Senior citizen Kapil

Kapil Dev’s career has entered a new phase. The Indian team needs his assistance both on and off the field, and the former Indian skipper is only too happy to provide it, indeed, he seems to be playing his role to perfection.

Published : Nov 30, 2017 15:23 IST

 Kapil Dev did all the hard work to establish himself as an all-rounder of international class.
Kapil Dev did all the hard work to establish himself as an all-rounder of international class.

Kapil Dev did all the hard work to establish himself as an all-rounder of international class.

He is a transformed man. The change is not very obvious but it has come about. Kapil Dev Nikhanj is now the acknowledged senior pro of Indian cricket. And he behaves just that way. There is a distinct change in his philosophy to the game, to life, to Indian cricket.

The change was coming about even in India. It was complete in South Africa where he realised where he stands now in his career. The petty politics of the captaincy, of yearning for a recall because of Azharuddin’s poor record, are all behind him now. He may have had a sneaking feeling that he may be asked to lead again. That the invitation did not come did not hurt him. That showed maturity.

It’s as well that Kapil did not get the captaincy. The change would have plunged the team further into the kind of divisive politics that ruined the tour of Australia. He did not brood over it. He simply accepted the inevitable and began to think more positively. He has become a genuine advisor to the captain on several matters now, one who feels he has a constructive role to play in management.

Kapil ran the nets for a week. He was the first to volunteer to do the job. Indian team practice sessions were descending into nothingness. The easy-going attitude had become a team habit. The seniors decided that they should take an active part in team management rather than leave everything to the official managers. And that is when the idea was struck that senior players should take turns in giving a serious tilt to the practice.

That is not all. Kapil was made the 12th man in the four-day game at Centurion Park. He did not handle the job by rote. He went to the other extreme of doing a professional job of being the 12th man. He would note down the fielders’ requirements, take out their helmets, protectors, etc., and place them on the kit bags for ready delivery. He would note down individual requirements for the drinks breaks and carry with him whatever had been asked for. He would order the reserves to the nets at fixed times, supervise their efforts and even take an interest in what was being served for lunch.

This change of heart is a stunning development. On previous tours too he had been a senior player but he did not interact with the team and his fellow seniors as he is doing now. Maybe, he felt left out. There were many occasions on which he had tried to contribute in Australia but his advice was rarely heeded and he stopped worrying about the team’s performance and concentrated on his own bowling. That was a good thing for the country since he took those 25 wickets in five Tests and kept the team in the game until a second batting collapse ruined everything.

The ambition to become the world’s leading Test wicket-taker burns in him. Since studying Richard Hadlee’s professional approach to the game in 1990 he wished to copy his methods. He wanted to call up the same dedication to a personal cause which in a bowler is not such a bad thing since his performance will improve the team’s too. But such fierce individualism is scowled upon in the country. Players must always be seen to be taking allegiance oaths to the captain, sign pledges to the team, demonstrate their loyalty every day. Such are the demands in a country that boasts of unity in diversity.

No Indian cricketer can afford to be seen as an individualist. He would be taken to task by the regional pulls and pressures. And even if he is not a victim of those politics, the selection procedure may start becoming funny for him and no player can afford that kind of tension over selection. Kapil can assume his place in the team until he decides to hang up his boots but he cannot assume much more these days.

In the web of intrigue that the Indian cricket team seems to be enmeshed in, several conspiracy theories abound. Former captains are seen as agents provocateurs. They give the impression that they are eternally toying with the idea of displacing the current captain. Kapil may have been guilty of some deviousness in such matters in the past. He is a different personality now. As the seniormost member of the side, Kapil has found it difficult to hit it off with colleagues who are getting younger and younger. The tastes are so different in these generational changes that it is never easy for the senior player to interact on an everyday basis. But that is the reason why they are given a few additional comforts such as a single room and time off from first class games. Still, the call of national duty is such no senior can afford to detach himself from the side altogether. Kapil went through the various phases of involvement, advisory roles and detachment before finding the perfect compromise now in trying to be helpful. Such an attitude has helped seal many fissures in the top half of the team with its three captains including the current one.

