Posted by: Singh Is King | Saturday, August 18, 2007

Bishen Singh meets Monty

CHRIS FOY (“CF”): This isn’t the first time the two of you have met, is it?

BISHEN SINGH BEDI (“BB”): No, we met years ago in Bradford. Our little guys (India Under-19s) beat Northamptonshire Second XI after a very exciting last over. Then I went across to see his folks in Luton and I was thrilled to meet them.

MUDHSUDEN (MONTY) SINGH PANESAR (“MP”): They were thrilled to meet Bishen, too. He is a hero in the Sikh community, so it was amazing that he came to our house.

BB: At the time, they were in a fix. They wanted some kind of assurance that Monty was on the right track. Should he be playing cricket or not? That’s what they really wanted to know, because they had doubts.

MP: That was while I was still at university.

Bishen Singh BediBB: He was at university and was ready to graduate. His parents were a bit apprehensive, they weren’t sure what he was heading for. I talked to him and he said: “My dream is to play for England”, but it was quite a contradictory situation, because his parents wanted him to study and he was certainly very good in his academic career. That is not something you could say about the rest of the England team!

MP: I just wanted to play cricket all the time.

BB: His obsession was cricket, but they were not sure about it because Monty is the only son. The only thing I told his parents was: “Let him realize his obsession. He has a dream, let him go for it. If he doesn’t make a success of it, he has a degree, so it’s very safe, you don’t have to worry”. They were very nice people, very humble and they accepted my word.

MP: I think my family were just happy to meet someone like Bishen Singh Bedi and it made them think: “Maybe Monty is doing the right thing”. Coming from a legend like him, to be told: “Keep bowling, you are doing all right”, it gives you a lift as well. I started to think: “Maybe my action is OK, if the legend of all left-arm spinners is saying these things”.

BB: I also remember telling him: “You are an Indian first and an Indian last. It’s only when you go onto the cricket field that you become an Englishman”. That is the most important part of your existence, your entire life  –  being a cricketer. I also told him that if he was going to make a mark on this England team, he would have to be twenty times better than an Englishman. I always felt a homegrown Englishman would be preferred.

CF: Is that how you felt, Monty?

MP: Not really. I am proud of my Indian background, but as far as I’m concerned, I was born in England and I see myself as English. It’s that straightforward for me. I don’t think I have had to prove myself more than anyone else. It has always been a level playing field for me.

BB: I was very impressed with his commitment; he was a good learner. When he came to Delhi for a couple of days, that’s when we talked a lot about cricket, about spin bowling. We didn’t bowl, we just talked. That was when he was on an England Under-19 tour. They were playing all their games in South India, but he came especially to meet me in Delhi. The tour had finished, the rest of the players had already gone and he stayed two or three days extra to see me. I was very touched because he wanted to meet me and he wanted to learn more about the craft.

Monty PanesarMP: It was a great experience for me. At the time, I hadn’t played too much first-class cricket, so it helped me a lot. The first thing I asked him, straight away, was: “Do I have to change my bowling  –  do anything different  –  because I’m playing on Indian wickets?” He just told me that wherever you’re bowling, just bowl the same way, there’s no need to change anything. I remember that.

CF: Were you in awe of him?

MP: Yeah, definitely.

BB: Oh, come on!

MP: I was. I’m just being honest. He’s a left-arm spinner and a legend of the game. Then, add the fact he’s a Sikh as well, so the combination of things made me think: “Is this for real?”

BB: What I appreciate about him is not only his humility but his down-to-earth approach to life. He enjoys the game. Sometimes, he gives the impression of getting carried away when he gets someone out. He rushes away but I feel the reason he rushes away and keeps his hands there (in front of his face) is so that no one disturbs his head gear. Once or twice that happened in Australia, and it became loose, but he doesn’t want to show that off.

MP: I’m not worried about that. I’m not thinking about my headgear or anything else when I celebrate, I just go crazy for a minute. It’s an instinctive reaction.

BB: I enjoy watching it but there are moments when I think: “OK, cool down”. My celebrations were very quiet. My son once asked me: “Dad, when you got a wicket, weren’t you happy?” I said I was thrilled, but it was my job to get wickets, so I was just doing my job.

CF: Monty, when did you first hear about Bishen?

MP: In an MCC book I was given when I was about sixteen. It’s got sixteen little pictures of your action, going through it bit by bit, step by step. It shows your action in sequence. I looked at that carefully and thought: “Right, so I do this first, then do this, then do this”. I just followed it through and tried to copy it when I bowled. I never knew before then how to achieve that sort of action.

People say I have a natural, repetitive action, but it came from looking through the sequence of pictures in that book and remembering them. That really helped me to identify what I needed to be doing. I don’t think I would have had much of an idea if it hadn’t been for that book.

CF: Have you ever seen him bowl?

