An Indian Civilizational Perspective

Sikhs in Sports

Interesting article on the Sikhs in sports – motivated by the rise of Monty Panesar. The writer, Frank Keating, starts with Bishen Bedi – one of the best all time spinners in cricket!

Bishen Singh Bedi was the very same age, and I savour the thrill of enchantment at my very first sight of him twirling his softly supple southpaw slows alongside the gasometers that midsummer of 1971. The preening choc-caps of Surrey were on their way to another county championship but that day, against the Indian tourists, successively one by one their batsmen – Stewart, Younis, Roope, Storey, Intikhab, Long, Arnold – were dispatched to the hutch, shaking their heads in baffled embarrassment at the Sikh’s placidly lethal cocktail of curve and loop and spin.

And then he goes on to talk of other Sikhs in Indian cricket over the years in a rather nostalgic fashion – indeed, he relives many eras in this para:

Despite a couple of mentor Bedi’s recent star pupils – the lulling lefties Maninder Singh and Harbhajan (“The Turbanator”) Singh – traditionally, we conjectured, Sikhs were not guileful in the arts and crafts of spin and made only sturdy pace bowlers or bold and bonny batsmen. I remember fondly, for instance, the strapping Sikh, Balwinder Sandhu, deceptively quick, who set in train India’s day of days at Lord’s in the 1983 World Cup final by at once clean-bowling Gordon Greenidge for next to nothing; and, of course, as a boy I read of how Amar Singh, in India’s first ever Test match in 1932 at Lord’s, dismissively swept away Sutcliffe, Ames, and Hammond – after which (in the days when quotes were quotes) the latter, England’s champion Wally, ruefully pronounced: “He came off the pitch like the crack of doom.” As for lusty Sikh batsmen, I recall vividly how Navjot Sidhu, bearded chin and kestrel’s eye, took a fierce Test 100 at Madras off Graham Gooch’s England on the 1992-93 tour.

Finally he ends with that atheletics legend from India – who barring one of the best 440 meter line-up ever – would have won the first and the only medal in Olympics for atheletics for India!

I was 17 when I saw my first celebrated Sikh sportsman. The Daily Express called Milkha Singh “the Turbanned Tempest” when he spreadeagled the 440-yards field at the 1958 Empire Games in Cardiff. Wow, he went thataway! Two years later, Milkha was fourth, by a blink, at the Rome Olympics in the, still, best ever 400m final when every runner broke the 46-second barrier and the first two (Davis of the US and Kaufmann of Germany) obliterated the world record.

As a teenager, Milkha had lost his entire family in the horrors of partition but now, home a hero in Kashmir and to encourage Indian athletes, he offered the equivalent in rupees of £3,000 to anyone who could break his Olympic time of 45.73 secs. All of 38 years later, in 1998, a Sikh policeman Paramjeet Singh claimed to have beaten it by 0.03 of a second at a local meet. Sensing a timekeepers’ plot, old Milkha flatly refused to pay up. Well, sporting Sikhs are sticklers for accuracy and shrewd with it. Two qualities which make for priceless spin bowlers.


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