Kapil Dev: A bowler should set his own field, not the captain

In an exclusive chat, Kapil Dev speaks on various aspects of his career and fast bowling.

Kapil Dev’s illustrious career was replete with many outstanding spells.   -  V. V. Krishnan

The cricketers voted him the “Greatest Indian Cricketer.” What better accolade could Kapil Dev have expected to put in perspective a glorious chapter in the history of the game. He was a match-winner with the bat and the ball, a one-man army, much respected by the opponents and much-admired by his colleagues.

Kapil was a natural. He could play football (turned out in a couple of games for East Bengal), table tennis, tennis, volleyball and, after retirement, showed his skills at golf. Today, he travels the world to give motivational lectures and squeezes in time for a round of golf. “Golf is an addiction,” he confesses. But so was cricket for the way he played it.

As captain, all-rounder, icon of the game, Kapil’s crowning moment came in 1983 when he led India to victory in the Prudential World Cup. That victory changed the face of Indian cricket and created a self-belief for the next generation. He was the happiest when India repeated the feat in 2011 in Mumbai. But Kapil and his team would be known forever or climbing the peak at Lord’s and ensuring that India also became a force in limited overs cricket.

His illustrious career was replete with many outstanding spells. In January 1980 in Chennai, his favourite venue, Kapil claimed four for 90 and seven for 56, to blow away Pakistan. Among his wickets were Mudassar Nazar, Sadiq Mohammad, Zaheer Abbas, Javed Miandad, Asif Iqbal, Wasim Bari and Imran Khan. In 1981, against Australia in Melbourne, he ignored a thigh injury and produced a scorching spell of five for 28 to skittle out the home team for 83. India, having conceded a first innings lead of 182 runs, won the Test by 59 runs. But a spell very close to his heart is the four for 26 to trigger Rest of India’s collapse in the second innings of the Irani Cup in 1991, which Haryana won by four wickets as he hit a quickfire 53 to follow his excellent bowling.

Kapil is a busy man, attending to work at his spacious office in Delhi, frequently flying in and out of the capital, staying in touch with the game as a media expert. But he has always had time for Sportstar. Here, he speaks on various aspects of his career and fast bowling.

Kapil’s greatest moment came early in his career, when he captained India to World Cup glory in 1983.   -  Getty Images


How would you describe yourself? Fast bowler, fast medium or seamer?

I started as a fast bowler when I was growing up. My aim was to bowl fast. But I had to change my role as I started playing competitive cricket. You sometimes start batting lower down the order and then at number six and suddenly you are asked to open. When I arrived in the Indian team the shift was in the process — from spin to fast bowling. I realised if I had to bowl 25 overs a day in Test cricket I needed to rethink my tactics. That’s when I decided to become more of a swing bowler than fast. My perception about my game changed and I accepted that swing was more important than pace.

What is fast bowling? The one popularised by the West Indians?

Anyone who bowls 145-plus is a fast bowler. Anyone who beats the batsman with pace is a fast bowler. Anyone who makes the batsman duck is a fast bowler. It is not about hitting the batsman in the ribs or on the head. A batsman whose reflexes have become slow may shape up differently when facing fast bowling. Just because you hit him doesn’t make you a fast bowler. When the ball passes the bat faster than you anticipate, it becomes fast bowling.

What about the fear a Jeff Thomson or a Malcolm Marshall instilled in the mind of a batsman?

The fear in the batsman’s eyes confirms that you are a fast bowler. When the bowler brings this fear into the batsman’s mind he becomes a fast bowler. Cricketers know about this fear. There have been batsmen who have scored thousands of runs but they have also looked unhappy when facing genuine pace. Even Sunil Gavaskar says that not every batsman enjoys playing fast bowling.

Did you ever think of becoming a spinner?

(Laughs) I was lucky in the sense that the school I was studying in (DAV, Chandigarh) gave two new balls everyday for practice. I was tall and athletic, so I won the confidence of the coach who thought I could become a fast bowler. I had the edge over others because of my height and strength. I was not picked for Haryana schools and that made me angry and that made me bowl fast to express my anger. All my friends had been picked. You could call me an angry young bowler then. Those two months away from competitive cricket changed my attitude towards the game. I saw fear in the eyes of the batsmen I was bowling to. That day I decided to become a fast bowler.

