Mike Brearley, the scholarly English cricket captain, has just one word to describe Bishan Singh Bedi’s bowling. “Beautiful.”
One of the most aesthetic sights on the cricket field, Bedi, not the best of athletes in terms of agility or speed, was an epitome of elegance. He would amble to the bowing mark, turn in a lazy manner, quickly absorb the field set to trap the batsman, and get into a delightful motion; an artist at work.
The batsman would stand bewitched, the fielders ever alert to grab the edge and the wicketkeeper anticipating action from every ball. It was cricket at its best.
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Cricket was divine when Bedi bowled to G.R. Viswanath, Sunil Gavaskar and Ian Chappell. They teased and tested each other without showing disrespect. Have you ever heard of a bowler saying he “loved” being “punished” by a batsman? Bedi takes pride in telling us in this interview how he was delighted at being punished by some batsmen.
One of the most artistic spinners the game has seen, and fondly called “Bish” by the cricket fraternity, he reveals his admiration for Gavaskar. When I told him “You have never spoken like this about Gavaskar,” his reply was so typical, “Was never asked and there never arose an occasion either.”
A great raconteur, Bedi’s love for the history of the game is so infectious. He is surrounded by 15 to 20 books at a time, the best way to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic by staying indoors. “I don’t know which book I may want to read at a given time,” he explains.
Cricket literature, to Bedi, is the elixir of life. And of course his spirituality lessons, the sessions devoted to conversations with himself and the “Almighty.”
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He insists “I am still learning.”
The man’s humility is an example for the current generation of cricketers who revel in boorish and abusive behaviour on the field. “Nobody has the right to bring cricket to disrepute,” Bedi, 73, fumes when match referees are needed to intervene.
An incorrigible cricket romantic, Bedi shares his views on various aspects of the game with Sportstar .
Does cricket still retain the aspect of romance?
I was very fortunate that I played this game. Minus cricket, I would have been a big zero because I have no other qualifications to rely upon or to lean on. The romance of cricket that you refer to has always been there. Sometimes, out of sheer frustration or disgust, we tend to think it is terribly old-fashioned, quite redundant. But then romance of cricket can never die. If the romance of the game dies, romance dies itself. That will never happen or at least I hope that will never happen. Not during my lifetime.
Would you agree that cricket is a very different sport now?
We tend to compare cricket with other activities, which have a fair amount of body contact. In the modern context, this urge to win at any cost, is so prevalent. Cricket is the only sport which teaches us honesty, uprightness and integrity. No other sport does. But this game has sometimes been corrupted and maligned by the players and the bookies. This is reflective of a degeneration of our lives in general.
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How do you view the state of cricket today?
We are going through a phase right now. The whole world is in a lockdown. Whether you play this game or not, we are in the same boat of coronavirus. Nature has taught the entire mankind a lesson. Cricket is also a big sufferer. I may sound terribly biased because of my connection with the game but it has given me a lot of time to introspect.
What did you learn from cricket?
Cricket is directly related to humanity. It is a deep connection. It's all about being upright, about honesty. I would like to put cricket and my spirituality on the same pedestal. Cricket has always come to my generous aid, to calm my nerves, calm me mentally and physically and teach me how to accept life as it comes. This is what cricket teaches you. In the broader picture of romance of cricket, it teaches you how to accept life as it comes. Whether willingly, or unwillingly, we have learned to accept it graciously. I have been very fortunate to have had a great learning process.
What are your early memories of cricket?
The advantages of growing up in a small town (Amritsar) was that the chances of getting ruffled by the distractions that we are facing today in the world were much less. We would just play and play. We had noting else with us, nothing else to do. Cricket was the only thing. I remember for entertainment there was just `Binaca Geetmala’ (radio show on film music) every Wednesday by Ameen Sayani. Otherwise spending six to eight hours at the ground, just keep bowling, was all we did. My guru Gyan Prakash, who I worship, never told me anything about basic cricket technique. But he gave me lessons on cricket etiquette. Cricket etiquette was very important. I may sound outdated, I don't mind being irrelevant or redundant, but I think it is too late in my life to change my thought process.
Has the game changed a lot?
I would still like to associate myself with this game the way it was played. In certain quarters, it is still played the same way. But in large, the change has occurred only because of romance of the game. Whether it is cricket or romance in life generally, the romance has to very innocently amatuerish. In life it has to be an amateur philosophical activity.
Is there a connection between spirituality and cricket?
Why do you say `This Is Not Cricket’. Cricket is one sport which is directly integrated with uprightness. This does not mean these is no dishonesty in cricket. There is a lot of it. That dishonesty is there in our spirituality also.
What would you tell the students about cricket?
Normally I first ask my students why did they play cricket. Their usual answer is 'we love the game.' Then I ask 'you love this game but does the game love you’ because love is a two-way traffic. You love somebody and that person also has to love you back. It cannot be one-way traffic. I tell them if you love the game and want to win the love then you need to make huge efforts. Then only the game will love you.
What is your philosophy of cricket now?
It’s not business for me. It is like this. If I am seeking alms, then I am only expecting returns. I am not giving away anything. I am only receiving. But if I want the game to do well, then I have to give and not take. What does the Almighty do? Only keeps giving. This is where I feel cricket came in handy in my case at least. Until we are able to do that, that realization will not happen, will not occur.
How would you compare cricket with life?
I am reminded when in 1967, in Australia, at the official dinner and Sir Robert Menzies (Australian Prime Minister) was talking. He said the world would have been a much better to place live had America and Russia played cricket. The game teaches you to look at life different, with compassion and respect. What is happening today is a lesson for us from the nature. All these years we took nature for granted. In a similar way, you cannot take the game of cricket for granted. You experience the ups and downs of life everyday. That is what happens on the field of cricket. That is why cricket is the only sport that is compared to life. No other sport is, not hockey, not football, not tennis, not golf.
