Bishan Bedi – They Don’t Make ‘Em Like Him Anymore
Bishan Bedi, forever forging his own path.
From the bylanes of Amritsar to the Indian cricket team, Bishan Singh Bedi forged his way into cricketing folklore by becoming a part of the famed Indian spin quartet of the late 1960s and 1970s. His cricketing deeds are known by all, but it is his personality on and off the field which always drew more attention.
Heavily influenced by the late Mansoor Ali Khan ‘Tiger’ Pataudi, Bedi flourished under his leadership the most. In fact the spin quartet, also consisting of Erapalli Prasanna, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar and Srinivas Venkatraghavan, blossomed under Pataudi. Bedi was the one achieved who cult status with his pleasant bowling style, lovely flight, flowing patkas and of course his legendary claps for every six hit off his bowling. In the 1970s Indian cricket, for the outside world, was all about Bedi, along with the batting of Sunil Gavaskar and Gundappa Viswanath.
Bedi was a superstar in his own right. One who played by his own rules, never quite giving a damn. He once got banned by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) for giving an interview to BBC on the disastrous 1974 England tour!
Leader of Men
When he did take over as captain full-time in 1975-76, there were traces of the Tiger’s influence there as well. Bedi was one of the boys, always prepared as he was to get his hands dirty. His three years as captain may have lasted just 22 Test matches, but they were the most eventful.
It started off in New Zealand, but his leadership came to the fore in West Indies in 1976 when his batting line-up bore the brunt of their pace battery. West Indies were chastened by India chasing down a record 406 at Trinidad and followed it up with a barrage from their pacemen at Jamaica. India was left with no batsmen, with half the side either injured or in the hospital. Bedi declared the innings in protest to protect his spinners.
Later that year, he accused England paceman John Lever of using Vaseline to polish the ball during their tour to India in 1976-77. Bedi paid for this accusation dearly. India lost the series, and Bedi lost his Northamptonshire county contract after six uninterrupted years!
His most famous battle as captain came in 1977-78 against a second-string Australia side. India almost chased down 400-plus targets again. India let slip an opportunity to chase down the massive targets twice in that series, to eventually lose it 2-3. It was then considered a missed opportunity for India to win a series in Australia.
His final moment as captain came in Pakistan in that graveyard of a series for the spin quartet. Bedi’s action to concede an ODI, with India needing just 23 runs off 14 balls, to protest against Sarfaraz Nawaz’s bouncers, earned him the dubious distinction of being the first to do so.
But Bedi’s leadership left a mark. Someone like Kapil Dev would later write about how Bedi’s ability to break ranks endeared him to the younger lot. He was always someone who was ready for a fight.
Personality Clashes With Gavaskar
Bishan Bedi’s tendency to never hold back was most visible during his playing days. He never got along with two strong personalities and both incidentally from Mumbai; Ajit Wadekar and Sunil Gavaskar. In the 1970s, parochialism was at its peak in Indian cricket and so where you came from defined your place in the sport. Bedi had open disagreements with captain Wadekar on the 1974 England tour.
Bedi and Gavaskar never saw eye-to-eye on a number of topics. They had immense respect for each other’s cricketing abilities, so much so that Bedi named his first-born son from his first wife from Australia, Gavasinder Singh. But like it happens with two champion cricketers, their personalities varied and so they never got along.
Bedi’s playing days ended when Gavaskar took over as Indian captain on a full-time basis in 1979. Later, when Gavaskar was sacked and reinstated as captain, Bedi was a national selector. Finally, Gavaskar resigned as captain in 1985 primarily because some (read: Bedi) in the selection committee were baying for his blood.
Years later in 2007, Bedi called Gavaskar a ‘destructive influence’ on Indian cricket!
"Cricket circles had immense and blind respect for him (as a cricketer) and he successfully used this to ensure that board officials remained in awe of him," Bedi told Outlook. "He wants the glamour, the position, and if there are any financial gains, so much the better ... but he does not want any accountability. He's always liked power without accountability."
"I had a lot of time for his batting but never as a thought leader," added Bedi. "You tell me what his contribution has been. He is destructive, there is nothing positive.”
New Role For a New Generation
Even when he was called in as cricket manager in the early 1980s on an ad hoc basis, Bedi was famous for his maniacal fitness sessions. He placed a huge premium on sides being fit.
When India finally went in for a full-time team coach or cricket manager as they were called then in 1990, Bedi was the first choice. India’s young captain Mohammed Azharuddin and Bedi hit it off instantly. India had chosen a young and inexperienced ‘Team of the 1990s’ to be guided by Bedi on that tour of New Zealand. Bedi made instant headlines even as cricket manager, when he suggested that he could get the entire squad thrown in the Pacific Ocean! This was in response to the side failing to chase a modest total against Australia in a tri-series game on that tour.
He then undertook what is still considered one of the best training camps before the England tour that followed with total focus on fitness.
On the tour itself, Bedi openly disagreed with Azhar on his decision to make the home team bat first at Lord’s in the first Test. That Lord’s Test of 1990 is now famous for the then England captain Graham Gooch’s 333. India lost the Test and the series 1-0. Azhar and Bedi had a massive fallout, so much so that the Indian captain said that the team did not need any coach or cricket manager.
Bedi reappeared as coach of Punjab, Delhi and Jammu & Kashmir Ranji sides. He was most successful with Punjab as he guided the side to a Ranji win in 1992-93. He had various run-ins with the association officials across the three states mostly because he was outspoken.
He was also unsparing in his comments about Sri Lankan spinner Muttiah Muralitharan, often commenting about his action. Bedi would liken Murali to a javelin thrower and say all his scalps were actually run-outs. Murali threatened legal action, but never actually followed up on it. Legal bowling actions was a topic dear to Bedi and he considered the issue as the biggest topic afflicting the sport, bigger than even match-fixing. He even took on Harbhajan Singh for his action.
His battles to get the Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA) administration cleaned up later became the goal of his life. He even stood for DDCA presidential elections but failed to get elected.
Bedi has also not been very complimentary about Twenty20 cricket, especially the Indian Premier League (IPL). Though he did make it to an IPL game when he was being felicitated with a lifetime pension by the BCCI.
Whenever a crisis hits Indian cricket or the sport in general, Bedi is often the first voice of dissent that emerges. He is prepared to call a spade a spade and that, perhaps, is his biggest calling card.
It’s a life well lived and it is a gift for our times that he graced the cricket grounds across the globe.
(Chandresh Narayanan is former cricket writer with The Times of India, The Indian Express, ex-Media Officer for ICC and current media manager of Delhi Daredevils. He is also the author of World Cup Heroes, Cricket Editorial consultant, professor and cricket TV commentator.)
(This story was first published on 25 September 2018 and has been reposted from The Quint's archives to mark Bishan Singh Bedi’s 74th birthday.)
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