On yesterday's greats

Topics BS Opinion | Economists

How many economists write about each other? Even in those tedious festschrifts, they don’t write about the person for whom it’s intended. It’s mostly dreary essays, hastily written as a duty, on something no one cares about. But why single out the economists? How many footballers have you read writing about other footballers? Or tennis players? Or, heaven forbid, bureaucrats, for that matter? But cricketers have started a new trend: They have begun writing about other cricketers. The first of these was Sunil Gavaskar’s Idols. But that was three decades ago. .....
How many economists write about each other? Even in those tedious festschrifts, they don’t write about the person for whom it’s intended. It’s mostly dreary essays, hastily written as a duty, on something no one cares about.

But why single out the economists? How many footballers have you read writing about other footballers? Or tennis players? Or, heaven forbid, bureaucrats, for that matter?

But cricketers have started a new trend: They have begun writing about other cricketers. The first of these was Sunil Gavaskar’s Idols. But that was three decades ago.

After Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi passed away, Suresh Menon persuaded lots of people to write about him.

Then last September came Ravi Shastri’s book, Star Gazing. It consists of short assessments by him of the players he thinks were great.

Now come two more. One is about Bishan Singh Bedi, one of India’s greatest spinners. The other is about M L Jaisimha, one of India’s best batsmen who, moreover, with his dashing looks was preferred by many to Abbas Ali Baig.

I sincerely hope someone — if it’s not been done already — will put together a volume about another good-looking hero of that generation, Salim Durani. When I checked on Amazon it turned up Asad Durrani, the Pakistani spy chief.

Bedi and Jaisimha: The Bedi book is the result of the effort by a former opener for the North Zone, Venkat Sundaram, whom I have known since our college days in the late 1960s.

He was a year senior and given to sweeping fast bowlers. I was what’s now called a net bowler for the college team these days. Second string, of course, used to fill in the gaps.

The Jaisimha book has been compiled by Jayanti Jaisimha, his wife. It has 79 contributions. The first one is by Sharmila Tagore, who tells one or two good stories. Her husband, MAK Pataudi and Jaisimha, were very good friends.

Sundaram has not taken any credit for arranging these tributes. Given who the contributors are, it could not have been easy. It’s a labour of love.

So someone called Sachin Bajaj appears on the cover as having written the foreword. Google told me he is associated with the Cricket Club of India. It didn’t say whether he has played any serious cricket.

The book has 34 former and current cricketers saying nice things about Bedi, who has been quite ill for some time. Thankfully, he is much better now.

Jaisimha, sadly, is no more but memories of his batting live on amongst those of us who were lucky enough to see him bat. As with Durani, there was always a buzz of excitement when he walked in to bat.

In all such books it’s important to separate what was directly experienced from what is not. And then, even after you discount the Indian tendency for hyperbole, what remains is genuine admiration.

What emerges is not just that Bedi was everything a bowler should be — skilful, patient and able to read the batman’s mind — he was also one of the few who didn’t kowtow to the cricketing authorities. He spoke his mind as and when needed.

Likewise Jaisimha, in his day, had the sort of natural skills that made Sachin Tendulkar so great — the extraordinary ability to instantly read the bowler and then get instantly into position. But his attitude was more Virendra Sehwag+Rishabh Pant. In another age it was called swashbuckling.

Stories and incidents: Michael Holding tells us how in the 1970s the batting teams would “visit” the fielding team in its dressing room and everyone would mingle.

There’s an article by Vijay Merchant reproduced from The Cricket Quarterly in which he compares Vinoo Mankad with Bedi and says Mankad was more effective even when the wickets didn’t help bowlers. Mankad, he says, flighted the ball more even on unhelpful surfaces. Bedi flattened the trajectory but set extremely good fields.

B S Chandrasekhar who, on tours, shared rooms with Bedi, says Bedi would often play Hindi film songs and then, because Chandrasekhar didn’t understand the words, patiently explain the lyrics.

Unfortunately, three players with whom Bedi played a lot — Sunil Gavaskar, EAS Prasanna and Farokh Engineer — have sent just a couple paras each of the usual platitudes. 

S Venkataraghavan, the fourth of the spin quartet, has not written at all.

The Jaisimha volume, too, has some good stories. Moreover, both Gavaskar and Prasanna have written more than they have for Bedi.

But for the most part the book comprises short tributes by family and friends. It makes the man come alive for those of us who didn’t have a clue about Jaisimha the man.

Finally, both books are a rare parade between two covers of names long forgotten or, at any rate, seldom thought of now. That alone makes them worth buying and dipping into from time to time.



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