From the Archives: ‘I have achieved everything’

As Kapil Dev turns 59, Sportstar turns the clock back to 1994, when the fast bowler eclipsed Richard Hadlee to become the world's leading wicket-taker. In this extensive chat, Kapil talks about his career, motivations, and more.

When he reached the top and was at the pinnacle of glory, having achieved a bowling feat which had often looked a mirage to many, Kapil Dev looked more human than ever before.

Reaching Sir Richard Hadlee's world record, was very special to Kapil. He may add many more to his tally, but you may never see Kapil shed tears again in public, overwhelmed by emotion. The record was bound to come his way. However, Kapil's endeavour, his single-minded approach towards fulfilling an ambition, and the courage he showed in not getting disturbed by derisive remarks reveal that he is a great sportsman worthy of emulation. The emotion was only part of the jubilation.

More than his athleticism and fitness, what strikes you in Kapil is his basic honesty towards cricket and life in general. The burning desire to achieve things that lesser mortals would dread to even dream of has been Kapil's secret to success, though he would list a lot of other things as well.

From the archives - Kapil: 'There's no short cut to the top'

Those envious of Kapil and the money he has accumulated, fail to notice the years of toil.

Discipline is the hallmark of a sportsman, the greater the intensity the higher he goes. From the heights he has scaled, you can know how disciplined Kapil has been. The growing distractions the youngsters face worries Kapil when he thinks of their future.

Like so many things dear to his heart, it has always been special for Kapil to share his experiences with the readers of Sportstar and here he talks at length as he looks back at his career.

The excerpts:

Question: How do you feel now that you have attained the record?

Answer: Obviously I am very happy. I feel as if I am on top of the world. I am not a hypocrite to say that I am not delighted. Any cricketer would want to be the No. 1.

Does your emotional reaction after reaching the world record convey that you have attained the ultimate in your career? Seeing tears in your eyes was a bit of a surprise.

I agree. Normally I never show my emotions on the field. I get wickets, score runs or take catches and that's it. I don't show my emotions. After all, I am only doing my job by contributing to the team's success. I am supposed to do it. I can't be jumping around just because I have taken a wicket. Some people are different. They like to show their emotions by running around and jumping. I feel I am just performing my duty by taking a wicket or a catch. But this occasion, you would agree, was different.

Perhaps, for the first time in my cricketing career I got carried away emotionally.

Was this a more emotional moment than when you received the World Cup at Lord's?

That was different. I never experienced anything like what I did at Bangalore. I had never wept on the field. The only time I remember was when we lost an inter-school match. I was 15 then. We had taken the first-innings lead but lost the match. That was the only other time I had wept on the field.

How did you learn to control your emotions in such a long career?

I thought there was no point in crying. After all, it is only a game. I steeled myself to work hard and give my best rather than shed tears. After that I never ever wept. Winning the World Cup, getting the 400th wicket did give me joy but this occasion was [quite] different. I tried very hard but I just couldn't control myself. I kept telling myself that I should not weep. Why was I suddenly so emotional? In the dressing room I just broke down.

How much did the record weigh on your mind?

It was on my mind. After having come so close, it would have been stupid not to have reached the target, and I couldn't have blamed anyone but myself if I had missed it. I was so determined to get the record and if I didn't I would have been proving myself wrong. Such a record is to be cherished all your life. I was just concentrating on this record.

No late nights, no parties. It was just the record in my mind. All these years I had given everything to cricket and in the last one year, I even pushed business out of my mind. For me, the aim was to get to the record. This record is not just for me. It is for every Indian.

How much does this record mean to you personally?

I have never been fascinated with figures and averages. I would certainly love to have a record in my name. But I play to enjoy and not to set records. If anyone plays as long as I he might come close to a record. But more than records, what is important is how you play, how well you play and how long you play.

At what stage did you realise that you could get to the world record?

I think when I took 300 wickets.

Was there a stage when you thought you may not continue?

Yes. That was during the Sri Lankan tour in 1985. My leg was paining a lot and I was really worried if I could carry on.

How did you continue then?

I was determined. I enjoy playing. Basically I am an enterprising person. I like to do different things. I like playing different games. You have to enjoy whatever game you play. My basic idea was to enjoy playing. I am not a hypocrite. I like to enjoy life. Live a good life. I will work six hours on the ground. But off the field, I would like to enjoy. I want good things in life. People said I am materialistic. What is the harm if I want to have good things?

