Bishan Bedi – more than meets the eye

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PAUL CARRICK shares his story of how he met the cricketing great and down-to-earth Bishan Bedi.

“No Problem, No Problem” was the cheerful response to a cold call I had made to one of the statesmen of the world game. A friend of mine had procured his number and I wanted to get something signed. “But how are we gonna do this” he continued,” you can come over to my place I live quite a distance from the city centre, but your welcome to come over”.

It’s December 8th 2009, I’m in the wonderful city of New Delhi with great company. Neil Killeen Durham “Lifer” over 600 wickets in all competitions and statistically the best one day bowler in England for a couple of seasons in his 16 year career and Martin Speight former Sussex and Durham explosive and innovative batsman for whom IPL came a generation too late. His career 10,000 first class runs doesn’t tell the full story. Speight is a very accomplished artist and we have with us a pencil portrait of Bishan Bedi and the great man has just agreed to sign it. “Oh I tell you what, I have an appointment at the Delhi Golf Club tomorrow I’ll meet you there about one o’clock if you like”. Tomorrow at One O’clock it is then.

We are in the car park at 12:45 waiting for him to arrive. The pioneering left arm spinner, Bishan Bedi, is arguably the best of his trade that the world has ever seen. His smooth repeatable action made it almost impossible to detect a change of pace. His 1560 domestic  first class wickets is an Indian record. They cost him 21.69 over a career that spanned 20 years from his debut in 1961. His 6 year spell at Northamptonshire yielded 434 wickets. The term ball on a string appears to have been invented for him.

By 1:15pm he still hasn’t arrived, we’ve been in India long enough to know that the allotted time is only a generalisation in a country  with over a billion people and where the average motorway will accommodate 5 lanes of gridlocked traffic with drivers  giving way  to the 5000 or so cows that roam the Delhi streets. We are also aware that Bish, as he likes to be known, is not a man who is short of words or opinions. This is a man who declared India’s innings closed in protest at the West Indies intimidatory bowling during the Kingston Test in 1976. This is a man who advocated throwing the 1990 Indian touring squad in the sea after their poor displays in England. Here is a man who made clear his objection to Essex fast bowler John Lever using Vaseline to stop the sweat getting in his eyes during the Madras test on England’s  tour of India in 1976/77. Here is a man who has brought into question the legitimacy of  Muttiah Muralitharan’s bowling action risking litigation

Just then he arrives, immaculately dressed and wearing the trademark  pastel coloured turban that makes him instantly recognisable. “Sorry I’m late” he says politely,”you’ve probably seen the traffic problem we have in this city”. We exchange greetings and I introduce my friends “Bish this is Neil Killeen and Martin Speight” .”Ah yes” he says instantly “How is Geoff” referring to Geoff Cook Durham’s innovative and successful coach who was a team mate of  Bedi at Northants. Clearly his extensive knowledge extends to the game in England.

We show him the pencil portrait that we have asked him to sign. He comments on its quality and tells us the background to  photograph on which the portrait is based. We talk about coaching as that is the direction that Neil and Martin are heading when their careers draw to a close. “I don’t even have a level 1 certificate, I just teach the kids what I learned and it works” he says with a hint of modesty.   His record  suggests you couldn’t really argue that a certificate would make him a better coach “ I’m sorry but I’m a bit pushed for time, you see, I’m playing Santa Claus at a kid’s party here but it’s great to meet you guys please stay in touch”.

With that we shake hands once again and he’s gone. We retire to the clubhouse for a soft drink. We have the appearance of the archetypal Brits abroad t-shirts and shorts and we meander into the members bar and are promptly asked to order outside. We find a table, still somewhat in awe of the man we have just met and the genuine interest he took in us. The waiter arrives at our table and we order 3 cokes with ice. “Ice Sir” the waiter asks seemingly mystified and on confirmation leaves to fetch our order. We sit for half an hour and the tables around us fill up with golfers some elated others dejected, seeking refuge from the temperatures  in the sanctuary of the 19th hole. As the tables fill up it’s then we realise that those around us are wearing roll neck golf shirts with wool sweaters and some wear caps whilst one has the audacity to wear a woolly pom pom hat as they enjoy their hot soup. It is after all 25 degrees.

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