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The many stories of Bishan Singh Bedi

S Giridhar | Updated on June 11, 2021

Warmth: Bishan Singh Bedi was friendly within minutes of shaking hands   -  THE HINDU

Bedi isn’t just a legendary cricketer but also a raconteur par extraordinaire

* When Raghu met Bedi that first time, we had just begun work on our second book From Mumbai to Durban, which would narrate the history of Indian Test cricket through the stories of India’s greatest Test matches

* In the middle of all that Bedi also chided me for not being forthright and critical enough about dubious bowling actions in our earlier book

***

Some months after our book Midwicket Tales had been published, Gideon Haigh, the much acclaimed cricket historian from Australia, wrote a generous review. It also reached his good friend in Delhi, the legendary cricketer Bishan Singh Bedi. Gideon asked me to send Bedi a copy, which I did with alacrity.

Two days later, my phone rang. It was Bedi, exuberant and in his characteristic drawl, telling me he loved the book. I asked him, have you read it already? To which he replied he had only read a few chapters but liked what he had read so much that he had to immediately compliment us. I then introduced Raghu, my friend and co-author, to Bedi over email. Raghu was visiting his daughter in Delhi at that time and even before one could whip the bails off to a Bedi delivery, Raghu was having dinner with Bedi!

When Raghu met Bedi that first time, we had just begun work on our second book From Mumbai to Durban, which would narrate the history of Indian Test cricket through the stories of India’s greatest Test matches. As part of our research at that time, we were reaching out to cricketers and journalists to get their first-hand views, anecdotes and interesting snippets that would embellish the narration. That evening with Bedi was the first of our meetings with the cricketer. We did not have to persuade him because he had already made up his mind to help us. If you have browsed through the book, you will realise how much Bedi contributed to it. He simply gave. I don’t think he even remembers how much he told us.

In November, 2015, Chennai was devastated by floods, rendering many people homeless. Lives were lost, houses ravaged. Bedi living in Delhi was getting desperately worried about his friends in Chennai. Not getting through to them, he called me to ask if his cricketer friends — WV Raman, Srikkanth and a few others — and his new friend Raghu were safe. I had to admit that I did not know about the cricketers but assured him that Raghu was safe. Bedi was distraught and rang off to check with some other friends. That’s how Bedi is wired, genuinely concerned about his people.

Under happier circumstances some months later, I got a call one evening at 9 pm. ‘This is Bishan. I am in your town, at The Leela. Want to come over for dinner?’ Since I live very close to The Leela, I was ringing his door bell within minutes. Bedi welcomed me with a hug. And then mischievously he pointed me towards the shadowy corner of the room. Leaning against the wall was Sunil Joshi, former India left arm spinner and, in some ways, Bedi’s protégé. I told Bedi that like a good South Indian, I had finished dinner much before his call came. So he said, “Ok, have a beer”. Then rubbing his hands and leaning in his luxurious chair, he said, “When Sunil dropped in to see me, I thought I will call you over so that you can press him for some stories, too.” Joshi, of course, is a lovely raconteur with an impish sense of humour. We set up a meeting for a later day where he shared some lovely stories. Joshi was also most charming at one of our book events and his humour had the crowd in splits.

That evening at The Leela, Bedi was in form. He told of his love for players like Pataudi and Jaisimha; of the spirit in which sport must be played. He narrated stories from the Indian tour of West Indies in 1976; told us about crazy helicopter rides in Guyana; and about a nervous Jaisimha always smoking like a chimney before his turn to bat. Then with loud guffaws he also told us wicked stories about Lala Amarnath and his endless bragging. In the middle of all that he also chided me (and Raghu in his absence) for not being forthright and critical enough about dubious bowling actions in our earlier book. He was, of course, referring to our chapter on great off spinners! Time flew as I soaked in the stories and it was well past midnight when I reached home.

As the manuscript of our book From Mumbai to Durban reached its final stages, Raghu and I wanted to be sure we would not be misquoting him. One of those stories was about Lala Amarnath’s boast of doing 10,000 skips with the skipping rope in 30 minutes. We feared we might not have got the number right and so we called him to check. As we repeated our query, he interjected to say, “Nah, it is 30,000 that he claimed not 10,000 skips”. So what we thought was a tall story became taller when we went back to Bedi to reconfirm.

That’s the fun of being acquainted with Bedi. We are pretty sure he is the same with almost everyone, friendly within minutes of shaking hands. That heart is large, generous, and it overflows.

S Giridhar is the Chief Operating Officer of Azim Premji University, and has co-authored books on cricket and also written a book on India’s extraordinary teachers

Published on June 11, 2021

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