Where did you learn this dedication to cricket, to life?

From my mother. She may not be very educated but she planned my life. She is a simple person and she really brought up the family. The two things I learnt from my parents were dedication and hard work. From my father, I learnt to be kind. He was very enterprising and a kind-hearted person. He had a passion for hunting and that is where I picked up the habit of hunting for wickets. My smooth career was because of my brothers who took care of my business. I was not worried about my finances. I could spare more time for cricket. My brothers told me to just go and play cricket and not worry about money. They took more care of my business than their own.

From the Archives: When India stunned the world

Around 1985-86, my wife Romi took over. She has been a great help. She took care of the house and the finances and I just play the game. She really has dedication. She is very sincere. More than me. Another thing I learnt from Romi was the value of time and discipline in life.

Of late, there has been a lot of talk about your performance. Did it bother you when people said it would take six Test matches for you to take six wickets?

I know there was such talk but it really didn't bother me. People do talk but I must tell you that the majority in the media were with me throughout my career. Always. There were a few exceptions but by and large I had the support of the press. Even those who didn't write good things about me were with me. In their heart of hearts, they liked me, and wanted me to get the record.

There are a couple of them who had very strong likes and dislikes but then you would find such people in any walk of life. One thing I had always told myself was never to react to media criticism or comments from players. It serves little purpose reacting to criticism. The only way I could hit back was by performing. Such small things can always be sorted out once I quit. It's not that I couldn't have reacted. I could have done so easily but my focus was entirely on cricket. I wouldn't like to mention names but a couple of journalists were after me. In my early days, the same two journalists [had written] well about me. Probably they took advantage of my silence and kept writing against me. Today those two journalists look like fools. I wouldn't have achieved what I have had I got involved in petty things.

You agree that the last one year or so was a bit of a struggle for you?

Definitely. It can't be hidden. It is for everyone to see. You see, there was pressure building on me with everyone talking about the record and if I could make it. I'll tell you an incident. My friend, Bharat Reddy, said that I wouldn't get 400 wickets. I had taken 370 wickets at that stage. We had a bet and I beat him. Perhaps he was only trying to needle me to go after the record.

The day I got my 400th wicket I called up from Australia to tell him I had proved him wrong. He was so happy to lose the bet. All my life, friends have helped me.

Do you have to stretch more nowadays to earn your wickets?

Not really. When you are young, your approach is different. You are tough and aggressive. As you grow older, you become mature with your experience and much depends on fitness. Today, if I keep myself fit I can be more dangerous than before because I know what to do, how to exploit the batsmen's weakness. I did struggle because of my shoulder but then I found my rhythm again. People might have said I would need six Tests for six wickets. No batsman plays well every time.

The same is with bowling. You need rhythm. You need help from the pitch. For that you have to keep bowling. Without bowling, you can't get wickets.

For someone of your stature, how much would you rely on help from the pitch?

You have to bowl according to the pitch. This is the basic requirement for any bowler. In my case, I need a pitch where the ball at least carries to the wicket-keeper. I need bounce from the pitch. Most of my wickets come from leg-before or caught behind decisions because I bowl so close to the stumps.

That is an asset I have. I would bowl from so close to the stumps that if the batsman missed, I had a greater chance than a normal bowler to win a leg-before shout. So I would like a pitch where the ball at least carries to the wicket-keeper.

But you have bowled, mostly, on docile pitches in India.

I have never complained. I have bowled so much on unresponsive pitches in India that I started to enjoy while bowling on slow tracks. On a slow pitch, the challenge is greater. You have to use your mind to get the best out of it. And I loved such a situation. A good performance on a placid pitch will always give you more satisfaction.

Would you like to be remembered as Kapil Dev, the greatest wicket-taker or Kapil Dev, who did his best for his team and country?

Without any doubt, I would like to be remembered as someone who contributed towards bringing glory to the country. I will be happy if I can contribute towards building my country's image. I am very patriotic. When I started my career, people said India did not have a fast bowler. That pained me. I was disturbed at the thought that we were not No. 1 in the world. I am not just talking about cricket. In every sphere I would like India to be No. 1. One has to be very sincere towards his country. Whether sports or politics.

