Jaitley statue: Why Bishan Singh Bedi is right

Jaitley statue: Why Bishan Singh Bedi is right

“Bishan is the most upright and candid cricketer I’ve ever played with and against.”

-Sir Garfield Sobers, in an interview to The Wisden, 1982

Lambasting the Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA) for deciding to install a statue of its former president, the late Arun Jaitley, at the Feroz Shah Kotla grounds, spin legend Bishan Singh Bedi has asked the body to remove his name from the spectators’ stand, named after him in 2017.

The ever-outspoken Bishan Singh Bedi’s logic holds water and is totally valid. In no other cricket-playing country will you get to see a minister’s statue adorning a stadium. What’s the role of a minister in a cricket stadium? Jaitley may have been a keen follower of the game and an administrator, but he never played cricket at any level to justify his statue at the Feroz Shah Kotla.

The detractors of Bedi might call him vindictive, unsporting and even envious (of Arun Jaitley). But those who played with and against the magnanimous Sardar, have called him one of the most principled cricketers who called a spade a spade, nay a shovel, and recognise him as one who played the gentleman’s game like a gentleman. 

It was Bishan Singh Bedi, who like the peerless Sir Garfield Sobers, clapped and generously appreciated when a batsman would play a nice shot off his bowling. It was Bedi who donated blood to a Pakistani citizen when he visited the neighbouring country, not as a cricketer but as a visitor, despite the shabby treatment meted out to him and his team in 1978 when the Indian team went to Pakistan to play a three-Test series after a hiatus of 17 years. 

It was Bedi who honestly said in 1974 that because of sheer luck, he was in the Indian team as a left-arm orthodox spinner. Otherwise, Bombay and Maharashtra’s Padmakar Shivalkar (nicknamed Paddy) and Haryana’s late Rajinder Goel were better than him. It’s worthwhile to mention that Paddy and Goel were both left-arm spinners like Bedi, but they couldn’t play a single Test for India. Even Sunil Gavaskar paid glowing tributes to them in his book ‘Idols.’ 

So, when such an honest and straightforward man puts forth his point, he must be listened to and heeded. Only in India do ministers handle cricketing affairs and administration, and with the passage of time, they become so damn important that they start getting involved in the selection of players. Here a Jagmohan Dalmiya and a Sharad Pawar can become the heads of BCCI! Mind you, the honourable gentlemen Pawar and Dalmiya never played cricket at any level.

Statues of Sir Donald Bradman, Sir Gary Sobers, Dr W G Grace, Sir Viv Richards, Sir Richard Hadley, among others, are installed at the world’s finest cricket stadiums. Players and spectators can also relate to those statues and players, rather than to those of politicians who never bowled, batted or fielded. 

Mind you, Bedi has no problem with Jaitley. Bedi’s gripe is against the politicisation of cricket. Even in a sycophantic country like Pakistan, when the PCCB (Pakistan Cricket Control Board) proposed to install Field Marshal Ayub Khan’s statue at the Gaddafi Stadium in  Lahore, former cricketers Fazal Mahmood and Nasim Ul-Ghani openly protested, and the PCCB had to concede. Today, a statue of the former maverick captain of Pakistan, Abdul Hafiz Kardar, stands at this stadium. 

The same thing happened in Sri Lanka a few years ago when a minister’s statue was being installed at Colombo Cricket Stadium. Former cricketer Duleep Mendis openly criticised the Sri Lankan government’s decision. Finally, and fortunately, no statue was installed. 

The lesson is: Do not mix politics with sports. Let ministers and politicians do what they’re good at and allow players and spectators to play and get inspired by the icons of their own sphere.