Bishan Singh Bedi may have stopped playing cricket decades ago. Yet the Delhiite’s engagement with the game is far from over.
The sagacious look is a gift of time. Bishan Singh Bedi, one of the finest exponents of spin bowling, hailed as “poetry in motion” by many a critic who wrote about him at his prime, is a busy man. He has been busy ever since he stopped playing. He bowled left-arm, batted right-handed but always spoke straight, calling a spade a spade, unfailingly and selflessly standing up for his colleagues, taking up cudgels against the administration. They thrived and he paid the penalty but he carried on sportingly. The spirit within would not allow him to accept injustice. He has never compromised with principles and values that he continues to impart in today’s crass and commercial society.
Bedi’s busy life begins at 4 a.m. Meditation and spiritual devotion keeps him amazingly fresh and committed. His farm house near Mehrauli has been aptly named Cricket Abode. It is. Outdoor, there is a pitch to analyze and improve a young cricketer’s dreams. Inside, he is wrapped up in cricket literature. “Yes, I read a lot. I am still a student of the game,” his reverence for cricket is genuinely warm.
“The game has evolved in my ways, for the better, for the worse. I love it as I loved it when I took to it. I consider myself a student of the game. I did not have this thought when I was playing. I learnt more about the game after I finished playing but my intensity has not diminished. I am excited about cricket even as I speak to you about it because cricket is a beautiful mode of communication.”
The guru is an unabashed cricket pupil and its greatest promoter too. Nothing hurts him more than cricket being taken for granted and ridiculed. His campaign against bowlers with dodgy action has time and again shaken the administration and led to debates, especially among the coaches who back Bedi’s views.
“You don’t play cricket. You live it,” Bedi says. “I genuinely feel agitated when the game is hurt or dented. This great game is a universal truth. You just can’t compare cricket with any other game. It has its own character, charisma, a feel-good aura about it and not necessarily when winning. I love to sit and watch the Ashes (at 5.30 in the morning). It gives you such a lovely feeling.”
Cricket conversation with Bedi, who took 1560 first-class wickets in 370 matches, including 266 in 67 Tests, is an education. It is a fascinating experience of learning various aspects of cricket through anecdotes that reflect his deep knowledge and love for the game. “Don (Bradman), SRT (Sachin Tendulkar), (Garry) Sobers, (Shane) Warne, Viv (Richards) were messengers of the game. I never saw Don bat, I never saw Wilfred Rhodes, who started at No 11 and finished as an opener for Yorkshire; I never saw WG Grace, Jack Hobbs, Frank Wooley but I have read about them and from the books I know they were all great cricketers.”
A voracious reader, Bedi has an enviable library of cricket books collected over years of playing and travelling. “I am very fond of cricket literature. From books I could know that Hobbs hit his 100th century at the age of 47 and went on to score 97 more. In his last season, he hit 17 centuries and that too after having announced his retirement. When he was asked why he was retiring when he was still doing well, he had a simple answer. Earlier, he was scoring a century in three hours and it was taking him two more. That’s why he decided to retire. What a cricketer he must have been! His centuries came in first-class cricket and not one-dayers against Kenya, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh. Today’s supporters don’t realise it because they are basically TV camera fans and not cricket fans.”
Bedi’s respect for old cricketers is moving. “We are because of them. Cricket did not start with me and will not finish with me. I consider myself fortunate to have played with and against greats like Sobers and Viv. Their greatness can never be described, never. The great (West Indian author) CLR James once wrote that in Sobers’ case, the scoreboard became superfluous. You did not look at the scoreboard. You looked at Sobers and what he was doing in the middle. No one said such a thing for SRT. I miss such players and writers. Today’s commentators lack the vocabulary.”
A cricketer to the core, Bedi can talk on the subject endlessly. “Cricket is limitless. You can’t judge its depths, length and breadth. It is a highly spirited activity. Sadly, it is measured these days in terms of commerce. Cricket should be value oriented and not just be about bank balance. God has been very kind to me. Cricket too has been exceptionally kind to me. I read a lot about the game, it is not about the academics because to me cricket is the biggest university, the biggest platform to learn and grow. It is a game that compels you to make a mistake. You make a mistake and then learn. Cricket makes you realise you are, after all, human. And, to err is human. It is a great philosophy.”
His concern and affection for fellow sportspersons, particularly the youngsters, can sometimes transform him into a fan. “Do you have Sania Mirza’s number? Want to congratulate her (on a win).” And then “Please pass me Jwala Gutta’s cell number. She is brave (in her fight against the administration).” A youngster’s achievement triggers a wave of celebration in Bedi. And a defeat at hockey leaves him crestfallen. “Our national game is hockey, not cricket. My heart bleeds when we fail at hockey.”
Bedi, now 67, came to Delhi from Amritsar in 1968 and has seen the city grow in all spheres of life. “I love Delhi. The people here are so different, politically inclined but the city is bursting at the seams; too many people in the city. There has been progress but it has led to chaos. To me, it is not about the roads, flyovers, Metro. I want to see how well Delhi is doing in sports. How many Olympians hail from Delhi? How many champions come from Delhi? Every city will have doctors, engineers, businessmen, lawyers, politicians, philosophers. How many cities can take pride in owning Olympians and champions? To me, that is the best way to evaluate a city, a town or a village. Sansarpur (a village in Punjab) has given so many hockey internationals. We sadly don’t have such sporting landmarks anymore.”
To Bedi, the youth of today is the most important element that can take the nation forward. “Channelising the energy of youth is important. It is the part of life that can never come back and this learning process has to be enjoyed. My father gave me the freedom to enjoy my youth with a caution that I should never cause an embarrassment to him. That one line became my code of conduct.” A parting question, the secret of his healthy life, mirrors the true Bishan Singh Bedi. “I laugh at myself. I laugh at myself every time I fail or fall. Try it. You will enjoy life better.”