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Kapil Dev hails present generation as fearless

Exclusive - I was never a rebel, insists icon

Calcutta: Saturday will see the charismatic Kapil ‘Dil Se’ Dev, India’s first World Cup-winning captain, being accorded the Board’s highest honour — the Col. C.K. Nayudu Award. Kapil, now 55, spoke at length (for an hour, over two sessions) to The Telegraph on Friday.

Excerpts...

Q Your India innings lasted 16 years... Today, if you sit back and reflect, how many marks would you give yourself on 10?

A I could have done better had I also had the benefit of a computer/video analyst who could freeze frames and provide the inputs I wanted... In this regard, at least, technology has brought about so much change... The video recordings would have helped and I could have prevented my head from tilting so much to the left... I could have learnt to bowl straight, from (Sir) Richard Hadlee. Though I was my own coach, it’s possible that a specialist would have been useful.

But won’t you give yourself an eight?

(Laughs) Not that much... I could and should have worked harder.

You came across as such a natural athlete. Surely, that gave you an advantage...

I still had to work hard.

Twenty years after retiring, do you have regrets?

No... But, when I was playing, I wish I had the head of today and the body of yesterday!

Many of us believe you could have done much better as a batsman (5,248 runs in Tests, 3,783 in ODIs)...

It’s possible, but don’t forget I had to do a lot of bowling... Our attack was such that I had to bowl a good many overs in every innings and, for that, I had to make sure I didn’t get tired while batting. That’s why I was more a hitter. I couldn’t afford to use up all my energy with pads and gloves on.

As captain, you had more than one innings. Was it very unsettling?

It was, definitely. I don’t know who was responsible, the selectors or the administrators, but it wasn’t a good move to give me the captaincy and then take it away... I got back the captaincy, only to see it being taken away yet again. Too much of chopping and changing doesn’t help and could lead to some people playing games. An unsettled environment neither helps team spirit nor performance.

Thankfully, it’s different now...

This change started with Sourav Ganguly’s tenure (early 2000)... He lost the captaincy and got dropped from the team (late 2005), but I felt he could have captained India for as long as he played. He had the qualities to do so. Sourav did make a comeback, but never got back the captaincy.

You’ve mentioned ‘playing games’... Are you suggesting there’s no place for former captains in the dressing room?

No... Sachin Tendulkar, for example, gave up the captaincy... But you certainly don’t want a situation where some people begin to play games. The selectors and the administrators should, at all times, send the right signal.

It wasn’t long ago that Sunil Gavaskar told me that you and Sachin Tendulkar were India’s “greatest” cricketers. Your take?

My take? I’ll say Sunil and Sachin have been our greatest... We shouldn’t compare... Sunil took our cricket to another level... Without a helmet, he faced fast bowlers who consistently bowled around 150 kmph... That was something... Sunil gave us self-belief... Sachin followed him, taking Indian cricket further. That’s progress.

Were there occasions when you actually had major differences with Gavaskar or do you blame the media for imagining things?

I have always admired Sunil... In fact, he’s the one member of my World Cup-winning team whom I’m in touch with the most... I can call him at any time. Do I need to say more?

But differences?

Sunil and I differed in our approach... He wanted to first save a match, whereas I wanted to win... Having said that, don’t forget he made his debut seven years before I did. Sunil’s approach must also have been shaped by the men around him. As you’re aware, I’ve been the positive sort.

Despite being a big achiever yourself, did you envy a contemporary?

Look, you may call it envy, but I admired Hadlee... Depends on your interpretation... I admired a few others as well, but I didn’t envy them.

Just how much has Indian cricket advanced in the last 20 years?

Oh, it has come a long way... Truly a long way... Today’s cricketers have my body language. They play hard and don’t want to lose. They’re stronger in the head.

That’s interesting... What has brought about this change?

Don’t get me wrong, but I think it’s because of more money.

What’s the connection?

