Airing his views without fear or favour

Bishan Singh Bedi... calling a spade a spade.-S.S. KUMAR

“I speak from my heart and not from my mind. If I speak from my mind I would be bothered whether what I was going to say would go down well with a particular person or not. If I speak from my heart, I would not be bothered,” says Bishan Singh Bedi. By S. Dinakar.

Bishan Singh Bedi often talks about zameer (conscience). “The toughest questions are the ones you ask yourself” he says.

This blithe spirit strives to speak the truth, does not take sides. For instance, he is not someone who had been involved with Twenty20 cricket in the past and has now taken a stand against it. From the beginning, he has been consistent in his opposition to the glitz, glamour, money and the impact on technique of the shortest format.

Similarly, his has been a strong voice, all through, against the menace of chucking. “If someone gets wickets through unfair methods, it is very hard on bowlers who do their job with a clean action,” he says.

In an international career stretching from 1967 to 1979, Bedi scalped 266 batsmen in 67 Tests at 28.27. He was a part of the immortal Indian spin quartet that helped India register epoch-making overseas Test series triumphs in New Zealand, the West Indies and England between 1968 and 1971.

While he could sell the dummy to the batsmen with his flight and guile, he also took on the establishment on issues that hurt the cricketers and cricket.

The former Indian captain and manager continues to air his views without fear or favour. Bedi, now 66, was in Chennai recently to deliver the Nani Palkhiwala lecture when Sportstar caught up with him.

Says Bedi: “I speak from my heart and not from my mind. If I speak from my mind I would be bothered whether what I was going to say would go down well with a particular person or not. If I speak from my heart, I would not be bothered.”

The Amristar-born spin giant opines that pursuing cricket can be a life-changing experience. “If cricket does not make you a better human being, your time is wasted. You don’t play cricket but you live the game. This great game teaches you honesty.”

Cricket, according to him, is a pursuit of excellence and respect. “It’s not about bank balance. It’s all about the bank of goodwill when you leave the game. Nobody should be able to question your integrity.”

Then he reveals a fascinating off-the-field nugget from his glittering career. The year was 1978 and the Indian team was in Pakistan for a three-Test series. The side was in Karachi.

“Kerry Packer’s (the Australian tycoon started a rebel league on his television channel) agent came to meet me in Karachi. He gave me a blank cheque. He told me that I could write down whatever amount I wanted to.”

Bedi’s reaction reflected the quality of the man. “I threw the cheque back at him. Told him that I did not come with a price tag. I was not up for sale.”

His mind quickly shifts to the much-hyped player-auction in the Indian Premier League. “I wonder how the great cricketers are bought and sold like cattle in the IPL auctions. How do they allow themselves to go through all this?”

Then, the topic moves to a subject that makes his blood boil — illegal actions. “The chuckers are being given a free run by the ICC. I think the 15 degree flexion rule is all crap. It is designed to protect the chuckers. How can you say what the bowlers do in the laboratory will be repeated on the field of play? What you see with the naked eye should be given importance. The umpires should be empowered,” he says.

Among the giants of spin, Bedi is arguably the best left-arm spinner who ever bowled. “There is a big difference between spin and break. You spin the ball in the air, and the ball breaks off the pitch. Not many understand this,” he says.

What is critical to quality spin bowling? “Rhythm. It is a pattern. It is in everything that we do in life. A spinner will achieve rhythm if his run-up, delivery stride and follow through are in order,” he says.

Ask him about the finest spinner in contemporary cricket and he responds, “Graeme Swann, he is a spinner in the classical mould. He has a clean action, spins the ball and has variety. He is also someone who appears to be using his brain.”

The famous spin quartet.. B.S. Cahndrasekhar, S. Venkataraghavan, Bedi and E.A.S. Prasanna share a light moment during their playing days.-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

For Bedi, bowling to great batsmen was as much about mind as about a combat of skills. “I have always believed that a great batsman also has an equally great ego. So you have to work on his ego. I will also remember the first time I bowled at Barry Richards, in the match against Hampshire. There was a big build-up to the occasion and my team-mates at Northamptonshire constantly reminded me of the duel. Gradually it started playing on my mind also.”

How did Bedi cope with the situation? He decided to get into the mind of the South African. “In my first over against Barry, I had a slip, a silly point, a forward short-leg, a backward short-leg… In all there were six fielders around the bat.”

The trap was laid. “Barry did not like what he saw. He said something between his teeth to the ’keeper. For me the plan was working. The first four deliveries, he hit me for four boundaries, over covers and over mid-wicket. He was annoyed by the attacking field, wanted to prove a point,” he says.

Bedi, then, nailed it. “The fifth ball was flighted but I held it back. Barry jumped out, was beaten in the air and was soon walking back.”

Talk to him about his three outstanding spin partners and Bedi says, “The unique thing was that we were all different. Though both bowled off-spin, Pras (Erapalli Prasanna) flighted the ball while Venkat (Srinivas Venkatraghavan) was much flatter. And Chandra (Bhagwat Chandrasekhar) was an extraordinary bowler.”

Chandrasekhar, the unpredictable match-winner, never ceases to amaze him. “Chandra was considered a freak bowler but there was so much in his bowling that was right technically. He had a lovely delivery stride, was beautifully side-on and had a wonderful follow through. What a bowler!”

And Prasanna was someone he admired. “I learnt much from Pras, who was a magician with the ball. He was a genius. I used to watch Pras and Chandra closely during nets and could hear a hissing sound after the delivery was released. There was so much spin, so much revolution on the ball.”

Bedi bowled a tremendous arm ball in his time. This was a delivery that was quicker and tended to skid through. For sending down this ball, Bedi employed the seam and used the width of the crease capably. He would roll his fingers over the ball.

“The arm-ball is the most natural delivery for a left-arm spinner, it just comes through with the arm. If several present-day left-armers struggle to bowl this delivery then there must be something wrong with their methods,” he says.

Bedi feels a spinner’s success does not have to depend on the nature of the surface or on whether a bowler flights or not. “It is possible for a bowler to achieve spin off the surface even if he is quicker through the air, if he really rips the ball.” says Bedi.

He shared a fine rapport with the game’s foremost batsman, Sir Donald Bradman. Bedi does not think the heavy modern bats could compensate for natural ability to meet the ball from the middle of the willow. “The legendary Don showed me the bat with which he made 452 for New South Wales against Queensland (in 1929-30). The bat was as light as a feather. Today even school kids would not use bats that are so light. Batting is a lot about timing.”

Queried whether the heavy bat or the ropes being brought in would have hurt his analysis, Bedi laughs. “The batsman could hit me for three or four boundaries or sixes. So what? I would eventually get him.” Such is his level of confidence.

Bedi remembers the passion with which the Indian stars played the Ranji Trophy in his time. “I recall travelling from Nagpur where India played Sri Lanka in an unofficial Test. We were put up in a sub-standard facility at the height of winter, and then I travelled by train along with Surinder Amarnath a day after the match concluded for a Ranji game up north. There was just a day’s gap between the matches but we had that zeal to play domestic cricket.”

He is against foreign coaches guiding Team India. “Foreign coaches are just mercenaries. They come for money. They will not have the commitment and the love for the team that an Indian coach will posses. And they will find it hard to relate to Indian cricketers.”

The DRS will get rid of umpiring howlers in the game, he says. “The game is all about respecting the umpires but I do not feel DRS undermines that. If a batsman has been unfairly given out, he gets a second chance. A team is given only two unsuccessful referrals and the umpires still have plenty to do in the game.”

The fire in Bishan Singh Bedi still burns. You just cannot keep this Sardar down.