Mohan Ram and I met Kapil Dev, the legendary cricketer the other day. I am exaggerating a bit here. Saying ‘hello’ and getting smiled at in return would not constitute a meeting. We saw Kapil Dev in person would be more apt. (Mohan Ram ended up taking a selfie though).
Cricket fans who watched the gentleman’s game in the eighties, to me, are the most fortunate. Four of the greatest allrounders to have played the game, Ian Botham, Imran Khan, Kapil Dev and Sir Richard Hadlee played the sport in that era. The endless debate on ‘who is the best among ’em all’ is going on to this day. But I can confidently say Kapil Dev kindled more emotions in fans hearts than any of the other three. Of course Mr. Khan ended up as the Prime Minister of Pakistan and Hadlee became ‘Sir Richard Hadlee.’
Mr. Morarji Desai’s government decided to renew the cricketing ties between India and Pakistan after two decades paving the way for India’s tour of Pakistan in 1978 and Kapil Dev made his debut in that series. He hit Sadiq Mohammad on the second delivery he bowled, forcing him to wear a helmet and the best fast bowler India has ever produced was born. I think it was also the first time an entire cricket series was telecast live in India and we got to watch his batting when he scored the fastest 50 by an Indian Batsman in the second test.
It was in Madras (now Chennai), where Kapil Dev confirmed his allrounder tag, taking 11 wickets and scoring a whirlwind 80 odd runs against Pakistan earning a rare test victory against Pakistan in the 1979-80 series. I think he ended up as the youngest to take 100 wickets and scoring 1000 Runs during that series. Also we got to watch his trademark ‘Nataraja shot’ (name after Lord Shiva’s dancing position) when he repeatedly hooked Pakistan fast bowlers.
India is currently playing in Australia and playing very well. But for me the greatest victory for India against Australia came in 1981 Melbourne Test. He took a series of painkillers to overcome a severe pain in the knees; came to bowl on the final day, taking 5 wickets and paving the way for India’s victory. Of course this was the match which Gavaskar almost forfeited when he walked off the field after given out unfairly and also when Viswanath once again proved India never lost a match whenever he scored a century.
He became the player of the series in England in the 1982 tour. Two things still stand out in memory. At Lords he hit 89 of 55 balls and we were hoping he would break Frederick’s record for the fastest century (71 deliveries) but holed out just before tea and scored a 97 in Oval missing a century narrowly.
But his best moment in Cricket came when he lifted the World Cup in 1983 in England. I consider this as the best sporting moment in Post Independence India. A million articles have already been written on his 175 against Zimbabwe after India were five down for nothing which was the trigger or turning point in India winning The World Cup, so I would give it a miss here.
Kapil Dev is probably the most natural athlete amongst Indian cricketers. In his entire career he missed just one test when he was rested rather dubiously. Just imagine carrying the bulk of fast bowling for over a decade and half and never missing a test due to Injury.
The man remained simple throughout his playing days and afterwards. His speeches and quotes were from the heart and humorous always. He remarked once, “I am from Haryana and have a Haryanvi accent. Why do you expect an Oxford accent from me?”
His inaugural address on launching Robotic Knee Replacement Surgery was enjoyable. He spoke to the point and explained how his knee surgeries during his playing days had gone wrong and were this kind of technology was available in his playing days, he probably would have played the game for three or four years more or could have played some serious golf. He also stressed the point that you should take care of your body and should not go to the hospital at all (in front of all doctors and the promoters of the hospital). I dare say his speech was more enjoyable than his commentary.
There was a big roar of applause when he said Madras was close to his heart (his record in Chepauk is very impressive).
Most of the questions during Q & A on the product launch were directed at him and he replied patiently to each one of them.
I believe except for the people related to the launch most of the audience present was there just to see the legend in person (like me). He got the biggest cheers, obliged the autograph and selfie hunters and after sometime said enough in Tamil (போதும்) before leaving for lunch.
Today, 6th January is Kapil Dev’s 60th birthday (he still looks young) and what better way to start blogging for the year than writing a few words about the Cricketer I love the most. Let’s raise A Toast to the Wisden Cricketer of the 20th Century from India.