Money makes you stronger... Let me give you an example... If you go to Harrods with 10 in your pocket, you will have a certain type of body language... You won’t be that confident... But if you walk in with 1,000, then you’ll shop like a king. The present generation has the confidence to be bold, because it doesn’t have to worry (about the bank balance)... They’re game when it comes to accepting a challenge. The present generation is fearless and there’s a distinct change in attitude. Look at Virat Kohli.

Accepted, but wasn’t cricket more competitive in your era, with almost every team having a clutch of top-bracket performers?

Every generation can’t be the same... The West Indies were great at one point in time, now the South Africans are No.1 in Test cricket... Look at how Sri Lanka have improved. They can beat anybody... To talk of India, the Sachins, the Rahul Dravids and the Mahendra Singh Dhonis have been better than the cricketers of my time. So, I hope I’ve answered your question.

On to something which keeps getting debated... Are you for the DRS or do you feel that the technology needs to improve?

It’s fine if there’s 99 per cent satisfaction.

Are you, then, for more technology being introduced?

Not in everything, or else the charm will go out of cricket. But if there’s a wrong and there’s the chance to set it right, then why not? Why have a situation where one bad decision could alter the course of a series?

Is cricket headed in the right direction and what’s the future of the Test format?

Test cricket shouldn’t die... This is something the ICC must take note of... There’s space for all three formats, just as there’s space for rock, folk and classical music. Each one of them provides value.

To talk of T20... Is it helping or harming cricket?

Both... That said, why should you be critical when it is encouraging positive cricket and attracting crowds?

You had a significant role in the Indian Cricket League (ICL)... It didn’t have the Board’s approval, but was the first off the blocks, before the Indian Premier League (IPL)...

That was the need of the hour then (in mid 2007)... It opened up the market, gave opportunities.

Did you ever see yourself as a rebel?

Never... I was never a rebel... I only did a job I was asked to do (by Zee)... The ICL wasn’t my league... Did it stop anybody from playing? No, we wanted to promote the game.

Your thoughts on the IPL...

It’s good... The cricketers are happy, there’s more money now... The IPL is talked about in the US and even in China. However, the authorities must ensure that no harm comes to the game (by way of scandals).

What are the qualities you look for in a cricketer?

Commitment comes first, talent later... That’s what I look for in business too... Some may be more talented, but lack the commitment. They won’t get into my team. Sure, it’s good to be smart, but not oversmart.

Not everybody is able to comfortably bridge the gap between domestic and international cricket...

Well, cricketers first need to understand themselves and, then, whether they belong to the biggest stage. Self-belief counts for a lot. Understand yourself and understand what you’re capable of.

Your advice to the next generation?

Have a purpose, aim to excel... Don’t look for money only. Perform and the rewards will follow.

Anything for the administrators?

Don’t be selfish and don’t bring egos into the picture... Look to better the system and have a vision... A vision is a must.

Is keeping cricket free of corruption the No.1 challenge?

I agree, yes... The bigger the player, the bigger his responsibility to ensure that the dressing room remains ‘clean’. He’s not there merely to score runs and take wickets.

How should one describe you?

(Laughs) I’m a very passionate person... I’m passionate about everything I do and I hate losing. Earlier, I hated losing in cricket, now it’s golf... My motto is to live life to the fullest. Work hard for five days, relax for the last two days of the week... I don’t take anything for granted.

Who will you think of the most when you receive the Board’s No.1 award?

My late mother, wife, daughter... Romi will be there with me, but Amiya has her exams... I’ll remember Rajbhai (the late Raj Singh Dungarpur)... He was the one who gave me my first big exposure, picking me for the CCI team which went to Kenya in 1975-76... Sunil, Vishy (Gundappa Viswanath), Tiger Pataudi, Eknath Solkar... All were there... Such trips would be a mix of cricket and holidays... Days of fun for the seniors, days of learning for a teenager like me.

Finally... You were the India coach for a while, but post-retirement, has the Board utilised your experience and knowledge to the extent it should have?

You’ve posed an awkward question... It’s not for me to answer.