Do you not feel that Kapil the batsman suffered because of Kapil the bowler? You often threw away your wicket.

I agree I never gave as much time to my batting as my bowling. When I get up, I only think about how I am going to bowl. I never gave a thought to how I would get my runs. To me, the runs I got were a bonus. I didn't want to waste much time on batting. My aim was to bowl and bowl. If you remember, I began batting at No. 11 for Haryana.

My batting (5000 runs in Test cricket) has been a bonus.

If only you had been a little more cautious, concentrated a little more on your batting...

Had I been more cautious, I would have got 500 wickets for my country.

Had I concentrated on my batting I might have got 20 centuries but not so many wickets. I might have got another 2000 runs. There is no end to it. One must be happy with what one has achieved. I have always been a bowler first and I am happy that way. Now, maybe I will concentrate a bit more on my batting. Try and show people that I am putting my head down and batting with responsibility.

How much of planning is involved in your bowling?

I am involved in every match. It could be an exhibition match. I don't bowl to the batsman's strong points. I do plan my batsmen out. A recent example is Arjuna Ranatunga. I was planning to get him leg-before because he plays so much across. Off his legs, he is strong and I just concentrated on bowling on and outside his off-stump, waiting to get the ball to whip into him. You have to think and bowl. You just can't keep coming in and bowling without aim. You have to think because wickets in India are like that.

 

Have you never got bored doing the same thing day in and day out for so many years. There must have been moments when you must have been fed up with so much of bowling?

You must have noticed in the last four or five years that I would not give much time to domestic cricket. Because I was reserving my best for the big events. I bowled long spells in domestic cricket, but only if it was unavoidable. I would rather see the young fellows do it.

Winning the Ranji Trophy and the Irani Trophy must have been very satisfying for you?

The Ranji Trophy victory was like winning a Test match or the World Cup.

The Irani Trophy performance I must admit was because of Ajay Jadeja. I give a lot of credit to him. In the last one year, he has worked hard on me. In that Irani Trophy match, he kept telling me, ‘Paaji, you must do it.’ I wasn't even wearing bowling shoes but he pleaded, or rather nagged me, to bowl just one spell. He went to the dressing room and got my bowling shoes. I did bowl and took four wickets in six overs. You do need people like Jadeja to push you.

Is it an advantage being Kapil Dev?

It is not Kapil Dev. You can do it if you play that long. I could do it because I played so long. The advantage comes from your relationship with the Board, your fellow players and the press. You don't have an advantage unless you reach that level. You play and see so much cricket, you learn to keep your nerve. This experience is helpful. You witness so many ups and downs and the experience is enough to bring the best out of you. I don't get wickets because I am Kapil Dev. I earn my wickets like any bowler would.

Did you work hard or were you lucky to keep your place?

I worked very hard. Very, very hard. The only person I remember who worked more than me in a young age was Yograj Singh. In the last 15 years, I haven't come across anyone who would have worked as hard as I did. I don't work that hard now, but I still work enough to keep myself fit.

What sacrifices have you made to reach this level?

A lot. I have missed parties. I haven't had long vacations. I have missed a lot of fun.

A lot of cricketers have said your mere presence was an inspiration. Even when you were tired, you would always be ready to bowl. How did you motivate yourself?

In my early days, I thought I could bowl fast. When I came back from the England tour (in 1979), I thought I wouldn't last long if I tried to bowl flat out. My first four or five years, I would bowl 25 to 30 overs a day; That was tiring. One day, I sat and thought there was no point in trying to go flat out. I had to save my energy. I then decided to go flat out only towards the end of the day's play. I follow that thing even now.

How much has the game changed?

You have so much of cricket now. It becomes tiring, yes. But then we are supposed to play cricket. If we don't play cricket, what do we do. When the young chaps tell me that they are tired, I feel disappointed. I ask them what would they like to do if they do not play cricket. What is this tiredness, I don't understand? If your body needs a break I understand. But not your attitude. In that case, you can just pack your kit and stop playing. You have to love the game you play.

Were you born to play cricket?