Kapil Dev bowls to Pakistan’s Javed Miandad on the opening day of the second Test match at the Feroze Shah Kotla ground in New Delhi in 1979. “You see my action when I made my debut. Slowly, after one year, you can see I had modified my action,” says the legend.   -  The Hindu Photo Library


Was your action natural or did you work on it?

I think most actions of bowlers are natural. As you progress you modify your action as per your needs. The more you play, the more you see, the more you learn what is right and what is wrong. As long as you have the capacity to learn, it gives you an edge over the rest. Either you stay rigid or you adapt to become a better bowler. My coach always told me to be side on.

Did you, at any point, try to change your action?

I tried my best, but it was too late. Sometimes your frame is like that, it becomes difficult to change, but you can modify. I used to look up to (Richard) Hadlee, his arm and body were so good. I wanted to be like him but my head would tilt to the left before I concentrated on keeping my head straight. I had to decide on bowling with two eyes or bowling with a crooked eye. Obviously they are two different things. Two eyes give you a clear picture of the pitch and the batsman, but not with crooked eye. Here Hadlee was fantastic. His head was straight. But I could not imitate him. I had played five years of international cricket by then and it was too late.

Did you, at any time, try to bowl open chested?

I tried. You see my action when I made my debut. Slowly after one year you can see I had modified my action. Playing in county cricket helped me a lot where I concentrated on keeping my head straight. From 1978 to 1982 you can see my action changed a lot, I became more compact. In my first Test you can see my hands and legs were all over. But I learnt quickly. The best lesson of side on was when Gavaskar was batting. He told me he found it difficult to pick my outswinger when I bowled close to the stumps. That was a gem of a compliment.

What is the key reason to be side on?

The theory has changed today. I don’t know if it is good or bad. When you are facing a bowler who is side on it becomes difficult to pick the ball. It is very difficult to pick the point of release of the ball. But it becomes easy to pick the ball when he bowls chest on. When you bowl side on you bowl with the body, my action was with the body. That is why I never had injuries. I never had to rely on shoulders or legs.

You bowled bouncers sparingly. But you could bowl bouncers even with the old ball.

Bowling bouncers is easy, bowling yorkers and bowling up is difficult. To do that you have to be a confident bowler. At the back of your mind you are scared the batsman may hit you, so you don’t pitch the ball up. But you have to back yourself and understand that you can pick more wickets when you pitch the ball up. Almost every bowler who bowls 140+ will get more wickets when he moves the ball than from sheer pace.

Kapil Dev has Viv Richards, the most feared batsman in the West Indies line-up, snapped up by Syed Kirmani. Kapil enjoyed picking the wickets of the Caribbean greats.   -  The Hindu Photo Library


What about the bouncer?

The bouncer can be a surprise weapon. Because a batsman who is uncertain is easier to remove. Fast bowling is also about the mind. The bouncer ensures the batsman does not come forward and forces him to play back. That is when the bowler should grab the chance to move the ball. The greatest bowlers in history have been those who moved the ball appreciably. You pick the top 50 bowlers of the world and you will see the more successful ones are those who moved the ball.

But there were genuine fast bowlers too...

The only genuine fast bowler was Jeff Thomson. He was just sheer pace. Dennis Lillee combined pace with swing. Malcolm Marshall also mixed movement and speed. Michael Holding, one of the finest athletes on the cricket field, had genuine pace but at the end of the day it was Andy Roberts who picked more wickets because he used to move the ball. Hadlee, Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, they all moved the ball. Only Thomson with 150+ was the one who got wickets by bowling fast. He may not have picked wickets like the swing bowlers but he put the fear in the eyes of the batsman. Swing is important. When the ball moves you can’t consistently play well.

Is there a specified technique in fast bowling too?

Take the example of Bishan Bedi. He was a body bowler, not an arm bowler like most spinners or wrist bowlers. He was technically the best spin bowler because he bowled with the body. Look at Gavaskar as a batsman — technically flawless. Even today, at 70, give him a bat and he will come out technically very sound. But if a batsman is an ‘eye player’ he is more enjoyable to watch. Like Virender Sehwag, (GR) Viswanath. Take Sachin Tendulkar. He could have played for another five years because he was technically sound. So if your bowling action is technically sound you make a bigger impact. See what happened to (Jasprit) Bumrah, his action attracts injuries. He uses his arm more than body, so that can be a problem. A bowler like Bhuvneshwar (Kumar) will last longer because he uses his body.

