June 1, 2015

Listen to Bedi

The former left-arm spinner's trenchant views on selection, and on the treatment of India's spinners in particular, should not be ignored

Bishan Bedi: brutally honest; still witty © AFP

Bishan Bedi has been known for plain-speaking and relentless truth-telling all through his cricket career and after, even if it sometimes means taking a spade to a soufflé. Though he has his share of critics, some of us who are admirers of his wonderful left-arm spin bowling, his respect for history and tradition, and his genuine concern for cricket, tend to agree with most of his views. I have, in particular, been a fan of his frank and often loud disdain for the dictates of commerce in cricket and the merits of T20, his outspokenness on the doosra and illegal bowling actions, and his contempt for doublespeak in the corridors of power.

Strong as his views are, his outrageous sense of the absurd forces you to laugh with him at the foibles of lesser mortals. I still vividly remember the shocked expression, many years ago, of a TV anchor when Bedi claimed on air that the financial irregularities in the BCCI were bigger than the hawala scandal raging then.

On another TV show, he told a long story of how debutant Nilesh Kulkarni sought Sachin Tendulkar's advice when a second wicket eluded him after he took one with his very first delivery in Test cricket. Sri Lanka made over 900 in that innings, and Bedi slowly built up to a climax, narrating how Kulkarni reeled out a detailed list of tricks and stratagems he tried in vain as the Sri Lankans piled on the agony. Bedi ended the suspense finally by quoting Tendulkar as saying, "Go get Visa power" - a line from a popular TV commercial (featuring Tendulkar) then. And whether they agreed with him or not, the audience at Bedi's over-the-top Nani Palkhivala Memorial lecture in Chennai a couple of years ago went into paroxysms of laughter over his views on a wide range of subjects from the BCCI and the IPL to the alleged timidity of umpires in the matter of chucking.

Bedi's recent criticism of the Indian selectors' tendency to pitchfork young spinners into Test cricket on the basis of their so-called success in the IPL is a case in point. Four overs in T20 is rapidly becoming the new 15 minutes of fame. It should remain just that -15 minutes of fame - unless the bowler in question has proven credentials in the longer game. Karn Sharma's selection in the Test team for the Bangladesh tour is a baffling one, especially given the manner in which the folly of the move was exposed in Australia not so long ago. Are the selectors not sending wrong signals to Test aspirants, such as those still remaining in this new era of instant gratification? What might those bowlers who have been around for years be feeling? Do they feel cheated? Are they already reconciled to the imminent end of their Test hopes? Should the national selectors not insist on at least two or three good first-class seasons as a minimum criterion for selection to the Indian team?

Not for the first time, spinners have found their way into the Test squad following good individual IPL seasons © Getty Images

Bedi is equally critical of the decision to bring back Harbhajan Singh, the rationale behind whose recall seems whimsical at best. Two offspinners in the playing XI to counter the preponderance of left-hand batsmen in the Bangladesh team? Is India going back to the old three-spinner formula, or is Karn already consigned to the reserve benches? Is R Ashwin's place in the XI threatened? What a lovely irony it will be, even if the idea belongs in the realm of fantasy, if Bangladesh magically unearth some right-handed batting sensations to spoil the Indian selectors' plans? When did India last follow such a dedicated horses-for-courses selection policy? With due respect for Bangladesh's cricketers, the Indian team could have been selected with an eye on the future rather than on success in this series.

Extending the poor logic of selecting Test players on the basis of IPL performances to cover such areas as captaincy, Rohit Sharma's second success as Mumbai Indians captain could soon advance his claims to Test captaincy opportunities. The recent spate of laudatory articles on his leadership skills in the press does suggest a nascent school of thought in favour of him being groomed for the job that is now Virat Kohli's. Rohit may well have it in him to be a good Test captain, but he must first consolidate his position as a batsman, mustn't he?

Bedi has recommended the appointment of a strong coach to manage Kohli's short temper. For all we know, such a move could lead to trouble of a kind that harks back to the Chappell-Ganguly days. Never a dull moment in Indian cricket.

V Ramnarayan bowled offspin for Hyderabad and South Zone in the 1970s. His latest book is Third Man, Recollections from a Life in Cricket

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