The great Bishan Singh Bedi, who died at age 77 today, was a great, insightful obituary-writer who memorialised the deceased with affection and fondness. He would occasionally call in with a request. “Bachche,” he would say, “I’m sad. I’ve lost a great friend, a great sportsperson who had a great influence on me. A fine, fine sportsperson! I have written an obit, please carry.” The deceased would turn out to be perhaps his first Ranji Trophy captain, or a coach in Amritsar – and not particularly famous. It would be a minor cricketer, notches below the stature of Bedi himself – but Bedi would not consider him an unequal human being.
This, in the final analysis, must be remembered as his greatest attribute – the inherent humanity of a good man, which is often lost in the glitz of success and riches. Indeed, the Amritsar man’s generosity of spirit knew no boundaries, and he made lifelong friends wherever he played cricket, wherever he travelled as a coach and ambassador of the game.
Bedi was a formidable adversary, too – and it must be recorded that he was always on the side of the line that divides right from wrong; in times when riches to be made from the game, as commentator and cricketer and administrator, have left most former cricketers highly compromised, Bedi was the man who could be trusted to speak his mind without fear – and one, probably the last, moral compass of the sport. If he loved you, Bedi would fight in the trenches for you, to the very end; and if he disliked you — mostly over some moral failing in cricket — he would dip his pen in venom to criticise that failing. Bedi hated the auction of players in the IPL; he had a lifelong problem with Muttiah Muralitharan’s bowling action; he was a traditionalist who didn’t spare his former teammates for becoming ‘cheerleaders’ of the T20 format, which he believed was harmful for cricket; he loved Anil Kumble as a bowler, but when Kumble got embroiled in a conflict of interest situation in his multiple roles as a player, administrator, coach and businessman, Bedi didn’t spare him.
The players who got inspired by Bedi during his stint as a player, captain or coach in Punjab and Delhi swear by the skill, kindness and generosity of the great sardar.
On the field, of course, he is regarded as the greatest ever left-arm spinner — ‘poetry in motion’ is how his leisurely, gentle run-up and the fluid action were described by those who played with and against him during his heyday in the 1960s and 1970s. Some of his unbounded art as a magical practitioner of spin bowling can be savoured on YouTube — grainy though the videos are, and the videography isn’t of the highest standards, you’d appreciate his skill. In early 2021, he underwent a bypass surgery, and another to remove a clot from his brain. His calls and messages ceased — sadly, no more obits from the greatest left-armer, and a great human being.