Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Guru Bishan Singh Bedi

"OUT OF 24 hours, you spend six hours on the cricket field. What do you do with the rest? Do you read? Go to the theatre? Listen to music? You must have a life beyond cricket. Cricket is a game that demands intellect, maturity, independent decision making ability, and all this, you cannot acquire by merely playing cricket."

This was Bishan Singh Bedi, left arm spinner extraordinaire from Indian cricket's fabled past of 30 years ago. He was addressing a young spin bowling prospect, during a practice match arranged at Chennai to provide exposure to slow bowlers who had arrived from Australia to polish their art with the help of India's past masters. The visitors belonging to the Australian Cricket Academy were in Chennai, courtesy the MRF Pace Foundation, to learn a few lessons from great spinners like Bedi and Erapalli Prasanna. This has obviously been seen as a successful experiment, as the ACA has been sending its boys here for the last couple of years.

Between watching the match in progress and making notes on his wards' performance, Bedi was dipping into a book on leadership. He also found material relevant to his theme of the inter- relatedness of sport and other facets of life in The Hindu's Folio on 'Reaching Out' and encouraged his trainees to read it, as part of a mind-expanding exercise.

The sardar is a firm believer in the key role that the psychological aspects of cricket play in the success or failure of a player or a team. "I am not spending too much time on technique with these boys," he says. Instead, he is concentrating on instilling self-confidence in his young pupils, the ability to reflect calmly when under siege, and thinking a batsman out. The thought processes and confidence level of each bowler are reflected in his field placings, for instance. An off spinner who needs a sweeper cover is obviously lacking in self-belief, and he has just told the batsman and the whole world that he is making contingency plans for bad bowling. In his playing days, Bedi was a practitioner of yoga to stay physically and mentally fit and he had a few followers among international cricketers, wicket keeper Alan Knott of England one who took serious lessons from him.

All round knowledge and thinking ability are essential not only for sportsmen but also for sports administrators, says Bedi. Illustrating what can happen when these are absent, he recalled how India foolishly agreed to a proposal by England that as part of the playing conditions of India's tour of England in 1979, the number of fielders on the onside would be restricted to five. This spelled disaster to the Indian spinners, especially the off spinners, as it forced them to have one fielder more than they needed on the offside and one fielder too few on the legside. What is worse, they were simply unused to a field like that, and could not make the necessary adjustments to bowl well in the Test series.

Bedi was constantly challenging the boys to think for themselves, and to articulate their views on a variety of topics. "What is the difference between joy and happiness?" he asked one of them. The boy made a brave attempt and Bishan was quick to appreciate the effort, but he provided the answer himself, to set the youngster thinking on the right lines.

"Imagine your father has bought you a new car for your 21st birthday. How do you feel when he hands over the keys to you? Don't you feel joyous and excited? But what happens after a couple of months? You are still happy to drive a car, but that sense of unbridled joy will be missing, won't it?" he asked. "Enjoy your cricket. Don't let the joy factor disappear. That's the key to a successful cricket career."

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