Editor’s note: This is an archival article written by Vijay Merchant, one of India’s greatest batsmen (1933-’51), published in Cricket Quarterly, Vol IV (1978): No. 1. Merchant dissects the spin bowling skills of two India legends Vinoo Mankad and Bishan Singh Bedi.

‘From behind the nets, Bedi looked an altogether different bowler than from the commentator’s box. He never bowled two balls in the same over which were exactly similar, and there was extreme variation in spin, flight, direction and even in the speed of the ball.’

It seems that my article ‘How Gavaskar Compares with Vijay Merchant’ was very much welcomed by the readers, and so the editors have invited me to write another on Bishan Singh Bedi and Vinoo Mankad. I hope I am able to do justice to these two great cricketers.

No, I am not going to make a comparison. Comparisons are always odious, and, in any case, they are unfair and misleading when made of cricketers playing in different eras. Everything is so very different from one generation to another: the outlook, the wicket conditions, the technique of batting, the arrangement of field-placing, the reaction of the public, the personal outlook of the cricketers, etc., that such a comparison can never be made, though there is always a very great temptation to do so. I have no desire whatsoever to fall into this trap. Mine will be just an effort to tell you how I look upon their bowling. Yes, only their bowling – pure and simple. I will not touch upon their batting or their fielding or their talents for captaincy. And, as in the case of Gavaskar and Merchant, the senior man will be mentioned first and the junior personality next.

Both these cricketers have been absolute tops in their respective generations, and the men next to them in the same category of bowling have been far, far behind.

Mankad had next to him Hiralal Gekwad of Holkar while Bedi had Rajinder Goel of Delhi. Both just did not get a look in while their seniors were fit and available to play. That proves that they were in a class of their own and did not brook any comparison. It would be no exaggeration to say that they have somewhat become legends in their own lifetime.

On a perfect batting surface, Mankad seemed to be the better and the more effective bowler.

Of course, he was collared many a time. But then, the wickets in his time were all in favour of the batsmen. Even in our country, only on rare occasions could he get a wicket to render him much help, and that too, on the fourth and fifth days of a Test match. In his time, the wickets were not ‘doctored’ to suit the local bowlers. Mankad, therefore, had to attack the batsmen most of the time; and hence, gave away many, many runs in his attempt to ‘purchase’ his wickets. Bedi, on the other hand, bowled mostly in India on wickets ‘prepared’ for him – I mean, prepared for spin bowling. On a wicket which did not render any help to him, he was not so effective from the point of view of getting wickets. When he realized that he could not get any response from the surface, he switched on to defensive bowling. He lowered the trajectory and directed the ball between leg-and-middle most of the time. He then rarely flighted the ball under such circumstances and placed his field so very well, and with such judgement, that the batsmen could not pierce through without taking a risk and hitting the ball high in the air over the heads of the in-fielders. More often than not, his wickets were obtained in these circumstances, when the batsman lost his patience.

Mankad flighted the ball much more than Bedi ever did, both on ‘good’ wickets and ‘bad’.

Mankad had to use the strategy of flight in order to tempt the batsman to make a big hit. He knew he could not get much spin on the ball, and so, tried to beat the batsman in flight to draw him outside his crease, and either make him miss it while executing a stroke or make him miss the ball to get him stumped. Rarely had I seen him bowl better than he did on a perfect wicket in Feroz Shah Kotla stadium in 1950–51, when after a few balls, he drew out of the crease Frank Worrell, who actually went out to play to a ball defensively, and three yards outside the crease, found that he was completely beaten in flight and his last-minute stab at the ball failed to get a connection. The result was that he was left stranded outside the crease and the wicketkeeper, Nana Joshi, stumped him very easily. That was indeed a masterpiece in flight, and from the cover point I admired this immensely. What is more, this move received Worrell’s appreciation, who tilted his head in acknowledgement and then proceeded towards the pavilion. Worrell scored only 2 out of a total of 272, and Mankad’s figures were 38-14-66-4.

