He set high standards of fitness

VIJAY LOKAPALLY

There are many aspects of his character that set Kapil Dev apart from the rest of his contemporaries but if one had to choose his greatest quality, it will be his adaptability in facing all kinds of challenges.

Fighting tough battles is not new to this veteran. When playing he was adept in dealing with authoritative batsmen or menacing bowlers. The sight of Kapil moving on the field was a sheer joy. A tremendous athlete who set high standards of fitness and commitment. All that is recorded for posterity.

Five years after he quit playing, Kapil returned reluctantly to contribute as a coach. His stint was best forgotten, and ended in disappointment when he was forced to vacate the post. The reasons were various. His bad times had just begun.

The match-fixing scandal threatened to sweep Kapil too. But he fought. He put up a courageous front when the income tax sleuths raided his home. Neither did Kapil flinch when the investigating agencies dug into his past in search of any fishy contacts with bookies. Kapil obviously was paying the price for being a celebrity. But he won these battles too.

He is now back to where he belongs. His iconic status restored, Kapil is enjoying the second stint of his association with cricket. He is a brand name with instant success written all over. The smile is back. And why not. For more than a year, Kapil was hounded by every Tom, Dick and Harry during the post-match-fixing days. Those were dark times as friends deserted Kapil and fans shunned him. "It hurt. I was shattered,'' Kapil said of those terrible months he spent in trying to convince the world that he was clean. Few believed him until the investigating agency gave him the clean chit.

Kapil could breathe freely. He broke the shackles around him and took on the world with renewed vigour. There was a spring in his gait.

It was this new-found freedom that brought cheer back into Kapil's life. He held his head high, his chest puffed up again. He is back to cricket. This time in the role of an anchor, or, as he put it, "the TV man.'' The roles had been reversed and Kapil was busy grilling cine stars and cricketers for his television show. How could he forget his roots?

``It feels great to be among the cricketers, especially talking to the youngsters,'' he had remarked when reflecting on his TV serial. Some of those cricketers were not even born when Kapil was entertaining the cricket world with his electrifying stuff.

Kapil has a very strong character. His eyes give nothing away, except the time when he broke down, defending himself as accusations were hurled from various quarters. "It was frustrating,'' he had confided but then he could do little. Once his name was cleared of the charges, the adoration for him was spontaneous. And deserving too.

Kapil, to this day, remains a thorough sportsman. Squash, tennis, football, golf... . he plays them all. He just loves to be on the field. He will somehow find time from his busy schedule to enjoy his golf. And he is good at it, nursing an ambition to represent the country at the next Asian Games.

Kapil is a great golf addict. "It's a wonderful sport,'' he maintains. And golf takes his prime time at times when he competes with the big names on the circuit. He is game for a round of golf anytime actually.

And then his association with various charity organisations seems to be occupying his mind of late. He is known to donate generously and is currently working on a project to identify and promote hockey players. A sportsman has to help a sportsman and Kapil has some plans to unfold in the near future. Plans to devote more time to sports, and not just cricket, with emphasis on producing champions.

There never was any doubt that Kapil was India's greatest cricketer ever. His contribution was phenomenal. Sachin Tendulkar, Sunil Gavaskar and Vinoo Mankad all have a unique place in the annals of Indian cricket. Kapil had a greater role to play because of his all-round skills but he has always remained modest when discussing his cricket, never undermining his mates, often underplaying his deeds.

Kapil frequently received honours from his opponents. Discipline was ingrained and fitness his forte. He was not known to show dissent or indulge in cheap sledging. A role model to the core, Kapil had everything that it takes for one to be a hero.

He was wise to realise that he ought to have a career outside cricket. "I had become used to a certain lifestyle and to maintain that I knew I had to work hard,'' Kapil had been candid in revealing his heart. So, Kapil became a businessman, set up a plush office in south Delhi and made money. "Is it a crime if I make money to give my family a good life,'' he would ask. Incidentally one of his businesses was putting up floodlights at cricket stadiums. The cricket connection worked right for him.

Today, Kapil, a very busy man, has employed a manager to keep track of his precious time. Of course, cricketers need not take any appointment. They can just walk into his office. He loves when cricketers come to him for counsel. Like Ashish Nehra did. Like Harbhajan Singh did.

Sometime last year, Kapil had remarked that he regretted having been a cricketer. It was a remark made in anger. Cricket beckoned him soon. How could he stay away from the game that made him what he is now. He will not be a coach but he will help the needy players. He had come a long way from the time when he was snubbed by his coach for demanding more food at a training camp. The hunger had carried Kapil far in life, making him one of the great sporting legends of the country.

In a fitting end to what is a year of redemption, The Sportstar has named Kapil Dev for its Legend of Indian Sport award.