Can you judge a man without meeting him? Some people have made their fancy assessments of Kapil Dev without even once speaking to him. He is very different from what has been perceived by arm-chair critics. Many have not really understood the man at all. Every meeting with this legendary cricketer reveals more about the man. He becomes emotional because he is a sportsman. And, hidden behind those emotions is pain, which he shares with you only if you know him, and meet him.
Much was written about Kapil when he came under the cloud of match-fixing. Much is being written now after the latest recognition that he is the best Indian cricketer ever. Well, that shall remain debatable because every cricketer would have made his own impact in his era. Kapil too realises it and in private does not appreciate such comparisons but then it is not his fault if he has been adjudged the best ever by a panel which included former Test cricketers, some of whom had even played with him.
He looks quite relaxed now; indulges in long conversations on cricket, unlike the recent past when he would not discuss the game at all. That was before he was cleared of the match-fixing charges. Gradually he has involved himself with the game and today does not mind a greater role than being just the advisor to the Board on bowling.
Here, Kapil, despite a tight schedule, speaks to Sportstar and shares his feelings on the award and some of the good and bad times of his cricketing life.
How do you look at yourself after this honour?
I think in my mind that this is the biggest award a sportsman can get. It's not based on your performances alone. So many factors have gone into it. It's great to be judged the best by people who have played and followed cricket so closely. I believe there were about 30 judges, including former and present cricketers. I don't know what was the parameter but whatever the parameter I was picked the best Indian cricketer of the century. I think this was something you just dream about. You dream to play for the country and you dream to do certain things but to be judged the best of them all is something special. At the end of the day, when somebody comes out and says you are the best cricketer of the country, I think that becomes the ultimate award one can get.
Why were you so excited and so emotional? Your feelings were more intense than when you became the highest wicket-taker in Test cricket...
Because I was judged the best by a jury which consisted of eminent cricketers. For me, it was this judgement by my colleagues that counted and not just the award. This judgement by my colleagues meant so much to me. As much, or perhaps more than my deeds. If my mates say I am the best then it is the greatest honour to me.
Comparisons are being made that this moment is better than that glorious day when you stood on the Lord's balcony and received the World Cup. How do you react to it?
No comparison can be made to that great day in 1983. How can you compare the World Cup win with any cricketing achievement in Indian cricket? That was very different than this award. That was a completely different feeling. That deed was for the country. This award is for individual distinction. One just can't compare this with cricketing achievements. I got this because of what I did for the team.
So you agree with this comparison that you are better than many past Indian greats?
Look, they had to pick somebody. I mean they did that by involving the cricketing fraternity to make the decision. They had not done such a thing in the past. Individually, you may think you are the best but what counts is what the other people think about you. I have heard so much about Tiger Pataudi. They said he was a terrific captain but then I never played under him. So he had to be judged by people from his era.
What do you have to say about this whole exercise?
I mean when you give an award, you reach a conclusion only after certain comparisons. You have to have a certain parameter to judge from. Here, everyone got to make his point and pick his best.
How do you look at the last two dark years in your life?
I think that dark period lasted only two months. The last two years were spent more with the Income Tax people, which was a waste of a lot of time. More negative work, but then one had to do it. The Government agencies have to do their job. But for me it was all a negative job. It was the worst time for me. It didn't really affect me much because I shut myself out, but all this paper work drained me. I spent more time with my accountant and lawyer. All this was against my nature.
Did you deserve this?
What should I say? It is for you to say if I deserved what I got after giving my best for the country. Despite all that people still say I'm the best. Former cricketers and media feel I'm the best. These are the people who know. It also proves that cricket is above petty things. These people saw the actual merit in my work. And that's why you feel more proud of this recognition.
How do you look at the match-fixing allegations against you and the others?
If there's anything like match-fixing then it's bad. It should not be. At the end of the day I did not find any solid answer to any of those charges against anyone. People went by one man's word and brushed aside all the good work of the others. It'll be better if the mess is cleaned up. If there's anything that is.
Were you not alone during that dark period when the Income Tax people raided your home and office?
Never. All my friends kept talking to me. Sometimes they didn't know what to talk. I wouldn't have liked to be in that condition, but my friends were kind to me. During that period I discovered some of the finest people I have ever come across. Some stranger touching your feet or patting you was a great encouragement.
It is being said that you are clean now?
I was always clean. It's all the media's work. The media has become so strong. They need a topic to discuss and write about. It didn't really bother me. I know what I am and what I did for my team and my country. That is more important to me. The same media now recognises me differently.
How would you look back at your career after this new recognition?
I'm satisfied even though you may say I could've scored more runs and taken more wickets but it's easy to talk after the event is over.
How was life away from cricket?
Different no doubt! Earlier, I knew nothing apart from cricket but things changed after I stopped playing. Now I'm enjoying life differently.
It is quite obvious that you have regained your love for the game. You sounded so bitter not so very long ago...
I was always a cricketer. I may have said a few things in the heat of the moment, but that doesn't mean I could forget cricket. Anyone would have reacted the way I did. I didn't deserve what I got, but it's a closed chapter as far as I am concerned. Nobody can take away my cricket from me. At one point I did think why the hell did I play cricket, but I have no regrets any more.
How did you remember Mohammad Azharuddin? No one seems to talk about him now...
