a Yorker, appearing like a long hop, sending his middle stump cart wheeling.
Bishen Bedi was arguably the best spin bowler of the 1970s ahead of Derek Underwood. Derek was unplayable on bad wickets, but not the same proposition or as effective as Bedi on unhelpful tracks.
Bedi first came out with flying colours against New Zealand in 1969, when he captured six wickets in Mumbai
Bedi was a master on batting on unhelpful wickets, which denied powerhouses of talent like Padmakar Shivalkar and Rajinder Goel, an entry into the test side, who were both unplayable on helpful tracks.
Sadly the 1978 tour of Pakistan precipitated the decline of Bishen, after which he had to forfeit the captaincy, with India receiving a 2-0 thrashing. Batting friendly pancakes completely impeded the prospects of the Indian spin attack. The sheer battering Bedi received by the likes of Zaheer Abbas and Javed Miandad, hastened his decline.
In the 1978 home series against West Indies, Bedi lost his disconcerting pace of the pitch which gave a batsmen no time, to change his stroke.

Evaluation

Bedi played in 67 tests, capturing 266 wickers at an average of 28.71. He had a strike rate of 80.3.
Bedi has been rated amongst the 70 best cricketers of all time by John Woodcock and Cristopher Martin Jenkins or even Geoff Armstrong. All rank him above Derek Underwood, which is praiseworthy.
Overall I rate Bedi only second to Subash Gupte amongst Indian spinners. I give him a place amongst the 10 best spin bowlers of all time. Averaging fewer than 30 with the ball -- and capturing 266 scalps -- speaks for itself. It compares him favourably with the spin giants. Although in terms of figures greatly overshadowed by Anil Kumble or Ravichandran Ashwin, overall I still place him ahead, assessing skill and era.
In the modern era, he possibly would have won twice as many tests. In test matches won, Bedi averaged 17.65 and took 97 scalps. In tests lost he had 99 victims at the cost of 33.94.
I would choose Bedi in my all time test left handers XI.

Forthright, bold

Few cricketers were ever as forthright, or called a spade a spade.
Bedi was involved in two major controversies n his lifetime. The first was when protesting against the West Indies bouncer barrage at Kingston, the second was against the Englishman using Vaseline. Morally, I feel he was correct on both occasions.
In West Indies, India may well have won the series but for unfair West Indies tactics which injured the Indian batsmen. On that occasion it was simply a bowling carnage, which caused outrage in Bedi’s mind -- simply a ploy of inflicting injuries, which acted against the spirit of the game.
I can’t forget an incident when Bedi was labelled as a traitor by the Indian press, after he advised Iqbal Qasim and Tauseef Ahmed on the approach to bowl, on the penultimate day of the Bangalore test in 1987,which was the decider. Bedi simply told them that the pitch would do the tricks and to apply the basics of bowling. This displayed his non-partisan character.
I admired his stand highly of not making the IPL, cricket’s biggest and most lucrative annual event, as a basis or source of selection. To me, it promoted cricket remaining a sport, and not a multi-billion dollar business. He detested players being treated like horses being sold to the highest bidder. 
"I don't want to say anything about IPL. There's not a bigger scam in India than IPL. Nobody here knows where IPL's money comes and goes. The second edition of the IPL happened in South Africa, millions of money was taken out of the country without the permission of Finance Minister," Bedi said.
---
*Freelance journalist who has extensively researched on cricket

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