Bishan Singh Bedi: The Raging Rebel Who Asked the Right Questions On & Off Field

So accurate was Bedi that in cricketing nets, I saw him drop balls in a row on a fixed leaf with unerring accuracy.

5 min read
Hindi Female

My eyes are moist to see "Sardar of Spin” depart for heavenly abode. It is agonising to pen a tribute to Bishen Singh Bedi, a left-arm spinner of high merit, guts, and integrity just a few months after the demise of the charming left-handed, all-rounder Salim Durrani.

I hold many cricketers in high esteem but none is dearer to my heart than the quintet of Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, Gundappa Vishwanath, Salim Durrani, Bishen Singh Bedi, and Sunil Gavaskar. These five were not just players of prodigious calibre but also affected my life as great human beings.

Apart from picking nuances of the game from them, I gained lifelong insights into virtues like sportsmanship, daredevilry, gentlemanliness, tenacity, camaraderie, and goodness that aided my growth as a human being.

Frankly, just as the vocal artistry of Mohammed Rafi nourishes me with sublime bliss, the art of spin acquired an ethereal dimension for me only after I saw Bishen Bedi bowl like a solemn bird in flight!

The Last of Spin Masters

Pace may give a high to spectators but it is the myriad niceties of spin that transform test cricket into a fascinating and delectable game of suspense, intrigue, and poetics. And Bishen Bhaaji provided to many like me, who played alongside him as well as observed the game from close quarters as a spectator and a commentator, with mesmerising images akin to magic.

A ball in Bedi’s hands transformed a cricket maidan into a gigantic opera house wherein Bedi presided like a gifted conductor executing a wonderful symphony.

Despite the obvious difference in height, stature, and looks, Salim Durrani and Bishen Singh Bedi had a lot in common as both were "gems of purest ray serene”.

Simplicity and magnanimity were common traits of the two giant spinners who tied many famous batsmen in tangles with their mesmerising craft. As both also spoke from their heart, they both paid heavily for their honest demeanours since "maharajas” of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) have never appreciated plain truths, especially if uttered by players!

It is a shame that like Salim Durrani was dropped after the Mumbai Test of 1967 against West Indies after a brilliant innings of 55, Bishen Bedi too, was dropped from a Test against West Indies in Bengaluru (then Bangalore) in 1976.

Though the BCCI statements were “official lies”, the cricketing fraternity knows that Durrani was dropped for not greeting a board official in Kolkata (he personally confided that he hadn’t recognised the fellow) while Bishen Bhaaji was penalised at the behest of MCC for calling out England players as “cheats” after the Vaseline affair though the reason given By the BCCI was that he had given a media interview without permission.

Although unabashed admirers of one another, it is a fact that Durrani could be unplayable only if he was in the ‘mood’ whereas Bedi was by all accounts the best left-arm spinner ever.

His Spot-On Approach Towards the Game

Many have described his smooth action and follow-through as “Poetry in Motion” but I feel his bowling is best described only through Keat’s eternal lines: "a thing of beauty is a joy forever”.

The forty-five-degree, languid, and diagonal approach, cutting through between the Umpire and the non-strikers’ wicket and thereafter, tossing the ball into the air was akin to a spider weaving a web. But the art did not end there but continued with the ball looping across in a parabola dropping on the desired spot and turning to make the best batsmen swoon in disbelief.

So accurate was Bedi that in the cricketing nets, I saw him drop six balls in a row on a fixed leaf with unerring accuracy.

In spite of the varying curvatures of the bowling arm, shifting distances within the bowling crease, and the varying heights of flight, Bedi could make the deliveries fall at an appointed spot as if the balls were attracted by a magnet!

The flight and turn that evoked awe and admiration alike was borne out of hours of toil in the nets. Despite being the embodiment of silken grace, his immaculate art was never bereft of serious introspection as was vivid from his first steps in an international contest in Delhi at the Feroz Shah Kotla ground in 1966.

Playing for Prime Ministers XI, Bedi snared many a top-notch batsman with his “thinking deliveries”, including the prized scalp of the legendary Garfield Sobers! Though he was a man of relentless perseverance and indomitable courage to fight an opponent, Bishen Bhaaji never resorted to any indecency or sledging which are passed off in the modern era as 'gamesmanship'.


A Rare Show of Grace, Integrity and Courage!

Be it the cricketing arena or outside the boundary, Bedi, who made the “Patka” famous across the globe as a Sikh copyright, always played bold, fair, and without malice.

The fiercer the contest, the greater was his motivation and yet, he never carried any rancour or animosity against an opponent and was one of the most sporting players besides Gundappa Vishwanath and Nawab of Pataudi.

Even when a batsman hit him for a six, irrespective of the state of the game, the large-hearted Sardar would applaud generously and sometimes, even pat the man’s back. It is this trait that I miss most in modern cricket… grace under pressure is what most players have lost out in today’s commercially dictated leagues and championships.

Cricket was in Bedi’s veins and he played fair both on and off the maidan. But what really set him apart was his daring to call a spade a spade. His integrity and honesty were non-negotiable and the world of cricket owes him a debt for his courage of convictions that made the world aware of England’s “ball tampering” with Vaseline.

In fact, Bedi’s bold declarations of Indian innings in the West Indies and Pakistan while accusing umpires of prejudice were largely instrumental in forcing the ICC to appoint neutral umpires.

Few cricketers have sacrificed their lives for cricket as Bishen Bedi did and much before the advent of the Indian Premier League (IPL), it was Bishan Bhaaji who fought for better remuneration, travel facilities, and accommodation for cricketers and for which, as per Kapil Dev, Bedi “suffered” but gained player’s respect and gratitude forever.

His fight against BCCI and Delhi District Cricket Association (DDCA) alleging rampant corruption is legendary especially when the biggest corporate honchos cowered before Arun Jaitley, the Finance Minister of India.

Bedi not just pointed out Jaitley’s knowledge of cricket as an abysmal zero but also how corruption in DDCA had grown manifold under the politician. His request for removing his name from a stand at the Feroz Shah Kotla and renouncing his membership because of installation of Arun Jaitley’s statue speaks volumes about the man’s character since he felt sports stadiums must highlight sportspersons, not administrators!


Statistics of his cricketing exploits in the domestic, county, and international arena are listed on Google. But what is unstated is that Bishen Bedi was a gift to cricket whereby his presence lent dignity to the “game of the gentlemen”.

His body may have suffered blows of age but his soul remained unalloyed gold till last. His letter to me when I was a young probationary officer in SBI is a testament to his care and concern for youngsters and Anil Kumble is right on the dot that “Bishan Bhaaji was a father figure and mentor to many.” No wonder, millions across borders mourn for the man of great integrity whose conscience never wavered from its moral compass.

(Deepak Mahaan is a documentary filmmaker and an eminent author. A specialist on Cinema and Sports, he has published numerous pieces in prestigious publications in India and abroad. He tweets at @mahaanmahan. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

Read Latest News and Breaking News at The Quint, browse for more from opinion

Speaking truth to power requires allies like you.
Become a Member
3 months
12 months
12 months
Check Member Benefits
Read More