Updated: November 17, 2011 12:45 IST

Casting spells with the ball

S. Dinakar
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Bishan Singh Bedi displayed his wares in an era when the game was more of a romance and less of a sport driven by commerce. On the field, he could spell magic with his flight and spin, variations, and dip. Not many delivered a more potent arm ball, harnessed the crease and the angles better, bowled with a more flowing and easy action, or played on the ego of the batsman with such daring.

Bedi loved it when the man wielding the willow came after him. He would then go for the kill. The left-arm spinner relished the sniff of a duel and the challenges that came with the territory. Blunt and honest, he battled the forces that tried to push him and his team mates out of the centre-stage. He often put himself in the line of fire against the authorities, and for many, he was a cricketer’s cricketer.

As Suresh Menon, an accomplished sports writer, notes in the book under review, “When he [Bedi] bowled, nothing else mattered. It might have been thus when Victor Trumper batted.” He says, Bedi “loved to bowl and, so obviously delighted in it that he easily communicated that feeling to the spectators … It wasn’t just the beautifulpatkasthat he always wore but the sheer, childlike happiness so manifest in everything he did from the moment he began his short run-up to the wicket.”

Apart from chronicling Bedi’s career as a match-winning spinner for India, the book brings out the spirit of the man. Menon dwells on his astonishing transformation — from a shy, prayer-chanting youngster who rarely ventured out on tours to a plain speaking showman who shared a symbiotic relationship with the crowd.

As Menon recalls, it was the 1971 tour down under, as a part of the Rest of the World team, that changed Bedi. The Aussie spectators took a liking for the man who cast a spell with his bowling but appeared both entertaining and vulnerable with his batting and fielding.

Gradually, Bedi overcame his inhibitions, thanks to his uncanny ability to laugh at himself, and turned into an extrovert who was conscious of the power of his bowling and the strength of his personality. The transformation in Bedi is delineated in a delightful fashion.

Of course, Menon sheds light on a young Bedi’s learning experience under Tiger Pataudi’s influential captaincy, the unfair treatment he received from the officialdom resulting in his developing a negative mindset against the cricket authorities, and his eye-opening and character-testing brushes with volatile Indian crowds. Along the way, he gives a fascinating insight into the myriad hues of times. Amid darkness, Bedi always saw motes of light.

Predictably, the book focusses on the exploits of the Indian spin quartet of the ‘60s and ‘70s — Bedi, Erapalli Prasanna, Bhagwat Chandrasekar, and Srinivas Venkatraghavan. Conquering West Indies and England — both the Test series triumphs were achieved away from home in 1971 — India became, or got very close to becoming, the unofficial No.1 in Tests. Then came the disastrous tour of England — infamously referred to as the summer of ’42 — in ’74 when the host blew away Ajit Wadekar’s men, 3-0. And in the Lord’s Test, the Indians were bundled out for a measly 42.

Not surprisingly, Bedi found himself elevated as skipper in the mid-’70s. He was a bold captain, someone with great integrity and the guts to question double standards and nepotism. The Board of Control for Cricket in India often saw him as a rebellious captain, but Bedi was hardly the kind who can be reined in by issuing threats and authoritarian diktats.

The author also takes a look at Bedi-related controversies. For instance, his conflict with Sunil Gavaskar; his debatable declaration during the ‘bloodbath’ in Jamaica in ’76; and his harsh words against the English ‘tactics’ when the ‘John Lever Vaseline Affair’ broke out in the Madras Test the next season.

Bedi’s cricketing methods, though, were always upright and his vision clear. After retirement, he has taken to coaching, and he implores his wards to “go out there and enjoy the game.” Cricket knows no boundaries. Bedi has readily passed on his knowledge and skills to those from other countries.

This is how another spin legend Anil Kumble portrays (in his foreword) Bedi, the man and his cricket: “Bedi is unique. As a cricketer, as a person and as one of the most pleasing sights you can hope to see at the bowling crease. He enjoys his cricket, enjoys the poetry of the game and hopes to see only the good things on the field of play.”

Bedi, indeed, is a precious cricketing jewel that is still luminous.

BISHAN-Portrait of a cricketer: Suresh Menon; Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd., 11, Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi-110017.

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