Bishan Singh Bedi along with Sunil Gavaskar and Gundappa Vishwanath were the most visible faces of Indian cricket in the ’70s. Every winter season, basking in the lazy sun and listening to cricket commentary on a small radio used to be the most cherished time those days. We students used to carry small radio sets even in the classrooms. Glued to our ears we could only conjure up images of Bishen Singh Bedi bowling his left-arm flighted deliveries from one end and getting wickets at regular intervals with his deceptive bowling.
The news of Bedi’s death at the age of 77 due to prolonged illness in New Delhi on October 23, 2023, signifies the end of an era when spin bowling was the king. Personally, it brought back for me a flood of memories of growing up with cricket commentary in the 1970s. I had not seen much of his bowling till the advent of YouTube. Watching his bowling style and deceptive flighted deliveries, ended up increasing my respect for the great bowler several notches higher. It was a pure work of art and yet so effective in getting wickets for India.
As a bowler, Bedi had a tall stature in world cricket. He along with the other members of the famous spin quartet shouldered the bowling attack for many years winning matches for the country in India and abroad. He was the best and the most consistent bowler that India had then. He is even considered one of the finest spinners in the history of cricket. The mainstay of the Indian bowling attack was the famous spin quartet of Bedi, Bhagwat Chandrashekhar, Erapelli Prasanna and Srinivas Venkat Raghwan. And the crown jewel among the four of them was undoubtedly none other than Bishen Singh Bedi.
Indian cricket faced a unique and strange predicament in the 60s and 70s. India had no fast bowlers and even medium pacers were difficult to come by. Very often they opened their bowling attack with a spinner. It feels so funny to recall how Sunil Gavaskar would be called sometimes to open the bowling attack if there was no medium pacer in the team. After one or two overs, the spinners would take over.
The spinners of India led by Bedi handled the responsibility very well in the absence of a pace bowler. The wizardry of these spinners won several matches and series for India. Bedi has a unique record to his name. In the 1975 Prudential World Cup, he got the unique distinction of bowling the highest number of maiden overs. In a match against South Africa at Leeds, his bowling analysis was 12 overs, 8 maiden and one wicket.
Bedi was an orthodox left-arm spinner. There was a gentle grace in his bowling style. Starting from his run-up to the bowl delivery and the deceptive flight of the ball, everything was a pure work of art. His bowling looked beautiful, elegant and subtle. No doubt Mike Brearley, one of the English Captains, had called his bowling ‘beautiful. He was not a defensive bowler at all. His bowling would tempt the batsman to come out and hit him. His slow flighted deliveries looked deceptively simple and they were bowled with the same action. But there would be subtle variations of flight, loop, line and length. Batsmen would come out to hit him for a six but would get outfoxed by the guile of the delivery. Even when he was being hit by an aggressive batsman, he would never lose his poise and equanimity. His bowling was best described by the well-known cricket writer H Natrajan, who wrote, “The left-arm spinner was stealthy, silent and deadly; a master of deception who conjured variations in flight, loop, spin and pace without any perceptible change in action”. No doubt why the little master of yesteryears, Gavaskar, in his tribute to his teammate, called Bedi the greatest left-arm spinner to have played the game.
The current generation of cricket fans may not be able to fathom the tall stature of this iconic player. He used to be among the highest wicket-takers among the spinners of the world, and I as a cricket lover, always wonder at the temerity of this bowler who had so much belief in his art that he never felt the need to increase his bowling speed or resort to flat deliveries to save runs. He flighted the ball higher than any other bowler in the world. His movement was supple and the variations in his spin were too subtle for the batsman to notice.
While his art was subtle, Bedi as a person was too outspoken. He never shied away from speaking his mind. I remember during the 1975 Test against the West Indies, Bedi as a captain, recalled his batsmen back to the pavilion in protest of the hostile bowling tactics adopted by the West Indian pacers. Five of the Indian batsmen had retired hurt then. The West Indian bowlers had resorted to a barrage of bouncers and beamers delivered to hurt the Indian batsmen.
Bishen Singh Bedi’s bowling was a purist’s delight. He was praised by the greatest batsman of all time, Donald Bradman, in no uncertain terms. He said, “Bedi was a real study for the connoisseur and amongst the finest bowlers of his type”.