Howzzat!MP: No, I never saw him in action and I haven’t even seen video footage of him bowling.

BB: Well, I was thirty-two when I retired in 1979.

MP: Really? Why didn’t you go further, until you were forty? You could have had another eight years.

BB: In those days, there wasn’t much incentive to go on playing. The back-up support you guys have these days is so much better. If I had had people there to control my discipline, perhaps I would have carried on. But I have no regrets in cricket. Sachin Tendulkar is thirty-four now, but has been playing international cricket for eighteen years and he looks a little jaded.

MP: I don’t know about that. He seems OK to me. He scored 91 against us the other day.

BB: Yeah, but the kind of fear he instilled in opposition players in previous years is not there any more. Bowlers are not frightened to bowl at him now.

MP: To be honest, I still feel a bit of fear! I’m not frightened, but I have real respect for him. He definitely still has that aura about him.

BB: Shane Warne was terrified of him. He came to see me in my hotel room in Bangalore once and said: “Bish, how would you bowl to Sachin?” I just said: “I would bowl to get him out  –  you buggers don’t even think it is possible”. I tried to convince him that a straight six is always off a good ball, so you shouldn’t panic or worry too much. But he said: “Bish, this bloody thing is disappearing too often!”

MP: I always think that if I keep putting the ball in the right place, I shouldn’t get smashed around too much and there’s a chance I will eventually get him out. As Bish or any great spinner would say: “It only takes one ball to get a wicket”.

CF: When you saw Monty bowling for the first time, did you think there was something there?

BB: I did. I thought he had so much going for him then and he has even more going for him now. I saw him bowl in that second XI game, that is when I watched him very closely. He wasn’t really sure which end to bowl, how to utilise the breeze. That is coming now. He is letting the ball drift in, then go away.

CF: Are there minor technical aspects of Monty’s game that you think could be improved?

BB (standing up to demonstrate): There are two or three things I noticed. You are landing on the toes of your front foot, but you should try to land on your whole foot. When you land on the toe, the knee is bent slightly so, as you are pivoting, the balance is not quite there. The front leg must brace, so the body weight is transferred smoothly.

Your non-bowling arm should be stretched just a fraction higher and further forward and kept the same distance from your bowling arm throughout your action.

MP: Yeah, I see. I understand that. I do make slight changes to my alignment, but nothing major because I am happy with my action and everything is going well at the moment. My action has stayed pretty much the same since I started playing first-class cricket.

BB: The other thing I want to ask you is, do you see yourself as a stock bowler or an attacking bowler?

MP: I see myself as a bowler who can bowl the stock ball well and from there I’m capable of taking wickets. I’m not like Bishen or other people who can bowl magic deliveries. If I bowl good, consistent stock balls and maidens, I’m giving myself a chance of taking wickets.

BB: I would like you to see yourself as a match-winning bowler. In the modern game, commentators go on about dot balls and maiden overs which, because of one-day cricket, have become the holy grail. But you should be aiming to get a wicket, because that is automatically a dot ball.

MP: I’m always trying to go for wickets, but, at the same time, I don’t want to be going for loads of runs while I do that. It’s important to maintain some sort of control.

CF: Can Monty be as good as you were, Bishen?

BB: Of course he can. At his age, I didn’t have half his knowledge. And they get so much help from support staff now  –  fitness trainer, fielding coach, spin bowling coach.

CF: Does your religion help your game?

MP: I believe cricket is a dream and religion is a faith  –  they are two very separate things. Cricket is what I play and religion is what I follow.

BB: I discovered my religion via cricket. What Sikhism holds  –  truthfulness and uprightness  –  I found that in cricket. Monty says they are two separate things, but I used to feel they were one. My religion gave me spiritual strength, which gave me mental strength, which gave me the physical strength to compete. Maybe he sees it like that, but he can’t really express it.

CF: Finally, how does the public adulation compare for the two of you?

MP: It’s amazing over in India, where the population is more than a billion and everyone is obsessed with cricket. I think there was a video out recently which showed Mahendra Dhoni going out for a haircut and there was a huge crowd after him. So I feel fortunate I can play cricket, but not have to deal with that sort of thing. I get asked for the odd photo or autograph, or people wave out, that’s about it.

BB: I think he’s going to find it harder than I ever did, because these days, TV takes the stars into the bedrooms of people. We didn’t have that. But, I suppose, if you’re famous and doing really well, that’s a very small price to pay.

Bishan Singh Bedi took 266 wickets in his 67 Tests for India at an average of 28.71, while Monty Panesar’s 71 wickets in 19 England Tests, a similar ratio of nearly four per match, have come at an average of 28.61. Both are Northants legends. Neither has a reputation for fielding prowess, nor with the bat: Panesar’s Test average of 7.18 is below even the notoriously poor Bedi’s 8.98.


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