The Sardar of spin was the classicist in the Indian spin pantheon
In his prime, he was the bulwark of Indian cricket. A left arm orthodox bowler of unparalleled guile whose beautifully balanced bowling action pivoted on balletic feet, Bishan Singh Bedi left an indelible mark on the game. He was a popular figure wherever he played the game, being from Amritsar at the age of 15 when he turned out for Northern Punjab to Northamptonshire, his 1,560 first class wickets the highest by any Indian bowler and his 266 Test wickets representing a landmark passed much later by others.
The Sardar of spin was the classicist in the Indian spin pantheon, most famous at the time four of them — Prasanna, Chandrasekhar, Venkataraghavan and Bedi — played as contemporaries even if they figured in only one Test together (in 1967, in England, which India lost by an innings). His colourful patkas lit up the game as much as the aesthetic joy he brought with his poise and grace in the 20 first class seasons he played in.
A colourful personality with strong views on the rights of players, Bedi was not always popular with the BCCI. He could have been named captain when he was stood down from a Test in 1974-75 for giving an interview to the BBC. In his playing career, he consistently took on the Establishment which thought of him as a rebel, before his love for the game saw him come into administration as well as coaching. He was willing to wear any hat, including that of tour manager, in the service of the game, but on his own terms.
His contribution to the game will long be remembered. Believing firmly that “art is universal”, he was willing to pass on bowling tips even to Pakistan spinners during a decisive Test match of the 1987 series that was played on a vile turner, and which India lost. He may have tread on more than a few toes as he opposed politicians in cricket administration. It was an undying love for the game that was central to his life. Even in his very last days of ill health during which he couldn’t be the engaging conversationalist on the game, he still recognised the red sphere of a cricket ball which he tweaked in his garden with that great bowling arm of his.