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Cricketers reflect on their lives and times

Bishan Bedi

'I was obsessed with bowling'

The Rolls-Royce of left-arm spin talks left-arm spin, controversies and friendships

Interview by Ijaz Chaudhry

August 10, 2009

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Bishan Bedi in his delivery stride, June 1974
An action to drool over © Getty Images
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Each member of India's legendary spin quartet had great respect for the others. There was no jealousy. In fact, we always helped each other and learnt a lot from each other. Pras, Chandra and Venkat were all highly educated as well. We still remain in touch with each other.

I was embroiled in many controversies because I couldn't stand foul play.

It is essential for a spin bowler to have a big heart. The margin of error is less as compared to the fast bowler. He should be prepared to take some stick and never lose his temper.

Being a finger spinner, my biggest assets were my fingers. I used to wash my own clothes, which helped in keeping my fingers and wrists strong and supple. Dumbbells do increase strength, but they are not good for suppleness and flexibility.

I have always regarded chucking as a big menace to the game. The ICC's 15-degree rule is highly controversial. It has provided an umbrella to a number of chuckers. If an umpire deems a bowler to be chucking, he is reported rather than being no-balled. This is ridiculous. In the case of the South African [Johan] Botha, whose doosra had been found to be suspect, the ICC biomechanist came out with the strange explanation that a lot of bowlers from the subcontinent could bowl the doosra legally, but not the Caucasian bowlers.

I have never targeted a particular individual. It is not only [Muttiah] Muralitharan, I have openly spoken about Shoaib Akhtar's action and even against my own country man, Harbhajan Singh.

The last Test of the 1975-76 tour of the West Indies was the series decider. India had won the previous Test chasing a world-record target and West Indies felt humiliated. They had been trounced by Australia 1-5 a couple of months back and were hellbent on winning this series. We had reached 200 for 1 in the first innings when the frustrated West Indian captain, Clive Lloyd, instructed his fast bowlers to resort to bouncers and beamers. We had two of our top batsmen hospitalised. I asked the umpire, [Douglas] Sang Hue why he was not applying Law 46, which related to intimidation. He replied, "Mr Bedi, you will leave this country in a few days. I have my family here."

I raised my voice against Indian cricket authorities many a time, mainly for not suitably remunerating the players. Thanks to sellout crowds on all the days of Tests in the huge Indian stadiums, the cricket board used to make great money even in those days of very little sponsorship. But the players' share was a pittance. My efforts bore fruit and we got better contracts.

It was a great honour to be selected for the World XI in 1971-72. I really enjoyed playing with such great players from different nations.

In 1990 I coached the Indian team for a short term, which was the norm those days. I think a coach needs a long tenure to implement his plans; I didn't enjoy the role much.

It was after 18 years and two wars that we were facing Pakistan, in 1978-79. We wanted to maintain goodwill throughout, but it was one-sided. A few crucial umpiring decisions went against us during the Test matches but we didn't complain.

 
 
"It is not only [Muttiah] Muralitharan, I have openly spoken about Shoaib Akhtar's action, and even against my own country man, Harbhajan Singh"
 

In the deciding ODI, at Sahiwal, things went to an extreme. Chasing 206, we were well placed at 183 for 2 when the Pakistani fast bowlers, led by my Northants colleague Sarfraz Nawaz, started sending down bouncers that were clearly out of the batsmen's reach, but the umpires took no action and our protests were ignored. Mushy [Mushtaq Mohammad], who was the captain, didn't stop his bowlers. I had no option but to call the batsmen back and concede the game.

Two Gyans were a great influence during my early career. My father, Gyan Singh Bedi, let me do whatever I wanted to do and never interfered. He was my best friend. My first coach Gyan Prakash really worked hard on me.

India's great run in the early seventies owed mainly to the spinners, but also to the wonderful close-in fielding. Eknath Solkar, the forward short-leg maestro, was, of course, the best, but others like Abid Ali, Ajit Wadekar, Sunil Gavaskar and Gundappa Viswanath also took fine catches. And [Farokh] Engineer behind the stumps was always a source of strength.

I was not a natural athlete so I used to exercise a lot, including yoga, skipping, climbing stairs etc.

Wadekar was a good strategist but the foundations were laid by [MAK] Pataudi. Tiger was perhaps the first captain who brought real cohesiveness to the Indian side. He inculcated true nationalism among the players, and they thought themselves Indians first. Before, the team was crippled by regionalism. He was a fine captain as well but didn't taste much success as the team at his disposal wasn't that good. Wadekar was lucky in many respects. By the time he took up the reins, the spin quartet was at its peak, the close-in fielding had never been better, and batting genius Gavaskar had emerged, and some other batsmen like Dilip Sardesai were in the best form of their lives.

I was obsessed with bowling. I used to bowl for hours during practice.

I had a productive period with Northamptonshire during which the club achieved its greatest glories. They won their first-ever title [Gillette Cup] and had their best-ever finish, second, in the County Championship. But personally the biggest gain was the lifelong friendship with Mushtaq Mohammad. In fact, his mother regarded me as her sixth son. When he penned his autobiography in 2006, I was given the honour of writing the foreword.


Bishan Bedi bowls, Surrey v Indians, Tour match, The Oval, 3rd day, August 2, 1971
"My fingers were my biggest asset" © Getty Images
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I never cared for figures, and felt satisfied only when the team did well irrespective of my own contribution.

I enjoyed hitting Peter Petherick for three sixes in one over in the Kanpur Test of 1976-77 on the way to my only Test half-century.

The Northamptonshire team in 1977 was the best on the county circuit, with players like Mushtaq, Sarfraz, David Steele, Peter Willey, George Sharp etc. But the administration, especially the secretary, Ken Turner, whom we called Fuhrer, destroyed the fabric of the team. A number of players including myself and Mushy were forced to quit. Northants never touched those heights again.

Twenty 20 and IPL are destroying the basic character of the game: too small a time for a player to display his skills. Can you imagine three-hole golf or a 15-minute soccer match?

My home state Punjab has always been rich in cricketing talent, but poor administration has meant that most of the prominent players plied their trade for other states, mostly Delhi. However, I have the honour to be the manager of the Punjab team, which won the Ranji Trophy for the only time, in 1992-93. Incidentally I was also the captain of Delhi when they first won the title in 1978-79.

Cricket has always been the most important part of my life. Presently I run the Bishan Bedi Cricket Coaching Trust. The boys are trained at grassroots level during school vacations, but we don't field a team in any competition. We sometimes take them abroad to England or Australia, for I believe England provides the best finishing school: it offers such a variety in terms of conditions, weather and wickets.

Ijaz Chaudhry writes on cricket and other sports. For more about him and samples of his published work, visit www.sportscorrespondent.info

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