Bishan Singh Bedi’s deliveries came like the sinuous curve of a serpent’s slither, luring entranced prey to their inevitable demise. He will forever remain the exalted priest of slow bowling, the most sublime left-arm spinner to ever grace the gentleman’s game.
“I would like to see a batsman trying to hit every ball for six,” he had once disarmingly said. “I am happy when he is attacking because it means I can set him up. He is attacking me, and I am attacking him. That is the essence of cricket. That is what the spectators want to see.”
But batsmen rarely attacked, not fooled by his gentle, well-meaning looks.
Bedi was the leader, the venerable patriarch (despite being its youngest member) of India’s mesmerising quartet—B.S. Chandrasekhar, E.A.S. Prasanna, S. Venkataraghavan, and the patka-clad Sardar—each a maestro, their strengths diverse and mystique unparalleled.
Far removed from today’s era of T20 cricket, workload management, and fast-flat bowling trajectories, he was a tireless practitioner of a now long-forgotten art and still holds the record for most first-class wickets by an Indian: 1560 wickets in 370 matches. He was equally successful on the English county circuit, with 434 wickets for Northamptonshire between 1972 and ‘77.
“No bowler in first-class cricket sends down as many overs a year as the Indian BS Bedi. In the 1973 English season, he bowled 864 overs for Northamptonshire—more than any other player in the country. Then he went home to India and bowled another 700-odd overs there! He never gets tired, and he never suffers from a sore spinning finger,” Steve Douglas wrote in The Hindu in 1974.
But Bishan Sir was not just about cricket. Even as he aged and his steps wavered a little, much like the tentative footwork of the batters he outwitted, Bedi’s zeal for life remained steadfast. During a Sportstar event in 2017, the long corridor of the Nehru Stadium in Delhi was filled with his laughter, and every starry-eyed attendee, including the modern-day stars of Indian sport, swarmed around the man, who regaled with one story after another. To be in his company was both comforting and reassuring.
As a teacher, Bedi was stern and paternal, a facet attested by proteges Maninder Singh, Sunil Joshi, or Kartik Murali. Even Virat Kohli credited him for instilling his lifelong focus on fitness during Bedi’s time as a mentor of the Delhi team.
The sanctity of cricket’s rules was equally holy, and as a captain, he stood up against the “intimidating” West Indies (declaring when the Windies quicks badgered Indian tailenders with a barrage of short-pitched deliveries during the fourth Test of the 1975-76 series) and the slippery “Vaseline” tainted English during the Madras Test of 1977.
His unrelenting obsession for righteousness also led him to question Muttiah Muralitharan’s bowling action: “He looks like a good javelin thrower.”
Never reluctant to take on the establishment, Bedi demanded the Delhi District Cricket Association (DDCA) to take his name down from a stand at the Feroze Shah Kotla Ground after it was renamed as the Arun Jaitley Stadium. He was also one of the few Indian sportspersons who sympathised with the farmers during their agitation in 2020–21.
Bishan Singh Bedi was a man who never shied away from speaking his mind. He was a generous soul, quick to praise and quicker to criticise. In an age where sports, money, politics, and entertainment have all merged into one, he was a relic of a bygone era, a glimpse of a paradise that has now been lost with him.
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