I don't know. It was not planned. When I was talking about all my captains, how could I leave Azzu out? He was my captain for so many years. How can you forget his contributions to Indian cricket? He was very different from all the captains I played under.
Can you tell us something about your relationship with Sunil Gavaskar. We have always heard that you never got along with him and he too had a problem with you. At least this was the public perception as far as you two were concerned, even though it is true that you two never said anything against each other in public...
Look, we both had our own thinking. We both had our differences but not against each other. We differed in thinking about the game. We looked at cricket differently on a few occasions. Gavaskar's cricket was all a mind game. He was like a chess player. To tell you the truth, he was a tremendous captain and a great player. Before him, Bishan Bedi was one captain who allowed the players to present their views. Bedi was very forthright and positive. Maybe he's a bit more critical than others. Like Sidhu is today. I asked Sidhu as to how it is that he played cricket on the backfoot and was giving commentary on the frontfoot. Sidhu is very different from what he was in his playing days.
What did you learn from Bedi and Gavaskar?
I learnt a lot from both these great cricketers. Bedi had the quality to get everybody together and Gavaskar kept the tradition alive. Gavaskar did not like to lose and that probably influenced his attitude.
But was not Gavaskar very demanding?
He was right. If I was the best bowler he was right in expecting me to bowl more and more. In the process, I learnt so much. I learnt to bowl to the best of my abilities. He shall remain one of the finest cricketers the game has seen. Gavaskar has done a fantastic job for the country and let us appreciate that. Many batsmen have not scored 13 Test centuries in their careers and Gavaskar scored 13 Test centuries against the West Indies alone. And those centuries came against a lethal all-time great attack. We had respect for each other. Even today when he comes, Ioffer my chair to him. It is all a matter of how you look at things. Whether you say the glass is half empty or half full.
How did you interact with your colleagues in your playing days?
Towards the latter stage of my career, I didn't interact much with cricketers. I was looking at a career in business after cricket and that's why I had friends from other fields and not just cricket. That's why I developed more friends among businessmen.
Is that why they said Kapil is money-minded?
Anybody can say anything. I had to look at a secure future. It is sad when you see former cricketers struggling in life after they stop playing. It has happened to so many of my former senior collegues. I feel sorry for them. I didn't want to end up like them. I had developed a certain lifestyle and to maintain that I had to work hard. If working hard is termed being money-minded then let it be. Would you call Ambani and Tata money-minded? Everybody wants to have a good life at the end of the day. So what's wrong if I aspire to have one and work hard for it.
How do you look at the current Indian team?
It's a very good, talented team but the bowling is disappointing. For quite sometime, it has been our weakest link but then this is the best we have. The batsmen have to raise their game and ensure they give enough to their bowlers to defend. That's the only way they can win matches.
Why have we not been able to get quality bowlers?
It has to do with domestic cricket and the nature of pitches in India. We have to pay more attention to it. Pitches in India are more suitable to batsmen. The think-tank must plan. It can't be depending on one batsman and one bowler. Cricket has changed a lot.
Is it good or bad?
Good or bad is one thing. The truth is that cricket is more scientific now. You can study the opposition better and plan better.
Does it mean you did not plan in your playing days?
Of course we did, but we didn't have these facilities like video back-up. It's different today.
How does one get a good all-rounder. Do we make them or are all-rounders born?
You have to develop yourself. You have to work hard. Imran Khan made himself a batsman after being a bowler. Clive Rice was a better batsman than a bowler. Ravi Shastri started at number 10 and ended up as an opener.Mohinder Amarnath started as a bowler and finished as one of our greatest batsmen.
What do you think has been your greatest contribution to the game in the country?
I feel happy when I see cricketers rising from small centres. I think I can take credit for taking cricket to small cities. We've always had talent in small centres, but they never got the recognition. The system has improved now which I think is a fantastic thing to have happened to Indian cricket.
How do you plan to stay in touch with the game?
I haven't given much thought to it. Whether it should be by way of coaching or commentating or becoming a selector. I would certainly like to be involved with the game. But what hurts me is that even today we don't have many grounds in India where you would like to go and watch the way you would like to. Mohali is ideal. Eventhe Cricket Club of India, which has a lovely club house. I wish we do something about improving our grounds for the sake of the spectators too.
Your mates say you are the best but who will be your favourite cricketer of all time?
I can't judge former cricketers whom I haven't seen. I would have loved to see Vinoo Mankad. Or Don Bradman whose record is unmatched. But I can't judge them. I can't say what impact they made. Or even what impact Bedi made. But I know they were fantastic. Gavaskar. He made such a big impact on me. Tendulkar has made such a big impact on today's generation because of television. Perhaps Gavaskar may have made a greater impact if there was such television coverage of cricket in his time. I'm sure he would have been the greatest of all.
So your favourite remains G. R. Viswanath?
Yes. I always wanted to be like him. We have never had a cricketer like him. He was a true gentleman. And that's the way cricket should be played. I'm proud of him.
How are you enjoying your life?
I'm enjoying my life as I had always wanted to. I'm doing what I like, with the best results. As a player, I had learnt that to achieve the best, one had to enjoy whatever one did.
(This interview was published on Sportstar magazine on 17.8.2002 after Kapil Dev was named Indian Cricketer of the Century by Wisden)
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