Sunday, June 16, 2024

A day out at Kotla

Musings by Shekhar Nambiar

Come any festival, there’s elation at first, then fatigue from the noise and pollution of all sorts, and finally depression and a sense of emptiness when it all ends.The day after can be bad, with the senses yearning for action and the activity!

PM Modi at Delhi’s Dwaraka during Dussehra celebrations

Come to think of it, this Navratri was no different. I made the customary pandal visit and partook of sweets, including my dose of batasha, a crystallised sugar candy of sorts, and moderate intake of other sweetmeats, amid caution by my daughter. Despite some degree of indulgence, my sugars did not fluctuate. In fact, they remained at reasonable levels, for a change.

In a city of political heavyweights, Ramlila organisers vie with one other to get VVIP attention for their celebrations. Prime Minister Narendra Modi attended the high-profile Dussehra celebration at Delhi’s Dwarka. Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal attended Ramlila by the Luv Kush Ramlila Committee, one of Delhi’s oldest, at the Red Fort.

Bhishan Singh Bedi

King of spin departs

The silver lining was the upcoming Aussie-Dutch ODI World Cup match at the Kotla. I was all ready for it when came the news of the passing on of Bishan Singh Bedi.

I will have to sadly remove one more name from my phone book.

Not that I knew him well but I did have quite a few occasions to interact with him, the last in September 2018 when he readily agreed to be part of an underprivileged school vision screening campaign.He stayed on for the entire duration of the program and spoke to the kids on how vision was important for their education in particular and also in life.

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The few times I conversed with Bedi, I found him to be a genuine, no-nonsense person, and not given to small talk or pretensions.

The boy from Amritsar who made cricket his career and passion chose the World Cup currently being played in India to make a quiet exit.

His was a conscientious voice of Indian cricket. He loved his cricket dearly and was outspoken about the ways of contemporary cricket, whether of its new forms, including franchise cricket, or on renaming cricket grounds. He would be remembered most for championing the cause of fair wages for cricketers, taking on the might of the powerful cricket board and associations. He was known to have had several run-ins with the Delhi & District Cricket Association (DDCA).He remained attached to the Kotla till the very end.

Spin quartet: Venkataraghavan, Bedi, Prasanna and Chandrashekhar

Cricket’s quartet 

The spin quartet they called them. Bishan Singh Bedi, Bhagwat Chandrashekhar, EAS Prasanna and S. Venkataraghavan. 

The deadly foursome flourished at a time when India didn’t have much pace power. They descended on the scene when we had been made mincemeat of by the West Indies and Australians. Our batters had to be at the receiving end in match after match. All-rounder-Nari Contractor’s horrific head injury – the result of a short delivery by West Indian paceman Griffith – comes to mind, but the combined talent and power of our four spinners actually made batting difficult for opponents. 

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The duo of Bedi and Chandrashekhar was particularly effective against teams who didn’t know much about spin. The king of spin was undoubtedly Bedi. His slow-arm, almost lazy, action was most deceptive to many a batsman, trapping the batsman off-guard and getting wickets for India. On the other side, Chandra’s googlies, stuff that legends were made of, proved equally deadly for the opponent.

Bedi at Kotla

Kotla was where the shouts of ‘Bedi oye, Bedi oye’ were heard the most. What better way to pay homage to a legend than to be at the historic Kotla maidan. His name shone brightly in the afternoon sunlight on Wednesday, etched permanently in the western stand.

Bishan Singh’s name was taken at the World Cup ODI match between Australia and Netherland where he was remembered one last time. As players and spectators stood in silence to pay homage, ‘Bishan Singh Stand’ quietly looked on at a record Delhi crowd for a ‘neutral’ match, and that too on a working day and immediately following Vijaya Dashami. It was evident that most in the stands around the Kotla, if not all, knew who Bedi was.

Kotal at night. (Pic by Shekhar Nambiar)

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The ‘Bishan Singh Bedi Stand’ – on Bahadurshah Marg, is where as a young boy, I watched the Bill Lawry-led team play India under Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi in November 1969. India beat Australia by seven wickets, convincing enough to make an impression on a young mind that India can do it!

The magnificent crowd cheered for Aussies (Pic by Shekhar Nambiar)

Bedecked & beautiful 

The Kotla this time looked at its World Cup best. Bedecked, colourful and with a knowledgeable crowd who cheered for the Aussies as they coasted to an easy victory over the Dutch. The victory was convincing, creating a world record of the highest ever win by a team – 309 – and Maxwell’s ton shattering all previous highs. It was a record-breaking century much to the delight of all! And can David Warner’s masterly century be ignored at his last World Cup appearance?

A resurgent Australia takes on Netherland

The arrangements were immaculate and seamless, from security and the entry process to food and water dispensers. And the toilets were clean for a change. The police were at their best behaviour. Much like the security provided to the Afghan team for their victory lap at Chepauk, police teams moved about in mufti – in smart T-shirts. The Delhi crowd knew their cricket. Men, women, boys and girls cheered and welcomed every shot that deserved applause and lauded every ball bowled well. The Aussies were their favourites, knowing them from their IPL affiliations. After all, Warner is their mate play as he does for the Delhi Capitals. 

Some 25,000 plus must have showed up at the game. It goes to prove what many have been saying all along. If they had more matches in Delhi, the cash registers will have kept ringing.

So much for business sense, or the lack of it!

Also read: Age not just a number anymore

Shekhar Nambiar
Shekhar Nambiar
Shekhar is a communications professional who has spent a good deal of time in international organizations and in the development sector. As he puts it, it's been an "exciting journey" for him, beginning his working life as a journalist, with some of the best editors and professionals, before venturing into public affairs and then forays in the private sector. He believes "every day brings new challenges, achievements and success, and the key is to play a small part in whatever it is that you're doing". He tries to keep pace with new tech, and learn a new word a day, of course, "Gen Z lingo!"



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