Bedi on a good wicket rarely flighted the ball. On a wicket which rendered him help, Bedi did not have to flight the ball because he could get all the spin that he wanted out of his delivery, and so, he harassed the batsmen to no end merely by lowering his trajectory and directing the ball on the right spot on the middle or middle-and-leg stump. Rarely have I seen him flight the ball in the same measure as Mankad did. I am told that he had to resort to flight in England in 1974, when the wickets were prepared all in favour of England’s pace bowlers and were very much against India’s spin bowling. There, for once, Bedi was completely collared and had to give away many, many more runs than he was wont to do in first-class and Test cricket. Only for the sake of information and interest, may I state that in the three Test matches in England in 1974, Bedi bowled 172.2 overs, out of which, only 28 were maidens and he captured 10 wickets at the very high rate of 52.30 runs per wicket. No one in his imagination would think that these were Bedi’s figures.

Both have been great masters of variation. Mankad varied in flight, direction, and sometimes length, while Bedi varies his bowling in every possible manner in the six balls that he delivers per over.

A slow bowler must have complete control over these three attributes, otherwise he would never be a great success. Why, even Chandrasekhar is a great master of variation but, in his case, the variations are of an entirely different nature.

Personally, I always found Mankad easier to play. No, not because Bedi was the greater bowler but because I was good at going out of my crease to play spin bowling and had lighter feet, quick enough to get to the pitch of the ball when flighted. Secondly, I could never make out the one that came to me from the one that turned away. Hence, in order to be on the safe side, I always went out of my crease to the flighted ball, more out of a sense of self-preservation than in order to attack the bowling. Finally, I played Mankad regularly in the nets, and hence, was more used to his bowling than that of Bedi, whom I never played either in the nets or in any matches. We belong to different generations and this can be easily gauged from the fact that while I am sixty-six, Bedi is thirty-two. Hence I am more than twice his age.

In my initial years as a commentator, I always felt from the commentators’ box that Bedi would be an easier bowler to play than Mankad, and asked myself the question why more batsmen did not go out of their crease to smother the spin of Bedi. In order to ascertain for myself how good Bedi was from a close look-in, I deliberately went to the nets during a cricket game at the Brabourne Stadium, and had a good look at him from just behind the nets – after, of course, obtaining the permission of Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, his captain. The permission was readily given and I was completely aghast at what I saw. Bedi seemed to be a different bowler altogether from that close a distance than he looked from the commentator’s box. He never bowled two balls in an over which were exactly similar, and there was extreme variation in spin, in flight, in direction and even in the speed of the ball. And then I realized why batsmen hesitated getting to the pitch of the ball. The trajectory rarely seemed to be high enough for even a quick-footed batsman like me to go out of the crease and play him. Why, I even asked myself whether I would have been able to play him as comfortably as Viswanath and Gavaskar did. Bedi’s bowling on that memorable day from behind the stumps was indeed a revelation to me.

Both had a positive approach to the game because their job was to get the batsmen out as quickly as possible. Mankad ‘purchased’ his wickets while Bedi attacked them on a surface which was amenable to spin and bowled defensively when conditions were against him.

At no time did either bowl negatively as such, but quite rightly, as with all great bowlers, conditions dictated their strategy. On a wicket which helped the bowlers, I suppose Bedi had the more attacking approach than even Mankad, who rarely had the same aggressive close-in fielding as did Bedi. Maybe, this was partly because in Mankad’s time, such aggressive close-in fielding was not usual but exceptional.

Both planned their method of attack right at the start. Their planning may have taken different forms but there was never a doubt in my mind that both knew exactly what they were doing and how they wanted to obtain their wickets. They both studied the weaknesses of every batsman who came in, and, at all times, implemented their strategy to the best of their own ability. They enjoyed the great attribute of observation, study and absorption, and hence, were able to attack the batsmen in a manner least expected.

Both Mankad and Bedi have been great fielders to their own bowling. They have brought off some remarkable catches and, in spite of the fact that they have never shirked from putting their hands to the hardest hit, they have been rarely injured.

This shows not only the power of endurance but timing and the ability to get the ball in the right part of the hand, irrespective of whether they are able to hold on to the catch or not.

Mankad was quite often neglected as a bowler merely because he proved to be a very fine batsman at the same time. Time and again, I found that he was utilized much less than he should have been as a bowler because his reputation as a batsman was so great that a few captains used him much less, fearing that the strain on his bowling hand would show in his batting later. This was a mistake of which I was myself once guilty. In the Pentangular finals of 1945–46, when the Muslims won that most memorable match by just 1 wicket and K.C. Ibrahim played a memorable innings of 137 not out, in the 103 overs bowled in the second innings, and when the Hindus wanted to win outright, I put on Mankad for only two overs while Chandu Sarvate and C.S. Nayudu bowled as many as 74 overs. I realized later that had I put on Mankad to bowl more in those innings, the Hindus would have certainly won the match. The realization, unfortunately, came too late.

