This is my finest hour: Kapil Dev


"There is Sachin and then there is daylight" - Shane Warne.

"He (Tendulkar) is simply the best, why argue about it?" - David Gower.

"He is the best batsman in the world today and for the next four or five years" - Steve Waugh.

THE Australian cricketers are Tendulkar fans. The day Sachin Tendulkar undid the mysteries of Shane Warne in the Mumbai v Australia three-dayer at the Brabourne Stadium in 1998, the likes of Mark Taylor, Steve Waugh and Shane Warne joined the bandwagon of Tendulkar supporters.

Those nominees for the prestigious 'Indian Cricketer of the Century' award, who attended the function were (from left to right): Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, Sunil Gavaskar, Dilip Vengsarkar, Sachin Tendulkar, Kapil Dev, Bishan Singh Bedi, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar, Anil Kumble and Gundappa Visvanath. This picture was taken after Kapil Dev was declared the winner. Also seen are the comperes, Mark Nicholas and Diana Hayden.-N. SRIDHARAN

The two Australians and an Englishman quoted above were not present at the Wembley Conference Centre on July 23 to celebrate the announcement of the 'Indian Cricketer of the Century.' They appeared on the big screen, indulged in some hero-worship and led everybody to believe that the little champion from Mumbai would pip the iconic figures of Indian cricket, Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev.

Wisden's 'Indian Cricketer of the Century' award was literally down to the 'Big Three' whose career put together has spanned four and a half decades. Gavaskar's credentials were impeccable, Kapil Dev's mightier and magnificent, and Tendulkar's compared with Don Bradman.

"It must have been very difficult to pick the winner", said India's present captain, Sourav Ganguly. Clive Lloyd said "Sunny Gavaskar had immense powers of concentration and Kapil Dev's performances are greater because he bowled on unhelpful Indian pitches." The Australians gave a big vote for Tendulkar. People had already taken sides.

When the momentous hour arrived, Sir Vivian Richards said: "I am shaking in my boots. It's like a 100-metre dash wherein three are bunched together. But there has to be a winner, and he is one of my favourite cricketers, Kapil Dev. He was one of the fiercest competitors on the field. I never believed he was involved in match-fixing. Someone who can do that and show so much passion on the field must be a good actor."

The final jury was made up of 32 cricketers from all over the world and three journalists. They had short-listed 16 cricketers for the prestigious awards: Lala Amarnath, Mohammad Azharuddin, Bishan Singh Bedi, Bhagwat Chandrashekar, Dinkar Deodhar, Kapil Dev, Sunil Gavaskar, Vijay Hazare, Anil Kumble, Vinoo Mankad, Vijay Merchant, C. K. Nayudu, Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, Sachin Tendulkar, Dilip Vengsarkar and Gundappa Visvanath.

It was amid joyous scenes that Kapil Dev Nikhanj was crowned the 'Indian cricketer of the Century.' The build-up by Wisden Almanack, on the night, put six distinguished cricketers in the race for the ultimate honour. Two of the legends Col. C. K. Nayudu and Vinoo Mankad were dead. The other four were Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev and Sachin Tendulkar.

Naturally, Kapil Dev was overcome by emotions. The match-fixing allegations caused an upheaval in his life not long ago. He recovered his poise slowly. Though he vowed to keep a safe distance from the game, he could not do so. For, he has been in the news related to cricketing activities. The "Haryana Hurricane" regards India's World Cup winning feat as the crowning glory of his career, closely followed by his collection of 434 wickets and the series win in England in 1986. He would be perhaps tempted to treat the Wisden award on a par with his other big achievements.

After receiving the trophy made of bronze, which stands for dignity and greatness, Kapil Dev said: "This is my finest hour. But I am here because of so many people like my first captain (Bedi) and my champion guru (Gavaskar). I also thank my mother, wife and all my friends".

Kapil wished that Tendulkar would break all records and take his career forward. He also referred to Vengsarkar and Shastri and also Mohammad Azharuddin, who he described as "a great batsman and a gem of a cricketer." Azharuddin, one of the 16 nominees for the award was not present at the function.

In his short speech, Tendulkar said, "I started playing serious cricket around the time Kapil Dev's Indians won the 1983 World Cup. It was an inspiration for me. I thank the public for the 'People's Choice' award. I also thank my colleagues in the Indian team, which is like a family away from home."

Seems like old times. Clive Lloyd and Srinivas Venkataraghavan at the awards function.-N. SRIDHARAN

Another award winner who received a big ovation was leg spinner Bhagwat Chandrasekhar. He won the 'Best Bowling Performance of the Century' award for his six for 38 against England at the Oval in 1971. He got the vote ahead of Anil Kumble's 10 for 74 against Pakistan at the Ferozeshah Kotla in 1999.

Though he did not receive any award, Eknath Solkar, India's finest fielder at short leg said: "I asked Erapally Prasanna, 'Sir, can I stand at short leg? He said I was welcome to do so. Then I took the catches of Doug Walters and Brian Taber. Thereafter Pataudi did not tell me where I should stand. This was during the 1969 Australian tour of India."

After receiving his award for the 'Best Batting Performance of the Century,' Venkat Sai Laxman said, "It's great occasion, It's like a dream come true to meet so many legends in this hall. I must also thank Sourav and Dravid who allowed me to bat at No. 3 in that Test match against Australia at Calcutta."

England captain Nasser Hussain, who presented the trophy to Laxman, said, "He is a fine player, but I hope he doesn't come to form on Thursday." (the day the Lord's Test was scheduled to begin).

Captain Syed Mushtaq Ali, who was given a 'Special Achievement' trophy for being the first Indian to score a century on foreign soil (England, Old Trafford, 1936) said: "This is the best function I have attended in my life."

Among the galaxy of cricketers and guests present, apart from the award winners, were Raj Singh Dungarpur, Ajit Wadekar, Madhav Apte, Arvind Apte, Farokh Engineer, Ashok Mankad and Karsan Ghavri.

The award winners:

Indian Cricketer of the Century: Kapil Dev Nikhanj

Best bowling performance of the century: B. S. Chandrasekhar

Best Batting Performance of the Century: V. V. S. Laxman

Spirit of Cricket award: Gundappa Visvanath Special Achievement award: Syed Mushtaq Ali

Team of the Century award: Sunil Gavaskar's 1985 World Championship of Cricket winning team

People's choice award: Sachin Tendulkar