'It isn't a job, it's a passion'

S. DINAKAR

FOR some, the game is a job. For others, it is a passion. Ask Kapil Dev Nikhanj, and he will look straight into your eyes and tell you - "This is not a job. It is a passion. You have to play through your heart, man."

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These are not empty words.

February 11, 1981: A young man with dreams in his eyes and fire in his veins had to make a choice. Between courage and glory for the country and a much safer, more predictable, option. Kapil picked the former.

The third India-Australia Test in Melbourne was on the boil, yet Kapil Dev, the pace spearhead, threatened to miss the climax. He was down with a pulled hamstring, quite the worst injury for a paceman, and in his own words "was hardly able to walk."

Meanwhile, India had staged a remarkable fightback in the Test, and after trailing the Aussies by 182 runs in the first innings, had set the host a target of 143. And astonishingly, Sunil Gavaskar's men had reduced Australia to 18 for three by the end of the fourth day.

Down 0-1 in the three-Test series, India had everything to play for, yet, it would require Kapil on the last day. The bad news was that the Haryana all-rounder had not figured in the Indian attack when Australia began the chase, Sandeep Patil sharing the new ball with Karsan Ghavri. Could a miracle happen?

Over to Kapil, who was in Chennai recently as the brand ambassador of Max and Sony Entertainment television - "You have the talent, you want to play, you want to shine for the country. Your country needs you. That was the most important thing for me."

He had stretched himself a little too much while bowling in the first essay, suffering a rare injury in the process. "I asked myself - 'Why me on that day. Why does it have to be me? What had I done wrong?' On the third day I couldn't even walk. I started putting ice on my thighs. I decided to take pain killers, get into the field and give it a shot on the last day."

As Kapil revealed, it was his own decision. "I had to tell the team how fit I was. I told them I will go there and try my very best. The first three or four overs, I didn't put any effort. Then it started flowing. By the sixth over, Sunil (Gavaskar) asked me, 'Do you want to take a break?' I replied, 'No I am feeling better.'

Two factors were at the back of Kapil's mind as he entered the huge arena on the final day. "One was my injured thigh, and the other was the fact that the wicket was deteriorating fast."

Always a clever bowler, Kapil used the wicket to his advantage. "I did not try to bowl too fast. I just concentrated on line and length and let the ball do something. I got a couple of wickets after the fifth over. Then I was charged up."

Soon the pain disappeared from his mind and body - "When you start to perform on a cricket field, you stop thinking about the rest. If you get injured it is not that you are dead. You still have to go out there and fight. I just wanted to help India level the series."

He accomplished that and more. In one of the most stirring feats by an Indian cricketer, Kapil, his thigh heavily strapped, ripped through the Aussie middle and lower order, finishing with figures of 16.4-4-28-5, that included the key wicket of Allan Border.

More importantly, he had scripted India's most famous Test victory on away soil. From the depths of despair to a rarefied zone, Kapil had journeyed... through sheer strength of mind.

That was a mighty Australian outfit with the likes of Greg Chappell, Doug Walters, Kim Hughes, Allan Border, Rodney Marsh and Dennis Lillee. "They had a beautiful side. We played like a team and won the last Test," recalls Kapil. Mention must also be made of left-arm spinner Dilip Doshi, who operated bravely in the Aussie second innings, despite a fractured instep.

Kapil went on to become one of the greatest all-rounders ever, finishing with 434 wickets and 5248 runs in 131 Tests. A monumental effort. Before he burst on the scene, part-time medium pacers would make a brief appearance for a handful of overs before the spinners assumed control.

Kapil changed all that. "I was trying to prove certain people wrong. That was my driving force. In this country a lot of people give their opinions without thinking. Without knowing a person."

More than 200 of his Test victims were scalped in India. Kapil was seldom defeated by the conditions. "A paceman has to learn to bowl on all types of pitches. He should never allow the negative thoughts to creep in. I was positive when I bowled in India. I was prepared for it."