You also propagated pitching the ball up and bowling from close to the stumps...

Javagal Srinath was one of the best bowlers we had. I would say Zaheer Khan was outstanding too, with a very simple action. Zaheer came closest to becoming another Richard Hadlee. His action was very uncomplicated. Srinath had genuine pace. But he looked to take wickets with the short ball. In Australia you get wickets when you pitch the ball up. Unfortunately Indian bowlers tend to bowl short in Australia because they get carried away after seeing the bounce. In the process they forget line and length. I can understand because when the wicketkeeper collects the ball in front of his face it cheers you up. But it does not always get you wickets. (Mohammed) Shami is guilty of that. He bowls a yard shorter when he plays overseas. I will give the example of Mike Hendrick. He used to beat the bat three times in an over but never got five wickets in an innings. (Ian) Botham and (Bob) Willis got wickets because they pitched the ball up.

What it the role of the non-bowling arm?

It is very important. As significant as your bowling arm. It adds to the strength of your bowling. A cheetah’s sprint and the direction depend on its tail and not on the legs, same with your non-bowling arm. Your non-bowling arm controls the direction. Look at Hadlee’s action. His non-bowling arm was strong. It is like shooting. Your left arm provides the balance and the platform. If the left arm is strong an archer also will achieve greater success with the arrow. If the left arm is strong the right arm will do the job perfectly.

You always used the left arm for shining the ball...

I never used to shine with the right arm because I didn’t want my right arm to get tired after bowling and shining. It is like kite flying. The left arm has an equal role. In bowling also, if both the arms have the same strength you can perform better. Look at Tendulkar. He batted and bowled right-handed but did everything else left-handed. He had enough power in his left hand also.

There is a lot of emphasis these days on wrist position...

It was there in my time also but television has made it very prominent. You can see the seam of the ball and position of the wrist so very clearly. The wrist is the most important thing for a bowler whether fast or spin. It is important the ball lands on the seam so that it can do something. It is the seam which decides the course of the ball after it lands on the pitch. I will repeat, swing is more important than pace. You can bat on concrete forever but once the ball moves your skills will be tested. Even at half the pace.

“Sunil Gavaskar once told me he found it difficult to pick my out-swinger when I bowled close to the stumps. That was a gem of a compliment.”   -  The Hindu Photo Library


How was your attitude on unhelpful pitches?

First of all one has to look to make an impact regardless of the conditions. I had colleagues who were five years senior, it was not easy to communicate. It was very difficult for me to tell them how to adapt to docile pitches. They were my heroes. The best way to tell them was to demonstrate myself. I concentrated on keeping the shine on the ball for long periods because it would help the ball swing.

So when would you decide on swing and not pace?

At the very beginning I would start planning. I always looked to pitch the ball up. I didn’t mind being hit for boundaries as long as I had chances to pick up wickets. In the first six overs I had to take a wicket. If they played 10 overs in the beginning then my job would become tough. Because the ball becomes soft and restricts the movement.

When do you know the ball is coming nicely out of your hand?

When my ball is landing on the seam. You know in the first few overs.

What was your ideal field?

Three slips and a gully, mid off back, mid on back. No fielder at point but one at cover. Because I like to bowl up. Short leg, fine leg. Third man can depend on the state of your bowling. If the ball is moving I would like to have a third man.

Any spell you remember the most?

There have been many, but many times bowling the best doesn’t help. I will tell you why. When you bowl a genuine out-swinger you don’t get a wicket, the ball will miss the bat. Your best ball is gone waste. It gives you confidence yes, but not a wicket. Swing should be two to six inches. I enjoyed bowling to Majid Khan and Zaheer Abbas in my first season.

I was a genuine out-swing bowler but got them with the ball that came in. Sometimes even with a straighter one. When you have three slips and a gully your swing should begin from off-stump. You should aim at the tip of the off bail. Both Majid and Zaheer failed to read my swing. The Pakistanis were good at playing reverse swing but not our normal swing.

Even today the Pakistanis are good at playing pace and reverse swing but not genuine swing. Genuine swing is difficult to both bowl and play.

How do you respond when you get a wicket off a bad ball, but get hit when you bowl a good ball?

