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September 29, 1997


Cricket Commentary/Amrit Mathur

'The bowlers should turn the ball, not the wicket'

Bishen Singh Bedi Through the seventies, Indian spin was the toast of the cricketing world. With cunning and guile, with deception and stealth, the Fab Four -- Bedi, Chandra, Pras and Venkat -- often grabbed incredible victory from the jaws of defeat.

All that is a thing of the past. Indian spin is today a sad charade, with not one spinner capable of winning a game on his own.

In this encounter with Amrit Mathur, the greatest leftarm spinner of them all reveals why Indian spinners aren't good enough anymore.

The essence of spin bowling, says Bishan Bedi who ought to know a trick or two about the craft, is to put it there on the spot. All the variety in the world is worthless if the ball is not in the right place. Without control, there is no protection against the batsman. Likewise, in a team game like cricket, performances are significant only if they lead to victories. Personal achievements are for statisticians. Which is why Vishy was a truly great player -- he won matches for India.

Bishan was sitting on the lawns of his farmhouse, Cricket Abode, 15 kms out of Delhi beyond the Qutub. Cricket Abode has practice cricket pitches in the front, a garden full of nimbu/sabji in the back, the place guarded by an army of 11 fierce dogs.

He expressed concern about the sorry state of Indian spin, the inability to make a dent on decent tracks. "No," he said shaking his head, "one day cricket is not responsible for the decline. There's an acute scarcity of talent and mental ability. Good bowlers are good bowlers whether they bowl 10 or 40 overs; they don't need dust bowls to turn. The bowlers should turn the ball, not the wicket."

Chandra Bishan was in his element. As usual he spoke with uncommon common sense on cricket. For someone so deeply involved, the Indian team's repeated massacre pains him, each defeat sends him into a spin of deep disappoint. Jayasuriya in recent form is a merciless slayer. In Bishan's opinion the only way to restrain him is to dispatch Hanuman to the emerald island -- with instructions to repeat what he once did in history. Yet Bishan feels the Sri Lankan provokes suicide by depending on naked aggression. "Pras would have got him, no problem."

Perhaps Bishan is in his own world, swathed in yesterday. With a vision tainted by past events he may not always objectively assess current reality. As a spinner he was simply superb, lyrical and amazingly fluid, a great sight as he floated into mesmerise batsmen with guile and unrelenting control. Incredibly, his craft, so pure and perfect, was self taught. There was no guru in the background standing close to the net to iron out rough edges. The inspiration and the rage was within him; he slogged alone to attain perfection in the non-cricketing atmosphere of Amritsar.

Bishan's rich skills bought him rich rewards -- he became Test cricket's most successful left-armer, India's captain and acquired a justified reputation as a genius. He lived what Khushwant Singh would describe a full life, an unending whirl of excitement in which controversies were an integral part. Bishan, not one to be bothered excessively about niceties, expectedly ran foul of the establishment in India, was consequently disciplined and dropped temporarily from Tests.

Anil Kumble His spats with cricket authorities were much sharper in England, the infamous Vaseline issue led to a premature termination at Northants causing loss of benefits and huge financial losses. Also, there arose the supremely ridiculous situation when peeved English authorities questioned his bowling action -- something as silly as asking Mick Jagger to obtain a recommendation from All India Radio's Sangeet Sabha.

Despite these slurs, Bishan harbours no ill feelings against the Angrez. In fact, he is just back from England where he took a team of youngsters. His team played 18 matches. Bishan, in the role of coach/manager/doctor/parent/driver, logged close to 4,000 miles ferrying them across the country. He thinks the British are organised, very committed, very serious about cricket. Tony Lewis and Dennis Amiss were particularly helpful, the boys learnt a lot; already, Bishan is finalising the programme for a longer visit next year.

Bishan enjoys teaching, spending time with youngsters because he is genuine about giving back to the game. Working for cricket without preconditions about monetary returns, he is easy with his advice, ever willing to share his experiences with players. Keen on listening, never found lacking when it comes to helping cricketers.

But more than coaching kids what he yearns for is perhaps another crack at mending the Indian side. His stint as manager when Azhar was captain was mixed as the two squabbled openly. In his typical way Bishan was dictatorial and dogmatic -- he emphasised hard work, spared nobody. Many stalwarts in the Indian team crumbled under the load and as the bones creaked they cribbed and cried ceaselessly.

But today more than ever before it is starkly evident Bishan was right. There is no substitute for bending the back, the unfit will certainly remain unsuccessful. Also, the growing realisation in India that the best management tool is the danda. If you have to deliver, then the doctrine of Dadagiri matters.

V Raju Bishan is temperamental, has strong opinions and little time for people he disagrees with. Yet, with the passage of time and with more grey in his beard the man has changed enormously. Compared to the past, he is less wound up, more tolerant, more at ease. Shockingly, he now only drinks colas -- no booze for almost a year -- and seeks tranquillity through spiritual discourses and meditation camps which involve a firm embargo on speech. Can you imagine Bishan Bedi silent for 10 days? Not a word out of him!

It was great, says Bishan, a tremendous healing experience. The introspection gives peace and inner strength. It clears the mind and controls want, greed, desire, craving.

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