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How did you feel when the game you love so much was brought to disrepute?
In the Bodyline (infamous Australia-England series in 1932-33) it was players. In the match-fixing saga, it was players. There have been financial scams by officials too. They hurt the game so much.
As a bowler, what is your reaction to the two bouncers per over rule brought in to curb aggressive instincts?
I still believe that the bouncer is a legitimate weapon of the fast bowler and it should not be confined to just one or two per over. But then the umpire has to see the intention of the bowler too.
Have you felt a change within over the years?
I'm trying to recollect what I said ten years ago. I may not agree with that view today because I think I have mellowed. I have stopped reacting to situations. Now I respond. That is the vast difference.
In his recent book, (former England captain) Mike Brearley has praised you very high?
He sent me the book (On Cricket) with a note saying he has done a chapter on Muralitharan also. He wanted my reaction on the chapter on Murali. I told him I have stopped reacting at my age and I only respond (laughs). He said there is an innate difference between reaction and response and remarked `the call should have come from me and not you. You are not the psychoanalyst, I am.’
Would you tell us about your relationship with Ajit Wadekar and Sunil Gavaskar...
I had my views on (Sunil) Gavaskar and (Ajit) Wadekar. As a captain, what do I need from Gavaskar. His batting. With Wadekar I had purely cricketing differences. Even with Gavaskar, purely cricketing differences. Nothing else. But I don't want to take those differences to my grave because of my deep-rooted association with cricket. This again because of the romance of cricket. It is different today. They (current cricketers) behave as if they are sustaining the game, they are telling the game be grateful that I am representing you. As if the game is grateful that they are gracing the field.
How would you respond to the divine sight of you bowling to GR Viswanath, poetry at both ends?
It is a wonderful anomaly. You can say that. Because if I was to have somebody bat for my life it would be Gavaskar. If I was to pay to watch somebody play, it would be Viswanath. He was artistry on the field. Gary Sobers was artistry on the field. He had everything. There would be 11 men on the field but all eyes would be on Sobers. Vishy is a champion artist. He is an equally fantastic human being. He is so lovable and honest. I have not come across a person critical of Viswanath. Remember, it’s a batsman’s game. People come to watch the batsmen but then bowlers win you the matches. As far as I’m concerned, it was a delight to be punished by Sobers and Viswanath. Down the line, you wished to get their prized wicket but it was their magic, their artistry that held your attention. Whether it was playing for them or against them, it was something to be always enjoyed.
Why would you want Gavaskar to bat for your life?
He is the original little master. I cannot see another person who is better than Gavaskar. Honestly. I saw so much of him from very close quarters. I don’t have the capacity to write about him as Jack Fingleton wrote about Sir Don Bradman in Brightly Fades The Don. Gavaskar was the most complete batsman we ever had. I have seen his correctness, his determination and his will to defy all attacks in all conditions. I still remember (at The Oval in 1979), at the nets, he just sat holding his head after finishing his batting stint. I asked him what was the issue. He replied "Yaar Bish, I don't know where my off-stump is." Can you imagine this coming from such a great player? I just said come on, let’s hit the nets. We wanted runs from Gavaskar’s bat. From Viswanath’s bat. I bowled at him from shorter distance. This is where he made 221. India is the only team which made 400 in the fourth innings on three different occasions – won at Trinidad (1976), lost at Adelaide (1978) and drew at The Oval (1979). And Gavaskar had a role on all the three occasions. Viswanath too.
None of our conversations end without you mentioning the names of Bradman, Sobers, Tiger Pataudi, Frank Worrell...
I am so grateful; thanks to the game of cricket I could come in contact with them. They signify the romance of the game. There won’t be another Bradman or Sobers. God made them when he had lot of time at his disposal. Bradman, Sobers, Richie Benaud, Tiger Pataudi, they are such beautiful parts of the game.
It is said you revere Don Bradman...
He was the ultimate cricket figure you could imagine. I remember asking him why he did not turn a professional. He worked in office before the game. He worked in office after the game. Why not become a professional then? He said `I did not want to lose out on the fun of the game.’ He was murdering bowlers all over and talking about not losing on fun of the game?
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The first cricket book you bought?
It was The Art Of Cricket by Bradman, which in today's context, some of the youngsters may say is very old. It is the best from a technical aspect. Those days, cricketers had little idea of the technique of the game. The Art Of Cricket is mainly about batting but it it is also about bowling. In the book, there is no mention of reverse swing.
You once mentioned a discussion you had with Alec Bedser...
There was not a bigger swing bowler than Alec Bedser. I once asked him about reverse swing. He said it was `bullshit’. It is either in-swing or out-swing. It is mainly trickery. You are 'making' the ball, using spit. I have believed that right from the time humanity came into existence, it has been hurt by the basic human instincts to cheat and diddle others. Cheating and crime was always there. Why are the jails bursting at seams. Because criminals find their ways and it is nothing strange if it has been happening in cricket. But, as a lover of the game, I will say that cricket can do without this.
Any other aspect of the game which makes cricket different?
Look at the toss. Why did the match referee start accompanying the captain for the toss. Why? Because of the distrust that happened between two captains. Now the talk is the toss may be abolished.
How do you look at the future of cricket?
This game will survive because of its romance. Those who understand the game will associate themselves with the romance of the game. They may be fewer but they will matter even if in minority. To me, they are in majority of one. The purity of this game is to be protected and the onus is on the players to keep this purity alive. Otherwise you are wasting time playing this great game.
(With inputs from Santadeep Dey and Shivansh Gupta.)