'Paaji' on a mission

KAPIL DEV... successful sporting icon.-G.P. SAMPATH KUMAR

Kapil Dev's involvement in golf is now extending beyond just playing social rounds with the TOP GUNS because he is a serious player in the sport's administration.

Travelling to the cricket ground in KL, as rain drops fell on the windscreen, Kapil Dev looked at the surrounding gloom and spoke about India's disappointing show. "I can't understand it," he said, obviously pained by the team's unimpressive performance.

We have all the talent and all the support. Then, why don't we play consistently?

Finding an answer to this question is not easy, opinions vary wildly on what exactly is the problem but Kapil offered a possible answer. The bowlers, on most occasions, do their job — the batsmen have to stand up and deliver.

Kapil's days of glory on the cricket field are part of Indian cricket history, but he remains an enduring favourite, an evergreen hero. He was loved for his `josh' and `diler' cricket, his dashing style represented energy and enthusiasm. On the cricket ground Kapil enjoyed what he was doing and conveyed this irrepressible joy to the spectators. He will forever be remembered not just for his 434 Test wickets, 5000-odd runs and for holding aloft the World Cup at Lord's, but also for taking Indian cricket forward in a positive manner.

For Kapil, and everyone else, life moves on. Today `Paaji' is active in other fields, he is a celebrity, who is in great demand. Once a model and successful `khiladi', he is now a successful sporting icon who has made a smooth transition from active cricket to celebrityhood. This switch of roles represents a marriage of cricket and commerce.

Earlier Kapil spent time in the dressing room and on the cricket field; now he attends to commitments in boardrooms. Considering the range of activities he is engaged in, Kapil remains a genuine all-rounder though he is playing an altogether different game — he opens stores, launches books, judges fashion shows, attends wine-tasting sessions, delivers motivational lectures, inaugurates gyms, participates in charity events... Among all these activities what excites him most is playing golf. Kapil is known to swing a very capable club, he routinely cards par and has taken many people by surprise on the course. But his involvement is now extending beyond just playing social rounds with the top guns because he is a serious player in golf administration. Associated with the Asian tour for some time, Kapil is trying to set right the mess on the Indian tour and is in discussions to bring in a major sponsor who will inject money and method into the system.

"I love the sport," he says, "and see this as an opportunity to contribute." Displaying the sure touch of an expert who understands the importance of timing Kapil feels there is currently a buzz about Indian golf. "Everyone is supporting it — the sponsors, the media and the talent," he explains. "The time to move on, go to the next level and make progress is now. If this opportunity is lost, the moment will pass and we will not catch the momentum again."

While Indian golf is just about getting off the block, Indian cricket has sped off in an altogether new direction. The KL tournament, and other proposed off-shore cricket games, represent a big push to export a product that has global appeal. KL represents a triumph for cricket and commerce because the tri-series reinforces several emerging trends. Regardless of India's result in the competition, the BCCI is a winner as it knows Indian cricket can be exported successfully to any corner of the world. Absence of spectators, disinterest in the home country and empty stands at the venue are non-issues — what matters is the place should have a hotel and an airport. The rest is quickly arranged: the ground can be readied, lights erected and a drop-in pitch couriered from anywhere. The only critical input is TV cameras — as long as they are rolling, you have, as they say, a game on your hands. And, serious money in the bank.

Like the BCCI, sponsors DLF also have reasons to smile. The offshore tri-series is their second innings in cricket after Abu Dhabi, and marks their arrival as a serious player in a game till now dominated by colas and MNCs. Interestingly, while cricket has shrunk (from Tests to 50 overs to now 20) its reach and field of play has stretched. The pool of sponsors has grown, and large investments by new companies demonstrates the strength of the Indian economy and the capacity of Indian corporates to perform on a larger stage.

The Aussie players' association took a dim view of their Board's cash-for-cricket decision to play in Malaysia, accused them of putting monetary greed ahead of overall good. Commerce can hardly be ignored, and now it appears Cricket Australia has made a sound cricket decision as well.

The ICC is making efforts to take cricket to new territories, the recent move to get China interested is one example of their ambitious programme. While cricket is normally powered by Indian expats, the real challenge is to get locals involved and for cricket to find strong roots in the new areas. Malaysia, for instance, has the best cricket infrastructure — grounds/nets/lights — outside the Test playing countries, but is yet to connect with kids who tend to move away from cricket after a while.

To the ICC, Nepal and Afghanistan hold great promise because cricket's surge there is fuelled by local talent and that is the model they wish to encourage in other countries. The challenge is not money but administrative in nature, the issue is establishing and implementing sound programmes and following them up. In cricket and in the corporate world, on which every modern sport so heavily depends, the challenge ultimately is of good governance.

Perhaps there is a lesson in this for Indian cricket as well. If, with all the money, talent and allround support, Indian cricket is not the best in the world there has to be a failure somewhere. Batsmen can be faulted by Kapil and other experts for not putting enough on the board. But, at the end of the day, the Board has to take a hard look at itself to fix the problem.