Mankad never got the same support from the fielders as Bedi did in his time. That was simply because fielding in my time was not half as good as it was when Pataudi took charge of the Indian team. By his own outstanding example, he inspired fielders in a manner no other captain has done – not even Lala Amarnath.

Had half the catches which off by Mankad been taken, I am sure wickets Mankad’s would have been nearer 225 than merely 162. Bedi, on the other hand, has been blessed with outstanding fielding, and particularly the ability of Eknath Solkar. This does not mean that Solkar took many catches, but that Solkar’s outstanding work in the short leg inspired others to put in their best foot forward and raise the entire tone of fielding in the Indian team. Both the bowlers had always bowled with a very short start. As a matter of fact, it may be a conjecture who bowled with a shorter start. This meant that they were able to conserve their energies a great deal and bowl for longer periods. Mankad had to take care of his energy reserve because he had to bat as well, and Bedi had to conserve his in order to do more running about in the field. Mankad, being a close-in fielder either in slips or in the short leg area, never ran much when his team fielded. Bedi, on the other hand, was never a close-in fielder and had to run much more than Mankad ever did. Bedi, because of his yogic exercises, was always a better athlete than Mankad, and always more agile in the field. Mankad’s reflexes were very quick even when he became a little slower on his feet. Bedi’s reflexes were equally good in spite of the fact that he had put on some weight – weight which is so unnecessary – in his later playing years. He was not very quick at bending for a possible catch in the same manner as Mankad was right until the end of his career. Yogic exercises normally make you very fit physically, but do not always help you to take off weight.

Mankad used to turn the ball more on a turning wicket than Bedi did. Mankad was used to spinning the ball more because he had to bowl on firmer surfaces than Bedi. Bedi had always had wickets to suit him, and hence, a little turn on the ball was enough for him to miss the middle of the blade and take the edge. And really, that is all that is necessary in the case of a spin bowler. It is no use if a bowler turns the ball so much that it misses the blade completely and the wicket as well. But then, their attitude towards spin was dictated by the conditions prevalent during their playing days.

Both bowled the ‘armer’ very effectively, and both disguised it so very well that it was impossible to make out. Perhaps, that of Mankad was more deceptive because, even with the same flight, sometimes, the ball would suddenly come in to the batsman, taking him completely unawares. In the case of Bedi, there was always that little difference which indicated that it was either the faster ball or the one that might come in. Even so, both were masters of this great art.

Neither bowler spun the other way, that is, even when the ball came in to the batsman, it came in the shape of an armer, never in the shape of a spinning ball. Why neither bowled it nor made an attempt to bowl it, I was never able to understand.

And finally, their faster ball was always effective, either in obtaining a wicket or harassing the batsmen. The faster ball from Mankad was certainly much faster than that of Bedi. This, again, because the faster ball from a left-hand spinner does not have to be really fast but just fast enough to beat the batsman or to put him in two minds. In that respect, Bedi has been perhaps a greater strategist than Mankad, although it does not mean that Mankad bowled his faster ball less effectively. This was all a matter of difference in the outlook of these two bowlers whose ultimate object was to deceive the batsmen.

Mankad’s tally in 44 Test matches was 162 wickets, bowling 14,686 balls. That of Bedi in 58 Test matches, 246 wickets, bowling 19,135 balls. If he goes on playing for another three years, Bedi will be the third bowler in Test cricket to reach the figure of 300.

But do not ever make the mistake of judging these two bowlers from merely the number of wickets taken or the runs given away. That would be as great a tragedy as comparing Colin Cowdrey with his 7,865 runs in Test cricket as against Victor Trumper with 3,163 runs in 48 Test matches. Cowdrey can never be compared to Victor Trumper.

It is sufficient for us to know that Mankad and Bedi were exceptionally great bowlers of their respective generations.

Excerpted with permission from The Sardar of Spin, published by Roli Books to mark the 75th birthday of Bishan Singh Bedi.