Bishan Singh Bedi leaves Indian cricket's original fab four a member short

The fabled spin quartet of Bishan Singh Bedi, EAS Prasanna, BS Chandrasekhar and S Venkataraghavan broke up on Monday as Bedi passed away in Delhi

When Bedi retired from international cricket in 1979, he was India's highest wicket-taker in Tests (photo: Facebook)
When Bedi retired from international cricket in 1979, he was India's highest wicket-taker in Tests (photo: Facebook)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

Sitting in Bengaluru or somewhere in the US, three senior citizens who are a part of Indian cricket’s folklore must be suddenly feeling lonelier. The fabled spin quartet of Bishan Singh Bedi, EAS Prasanna, BS Chandrasekhar and the US-based S Venkataraghavan disintegrated on Monday as Bedi — the youngest of the four at 77 — passed away in Delhi, having been ailing for the last few years. 

Together, they were the original fab four of Indian cricket, spinning a web of flight, deception and bounce against some of the mighty cricketing powers from the late 1960s into the 70s. That India acquired an early reputation of being a nation of spinners was thanks to these four gentlemen with contrasting styles. 

When Bedi retired from international cricket in 1979 with 266 wickets from 67 Tests (and 10 ODIs), he was then the country’s highest wicket-taker in Tests. A strapping young seamer called Kapil Dev had just made his debut a year earlier in Pakistan, but spin was till the calling card for India, and the man known for making a style statement with his colourful patkas had left an unmatched legacy in his field. 

It will not be an exaggeration to say that he was the leader of the spin unit, and he continued to pick up wickets by the bagful through a career spanning over 15 years. Bedi also enjoyed a successful stint in the English county circuit with Northamptonshire, for whom he took 434 first-class wickets at an average of 20.89, not to speak of the 1,500-odd wickets in first class games.  

Be it his smooth and minimalistic run-up to the wicket, which has been referred to repeatedly as poetry in motion, to the courage of conviction that he maintained regardless of the multiple hats he had worn, Bedi was one of a kind. It would be over simplifying things to call him an anti-establishment figure, for he was that and much more. 

As recently as 2020, when Delhi District Cricket Association (DDCA) announced the renaming of Feroze Shah Kotla as Arun Jaitley Stadium after the deceased BJP leader, Bedi wrote to DDCA asking it to cancel his membership and remove his name from the Bishan Bedi stand. It certainly took some guts, but that’s Bedi for you. 

How good was Bedi as a spinner? Let’s draw on a quote from Sir Donald Bradman, the greatest of them all: ‘’Bedi was a real study for the connoisseur and amongst the finest bowlers of his type. His skill is associated with sportsmanship of high calibre.’’ 

The problem with the sardar was his stubbornness in sticking to his beliefs, a trait which prompted wife Anju Singh Bedi to jokingly refer to him as an "extremist" to his biographer Suresh Menon for the book Bishan: Portrait of a Cricketer. 

Just ponder over some of his decisions as captain: declaring India’s first innings at 306 for six in 1976 against Clive Lloyd’s West Indies at Sabina Park in protest against what he felt was intimidatory bowling on an uneven surface; conceding an ODI against Pakistan two years later when he felt Sarfraz Nawaz used excessive bouncers; or calling out English bowler John Lever’s use of Vaseline to derive prodigious swing from the red ball.

A heart bypass surgery in early 2021, coupled with a few other age-related ailments, finally mellowed down Bedi. One of his last public appearances was at a screening of the recent Bollywood release Ghoomer, in which he also made a special appearance with his son, actor Angad Bedi. A walking stick, frail health, and an unkempt white beard — not quite the 'Bish' we would like to remember.  

They don’t make men like the Sardar anymore! 

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