You are your best judge and the captain should also know your strength. Was it a bad ball or a good shot off a good ball? Your problems are over when your captain backs you. It helps you to concentrate on taking wickets and not worry about keeping your place in the team.

As captain, how did you back the bowler?

A bowler becomes a good bowler when he sets his own field. The captain cannot set your field because you know your bowling. You have to ask your captain. When I became captain I always asked the bowler what field he wanted. It does not help when the captain tells you what to bowl. The bowler has to plan. That is what I always believed. Clive Lloyd never used to set the field. The bowler would ask to set the field. All great bowlers would set their own field. How will the captain know whether the bowler will bowl in-swing or out-swing off the next ball? Who is bowling, you or the captain? I like R. Ashwin. He sets his own field. He is setting the trap. Ravindra Jadeja just comes and bowls. Jadeja is a fine bowler but the captain has to think for him. (Ravichandran) Ashwin and Harbhajan (Singh) set their own fields. That was the difference between Rajinder Goel and Bedi. Goel bowled what the captain told him to. Bedi bowled what he himself wanted to.

Is shining the ball an art?

It is very, very important and it has become an art now. You have to retain the hardness of the ball. When you shine the ball, the hardness remains. You put sweat to the leather to help the binding. For reverse swing you make it heavy on one side. It is like the shoes. If you don’t polish them, they become rusty. If you shine them everyday they last longer. The strength of the ball will come from its hardness. When the ball is hard it will bounce more, it will move more, it will also spin more.

“Sachin Tendulkar could have played for another five years because he was technically sound,” feels Kapil.   -  PTI


Bowling in the nets. What was your approach?

When you are 18, wanting to make a mark, you spend more time in the nets, batting or bowling. Even 500 balls in the nets looks less. But when you are 30, you don’t need so much of nets. You have to use your mind and body and preserve your strength. You look to improve your quality. With experience, you get better results. You would have learnt from the age of 18 to 30.

Difference between bowling in the nets and in a match?

Of course, it depends on the pitch. You apply yourself according to the pitch.

Run up and follow-through...

Look first to bowl fast. Line and length will follow. First express yourself. Can’t improve line first and then look to improve pace. It is pace, line and length. Run-up and follow-through is your comfort. Bumrah bowls from 12 yards. Ishant (Sharma) from 22 yards. They have to decide. Bumrah can’t bowl from 22 yards and Ishant can’t from 12. In my case, the follow-through was with the body because of the side on action.

And the jump before delivering...

A big jump can be a disadvantage. The more time you are in the air, you lose the strength of the body. It should be short.

Is bowling always dictated by the pitch?

Not always. Sometimes, after the first five or 10 overs the batsman can decide 250 is a good score. Sometimes not even 350. The pitch tells you that. Cricket is dictated by the pitch. You have to learn to read the pitch. If it is flat, I prepare myself to bowl long. If the pitch is good, if there is moisture, I will bowl up. Or else it will be three quarter of a length and wait for the batsman to make mistakes.

How much has fast bowling evolved from the time you retired?

Quite a bit. Now the fast bowlers have stronger shoulders and legs. Lillee taught everyone to work on the body. To keep the body fit. Now everyone is looking to improve the important muscles. I knew it was strong legs and strong stomach muscles.

What is a classic fast bowler dismissal?

For an off-spinner it is when he flights the ball, induces a cover drive and takes the return catch. He has deceived the batsman. For me, it was squaring the batsman up. I remember Zaheer Abbas, Javed Miandad, Gordon Greenidge, Viv Richards, Desmond Haynes. Getting them caught behind or in the slips meant they picked the wrong line. That was my strength. I cherish getting David Gower and Graham Gooch out to swing.

In Duleep Trophy, bowling to West Zone, all those wickets I remember, getting them caught behind or in the slips. The best was, of course, bowling to the West Indians. Getting Greenidge and Richards was thrilling. Also the wicket of David Boon (Adelaide, 1985). He had made a 100 and I squared him up, the ball went to second slip (Dilip Vengsarkar).

And bowling to Sunil Gavaskar?

He would take a single and go to the non-striker’s end. He was so sharp. He was the smartest I ever bowled to. He would take a single so that I had to plan differently for the batsman on strike. And again differently when he would come back on strike.

When I was bowling very well he would not allow me to keep my rhythm. Always made me plan differently, every ball. Gavaskar would not play six balls consecutively off the same bowler. He forced them to change the line.