I was a born sportsman. To play any game. Not just cricket. I would always love to play an individual game. I love a challenge. In an individual game, you can do it yourself. You depend on yourself. Cricket is a team game. But this trait in me to do it myself also helped me in cricket. I would tell myself I have to do it alone. That helped me on many occasions.

Does the 1984 incident, when you were dropped from the Calcutta Test against England still rankle you?

It's not that I missed it. Today I have achieved what I had aimed for. People who were responsible for dropping me would now feel ashamed of what they did then. If they don't take pride in my achievements, it is their loss. I have no regrets. It was stupid of them to have dropped me for playing a shot. Tell me a player who was dropped for playing a bad shot. If they felt I was not sincere they look like fools. They wanted to make a point because we had lost a Test. They had to do something. In the end, to me it looked a stupid thing because someone was sitting in an important chair. To me, they look like fools. I feel sorry for them. I am still playing. They dropped me for one Test, recalled me in the next and since then I haven't changed my batting style. I still play like that. My approach hasn't changed. Again I never reacted because I wanted to play the game. Someone wanted to prove a point that he could drop Kapil. I feel it was a very shallow way of looking at things.

What has cricket taught you?

It has given me a good life. I got everything from cricket. I met so many wonderful people, travelled so much. Without cricket, all this wouldn't have been possible. I started with the humble aim of playing a Test because no one from Chandigarh had ever played a Test.

I must add here that I am glad I played for Haryana. I got fabulous offers from other States but I am glad I stayed with Haryana.

Did you ever feel that you had had enough?

Not till now. Once I go into the field I am involved in the game. The last four or five years I have been finding it difficult to go and train but I would give credit to a lot of young boys in Delhi who made me train. I would take pride training with young boys. Rajesh Puri, Ajay Jadeja and Arvind would come and train with me. Ajay Jadeja would come to my house at six in the morning to go for training.

What kind of training?

I told these boys never to train in public. You must do your training and exercises quietly. There are two things I follow in life very sincerely. There is nothing like training alone. You are charged up and it adds to your dedication. The worst thing that could happen to you is the habit of drinking alone. It is good if you train alone. But worse if you drink alone.

How important is bowling in the 'nets'?

For the last five years or so, I haven't been bowling much in the 'nets'. I used to bowl a lot in my earlier days. Nowadays, I find it difficult to bowl even though Sherry (N. S. Sidhu) is always keen to play my outswingers. Still, whenever Azzhu (Azharuddin) says I do bowl. But I find it difficult to bowl in the 'nets' though I won't mind bowling 20 overs a day in a match.

Bowling in the 'nets' I find it very hard. But a young fellow should go and bowl at a single stump. I would like to see Srinath, Prashant Vaidya, and [Salil] Ankola bowl at least 20 to 30 balls a day at just one stump. They should also throw 15 to 20 times from the boundary to keep the arm in good shape. Throwing is a must, everyday.

Which in your opinion is more effective - the outswinger or the inswinger?

The outswinger is more dangerous. I was basically an outswing bowler. Hadlee was an outswing bowler. You have a set field to an outswinger. Three slips, a gully, point and mid-off. It gives you more chance of getting a wicket because it is difficult to leave the away-going ball. The incoming ball is often blocked because you have the pad also in the way. But the outswinger attracts your bat.

About the importance of using the crease. Did you learn it over the years or in the formative years?

It has to be learnt in the beginning. No fast bowler till today has come close to the stumps. I like to tell everybody to come close to the stumps. It makes it difficult for the batsman. The umpire was always conscious of this fact when I bowled. I would come close to the danger area because I bowled straight. It helps you in getting leg-befores because you bowl wicket to wicket.

Do you love restrictive bowling, as in one-day cricket?

You have to take wickets, whether in a Test or in a one-day match. I don't mind giving 45 runs if I get four wickets. I keep telling the spinners there is no harm in conceding 50 runs if they get four wickets. Why worry about giving runs, unless you are worried about a place in the team. Negative bowling doesn't help at all. Look at the Sri Lankan team. Bowling left-arm, over the wicket, with seven men on the on side on the first day of a Test didn't help. A good player will hit you even if you bowl negative.

How do you adjust with the young members of the team?

Because of the age difference, I spend time away from them in the evenings. They shouldn't feel awkward because of a senior person like me. I tell them to play hard, and maybe then enjoy in the evening.

