The patriarch of spin

Spin legend Bishan Bedi is now the coach of the Jammu & Kashmir team.-Pics: V. V. SUBRAHMANYAM

With regard to the wristy elegance of the Hyderabadis with the willow, Bedi was quick to rate V. V. S. Laxman above M. L. Jaisimha and Mohd. Azharuddin. “Well, great players, all of them, but Laxman stands out for his consistency. A wonderful batsman under pressure,” he commented. Over to V. V. Subrahmanyam.

Not many cricketers who have visited the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium in Hyderabad have evoked such awe and admiration as Bishan Singh Bedi, one of the finest left-arm spinners ever to grace the game.

So when the outspoken Bedi, in the city as the coach of the Jammu & Kashmir Ranji Trophy squad, was at the venue, he drew many cricketers and officials, including former India left-arm spinner S. L. Venkatapathi Raju and former Hyderabad Ranji off-spinners Naushir Mehta and Kanwaljit Singh, to him. They partook of his knowledge and experience and had a photograph snapped with him.

“He is a legend in his own way. Remember, he was so successful when the batsmen around the world were more aggressive than in the preceding era when staying put with dogged defence was the order of the day. And, Sir was not afraid to call a spade a spade. Arguably one of the finest left-arm spinners ever. I am a big fan of his bowling and his attitude,” said Venkatapathi Raju, who played for India in 1990 when Bedi was the coach of the national team.

“You look good (on Raju's fitness). Keep going,” was the complimentary remark from the great cricketer of yesteryear. Both Raju and Kanwaljit have the highest regard for Bedi as was evident by the way they addressed him right through their conversation as ‘Sir.'

“It has always been a privilege to meet him and you get to know new things about the game and especially the art of spin bowling every time you meet him,” said Kanwaljit Singh.

In a way, right through the Ranji match it would not be an exaggeration to say that Bedi was the focal point and not the action in the middle when his team J & K was battling it out with Hyderabad in the Plate Group match.

Naushir Mehta, whom the late M. L. Jaisimha once described as the eternal bridesmaid of Hyderabad cricket referring to the former not getting a chance to play for India despite being one of the best off-spinners around then, was equally thrilled at meeting Bedi.

“Oh! What a fantastic bowler he (Bedi) was. He had so much variety in his bowling that he had the ability to bowl six different balls. On batting tracks he used to toy with the best of the batsmen. A visual treat it was. Honestly, I have not seen someone who had so much control over flight, line and length,” were the compliments from Naushir.

And for his part, Bedi had special praise for Hyderabad cricket. “There was something unique about the cricketing atmosphere in this part of the country, the most significant being the hospitality and the warmth with which people meet you,” he said.

Spin summit. Kanwaljit Singh and Venkatapathi Raju catch up with Bedi.-

Not surprisingly, Bedi makes a mention of the late Ghulam Ahmed. “Ghulam Saheb, Jai, Tiger (Pataudi). Well, they were great cricketers who brought charm to the game itself with their style and skills,” he said.

When the topic veered around to the wristy elegance of the Hyderabadis with the willow, Bedi was quick to rate V. V. S. Laxman above M. L. Jaisimha and Mohd. Azharuddin. “Well, great players, all of them, but Laxman stands out for his consistency. A wonderful batsman under pressure,” he commented.

Reflecting on Indian cricket in general, Bedi said that it was high time the international stars came back to Ranji Trophy whenever they had time and were not playing for the country. “It is very sad that Ranji Trophy doesn't have that attraction anymore. I have seen some international players even disinterested in the Ranji games. This is very unfortunate,” he said.

“There are a lot of improvements like having six cameras around, an umpires' coach, a match referee and all these things even in first-class cricket in India. This is good off the field. But what about the standard of the game overall?” he asked.

Commenting on the famed Indian batting line-up of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, V. V. S. Laxman and Virender Sehwag, Bedi felt that India was privileged to have all of them at the same time. “What fantastic cricketers. Look at the service they have rendered to the game, year after year without being selfish,” he said. “And, what impresses me the most about Rahul is the way he way throws up a challenge from within and tries to face it with all sincerity and hard work. This is the reason why he was so successful in England when others disappointed,” he explained.

Interestingly, Bedi was not forthright that new spin sensation Ravichandran Ashwin and left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha would lead the Indian spin attack henceforth. “Only time will tell. But again, I am really impressed with Ashwin's variations. He is a very intelligent bowler and could be a big success in Australia. And with Ojha, I will love to see him improve his action,” Bedi explained. “It would be interesting to see how these two bowl against better batting line-ups and in different conditions,” said the spinner who was the lead bowler in his times with 266 wickets from 67 Tests.

And, Bedi was not surprised with the axing of off-spinner Harbhajan Singh. “Time doesn't wait for anyone. I feel it will be the same for the star-studded Indian batting line-up. That is why I feel you should experiment with talent when there is experience around,” he pointed out.

And what keeps Bedi going? The 65-year-old Bishan asserts that it is his passion for the sport. “That is why I am here with this Ranji team (J & K). They were at the rock-bottom and when they asked me for my services, I thought why not give it a try and in the process enjoy the game for myself,” said a visibly content Bedi, who has no regrets at all — in life and in sport.