Predictably, courage and character are close to his heart. Queried about the cricketers of his time, Kapil is forthcoming. "Everybody gets hurt. Some people have the ability to withstand pain, some don't. Mohinder was a person who could take pain, up to a high level, and he didn't show it to the other people. I thought Jimmy had that quality. Kirmani too. Once Viswanath got hurt in Chennai on a pitch where Sylvester Clarke was making deliveries climb wickedly, yet he made a match-winning hundred. Chauhan was also very courageous. There were occasions when Vengsarkar got hit but batted with pain."

Fast forwarding to contemporary cricket, Kapil is full of praise for Anil Kumble's lion-hearted effort in the Antigua Test, where the leg-spinner, to the amazement of everybody concerned, bowled with a broken jaw. "It's very good. We need these types of examples more often. People do get injured. It is then that they have to fight."

So what then in Kapil's mind is more important? Talent or guts? In other words, how vital is 'jigar.' Again, Kapil has a ready answer, "You have to have some talent to reach a particular level. After that it is your attitude. It doesn't matter how much of jigar you have, if you don't have ability and talent, you are not going to get anywhere. At the same time, without jigar, your talent will get you nowhere. It has to be a combination of both."

Kapil, a natural, was a free-stroking batsman, who met fire with fire, even when the big, fast men let rip. "You need courage to take on fast bowling. When you are facing fast bowling you are essentially fighting against fear. If the fear takes over you, you are nothing. And the fear can only be conquered if you have a jigar, have a heart."

Interestingly, the last occasion when India won a Test series outside the sub-continent was in the Old Blighty, '86, under Kapil's leadership. What then was the secret of India's success on the English campaign? The reply is quick and on the mark. "In '86 we had a team with the right attitude. It was like this - 'We want to fight, we want to win, we want to enjoy.' It is not a job where you go in the morning and return in the evening. You must have a passion. You don't need one person but eleven of them with passion for the game. We had that in '86."

Kapil was often an inspirational captain, leading by personal example. His pep talk to his men when India was shot out for 183 in the final at Lord's '83, is still talked about. Kapil, once again, takes a trip down memory lane. "I told them, look, the fact that we reached the final itself makes us a winner. Let's play like a team that has come to the final, and people will say 'Look, this team was there.' We 'made' 183, the other team 'has to make' 183. There are two different ways of looking at it. So, let's make them earn every run." These proved words of magic as the formidable West Indians were humbled.

Inspirational, he certainly was, yet there were certain instances, when he was left fuming on the field. What angered Kapil the most? "I couldn't tolerate lack of effort. A cricketer has to go for a catch. Does not matter if he drops it. But if he makes no attempt, I would be livid."

He shouldered a massive burden as a top-notch all-rounder, delivering down over after over, often under searing heat, and repeatedly bailing the Indians out of trouble with his swashbuckling willow. However, Kapil is modest about his awesome feats. "I was lucky that I had two things. Batting and bowling. So if I didn't do well in batting I could always do well in bowling, or the other way round. Actually, there was less pressure on me." He was a marvellously athletic fielder as well.

The Indian side is once again in England. Could they pull it off again, after 16 years? What does Kapil have to say here. "Play as a team. Play to the best of your potential. If you work hard and still don't get it, it is okay. But if you shy away, then everything is bad. Just play like a team. The ability is there."

And Kapil hates comparing the current lot with his 'Devils'. "I don't like that. The game has changed. It is silly to compare. I had a fine set of players. These days people compare Sachin Tendulkar with Don Bradman. It's wrong. Different era, different people."

His thought on the present crop of Indian pacemen: "They need more improvement. But again, this is the best we have." He is sure Javagal Srinath's experience will be missed. "Definitely, a player of his ability will be missed. He has always done something for the team."

And what's the cricket legend's mantra for success? "Not just in cricket, but in life too. If you want to be successful, keep your eyes and ears open while sleeping also."

Kapil Dev is and will remain the Lion King of Indian cricket.