Do you get angry?

I get irritated sometimes when people let their egos rule them. That's what upsets me. Sometimes this ego becomes more important than the team's requirements. In the office, I get irritated, but not with the players.

How is this present bunch of youngsters?

Very talented. Very sincere. But I would wait for sometime. They are dedicated but again there are so many distractions. Depends on how they avoid these distractions, which are increasing.

There is more money, more media attention. Can they discipline themselves? Only they can provide the answers. I only wish they just concentrate on cricket. These distractions worry me. I have seen examples like L. Sivaramakrishnan, Sadanand Viswanath, Maninder Singh. Sometimes getting chances at a very young age can be bad.

Cricketwise, did you miss something?

I have achieved everything.

Still, there must be something.

Well, I would like to get a hat-trick in Test cricket. Hit a triple-century. Such things do come to my mind and that is what keeps me going. I must keep trying to reach the top. I must be known as the best trier in the world.

How do you react when people ask you about your retirement plans?

You have to quit one day. As long as I am fit, my body responds and I enjoy the game, I will continue to play. Dilip (Vengsarkar), Kirmani, Viswanath told me it becomes difficult for a year or so after retirement. I still have the love for the game.

Still, when do you think you would like to quit?

I will be very happy if I continue till the next World Cup. I will quit only if I become unfit and not because of lack of motivation.

What is the secret of your fitness?

It has come from running. It was the most important aspect of my training. To have strong legs you have to run a lot.

Will you like to associate yourself with cricket once you quit?

Once I quit, I would stay away from cricket for at least two years. When you leave after playing so much, you leave with bitterness. To come back and serve, I would require some rest. Forget about cricket. Maybe start a new chapter as a coach. Try and guide young fellows.

But I would never become a selector.

Why? You can contribute as a selector, too.

I have seen people becoming selectors and losing their way. They forget their job and duties towards the game and the country. There is talk of you from this zone and he from that zone. I don't like that. I don't like people pleading, 'take my boys'. I wouldn't like to get involved. I won't mind becoming a cricket manager because I would be working with the boys, and not sitting in the room and picking the boys. I am not cut out for that job.

How important is money to you?

I earn it through hard work. I need money to live a good life. I don't want to earn in crores. I just want enough to have a good living. That's why I like to work. I enjoy sitting in office. I am looking after 15 people. I feel very satisfied if I can give salary to 15 people. I am looking after them.

How do you feel being an Indian? You are so patriotic.

I am proud of my country. I feel in the last five years we have moved in the right direction. I tell you I take great pride in being an Indian. I have travelled so much and can say the respect India has abroad is second to none. We are progressing in every walk of life. We are changing. I won't give credit to any particular party but there is one person, Mr. Manmohan Singh, who is showing the right direction. He has such respect outside India.

If we could have a few more dedicated people like Mr. Manmohan Singh, our country could be the best in the world. We have everything in this country. We need to be proud of our culture, our history.

I have seen people say that if you know English, you are the best. That is wrong. India is a great country with a rich culture. All we need is sincerity and dedication.

Does it not pain you to see so much killing in the country?

It hurts. If you love your country, there won't be killings. We must forget petty things. We must take pride in being an Indian. Take pride in what you are. What is wrong if I wash my car, clean my house? I don't become small if I do such things. There is no chhota kaam (petty work) in this world. Work is work.

What is your message for youth?

Forget small differences. We are all Indians. We have to live and prosper together. We can live happily. Sport teaches you to live together. Why should we have these killings, burning buses. Who benefits? None. We only harm ourselves. I don't understand how one could benefit by blasting a train and killing 50 people. People bum buses and trains. Can they bum their own house? Never. Then why indulge in such things.

It is easy to hit another person. Can you hit yourself?

Would you like to sit in Parliament as a representative of sportsmen?

If I can serve in any manner, in any field, I'll be delighted. I love my people. They have given me love I could never have imagined. I don't believe in party politics. I believe in uplift of the country. We have to live here. Our kids have to live here.

What will be life for Kapil Dev after quitting cricket?

I have an office as you can see. I have life at home. I will play other games. Table tennis, golf, squash, or tennis. I would always play some game. If nothing, I'll play cards.

This interview was published in Sportstar issue dated February 19, 1994.