Kapil Dev has not taken offence at any of the barbs aimed at him. He forgives those who may have said or written cruel words because he respects the cricket they have played.

The Board may have done wisely to include Kapil in the tour management committee. He appends his signature to the team selection these days. This gives him a feeling that he should be involved again. Any unofficial role in such things is a burden on the one who advises more than the one who receives the advice.

Kapil also brushes away criticism with a philosophical air these days. He does not take it personally as some others may have tended to do. He kept his cool right through the tirade they ran against him on the tour travel uniform episode, refused to get involved in the cold war with a former captain though he got slammed in print for many acts of his that had to do with exhibition and other lighthearted cricket out of season, and treated with disdain any comments on his playing on in Test cricket only to get the record.

Watan ke liye (for the country) is a favourite saying of his. It has become that after someone had used the term in reference to how the Pakistani players are always playing for watan while the Indians are playing for their individual records. Having won the World Cup once for the country, and done it in pioneering style by beating the till then believed to be unbeatable West Indians, he hardly need concern himself with any criticism on individualism and lack of team work.

He has not taken offence at any of the barbs aimed at him. He forgives those who may have said or written cruel words because he respects the cricket they have played. He has set his aim on the world record and he will not allow anything to distract him from that objective. But to be able to enjoy his cricket he has decided that the best way is to get involved in team work while still keeping his own hunt for the world record in focus.

As a player who has always responded to occasions with a sense of theatre about him, Kapil lighted up the first ever Test between India and South Africa with a wicket off the very first ball. If Jimmy Cook believed this would be the normal warmup dolly, he was in for a shock. This was the perfect outswinger on length around off stump and leaving rapidly. Perhaps, he could bowl such a ball even if woken up in the middle of the night and given the red cherry to begin the attack in some night-night Test.

The talent remains intact even if he knows he is ageing and it takes that bit more every day to recover from the previous day’s Test exertions of close to 20 overs of concentrated action. He is all admiration for people like Hadlee and Marshall who were in the game for close to 15 years. And they are bowlers who did not miss too many Tests. Imran’s career may have stretched 21 years but in the later part of his career, he picked and chose where and when he would play. Not to have missed a match in a career of 117 Tests (upto and inclusive of the Durban Test, the first in this series) is an achievement by itself. He was left out of one Test on grounds that he was trying to stage a mutiny. Arguing over that will take us neither here nor there. The Delhi incident of 1984 just happened. But he is not even holding the grouse that others got away with murder.

The record of most appearances for the country — now that he has passed Dilip Vengsarkar’s 116 Tests he is behind only Sunil Gavaskar’s 125 — will soon be his. Passing 431 wickets will, however, give him far greater pleasure than any endurance records.

He speaks of the lack of fire in some of the youngsters who are lucky to break into the side on their talent but who do not seem to work hard enough to make full use of that talent. His career was the reverse of theirs. He did all the hard work to establish himself as an all-rounder of international class. By then his body had been so well formed he could keep it in trim with lighter in-season training than anyone else.

The realisation that he is somewhere near the end of his career may have mellowed him to an extent whereby he has been able to switch his thinking to that of a senior pro rather than one who has to compete with the pack.

If there is one thing for which Gavaskar is fondly remembered, it is the decisiveness with which he left the game and on an absolute high. Kapil is some way from actually contemplating retirement but when he goes he may choose to pay one of his first captains the greatest compliment by imitating him in the manner of taking his bow.

The magic figure of 432 is some way away and there are miles to go before India’s major strike bowler can think of taking rest. If half the national Test batting is said to have left the game on Gavaskar’s retirement, far more than half the bowling would go with Kapil Dev.

The senior lions of the pack do not have to hunt desperately for their prey. They get them with rather more ease than the young cubs. And that is what Kapil is, the senior who has realised the better parts of a life in cricket lie in savouring the great moments the game held for him than in getting worked up over the politics which will eternally be there.

This article was published in The Sportstar of December 5, 1992.

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