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‘If the elite plays a sport, then the common man also wants to do so’
Kapil takes to a different pitch, but still drives firmly

Kapil Dev, in Calcutta, on Tuesday. Picture by Santosh Ghosh

Calcutta: Kapil Dev, arguably India’s most charismatic sportsperson and the country’s first World Cup-winning captain, is in the city for an over-55 golf tournament. On Tuesday, he spoke to The Telegraph over lunch (quite liking the baked fish) at the Royal Calcutta Golf Club.

Excerpts...

Q When did you last play a tournament?

A A couple of months ago, at the seniors’ level... As you know, I’ve turned 55.

You’re in Calcutta for the Seniors’ Tour, but do you actually feel like a senior?

(Laughs) Main senior hoon... There’s no entry fee to pay!

In the mid 1990s, you’d been aspiring to become a double international, keen to represent India in golf, too. What happened? Did you lose motivation?

I couldn’t give time... Couldn’t train for six hours every day. After two decades of cricket, I would again have had to lead a very disciplined life.

But you were pretty serious for a couple years, weren’t you?

I was, but I quickly realised that playing for the country wasn’t as easy as tucking into a piece of cake. I’m playing now because I’m passionate about golf, not to earn a spot in some team.

You have an amazing drive...

My years in cricket have helped, for I have strong arms... My shoulder muscles are tuned to acting in a particular way... In fact, some of the hockey players can hit even longer drives. Different disciplines can complement each other, but golf isn’t only physical. You need to plan and execute well.

Among cricketers/former cricketers, who is the No.1 golfer?

Sir Garry (Sobers), without a doubt.

When did you last play at the Royal?

Over a decade ago, I think. The course is so much better now. There’s a massive difference and those who’ve brought about this change deserve appreciation... With so much history, the Royal is quite like Lord’s — very special. Golf courses need to be mature and the Royal has that maturity.

A number of quality golf courses have mushroomed across India...

Absolutely. Twenty years ago, I couldn’t have imagined India would have around a dozen designer courses... In 2014, that’s a reality. Indeed, some of our courses are on a par with the finest anywhere. Ahmedabad doesn’t have a golf culture, but it has a fantastic course — Kalhaar. Then, there’s Oxford near Pune and Amby Valley. On the other hand, you also have the traditional courses: The Royal, the Delhi Golf Club.

What’s special about Kalhaar?

Well, what’s special about the MCG or the SCG? You’re challenged, you’re motivated. The special arenas and the special courses make you think... I have the highest regard for those who’ve built the world-class facilities in India. Earlier, we used to envy courses overseas. Not so now.

Has this change come about only because of the corporate world’s interest in golf or also because of the headline-making performances from the Jeev Milkha Singhs?

Both.

But golf remains elitist...

Wasn’t cricket elitist at one time? Wasn’t it limited to the maharajas and the rajas and the nawabs? Look at the inroads cricket has made... People, you know, aspire... If the elite plays a sport, then the common man also wants to do so. That people have aspirations is one reason why models of the BMWs and the Audis keep getting launched in India.

Last month, Hero MotoCorp’s Pawan Munjal spent a small fortune in getting Tiger Woods to New Delhi for a day. Can such visits have a long-lasting effect?

I can’t say... I don’t know how much was spent. However, if somebody has the passion and is willing to spend good money to invite Tiger, then hats off to him. Pawan deserves kudos for being so generous where sport is concerned... Hero and Mr (Subrata) Roy of Sahara have done immense good for Indian sport, not just cricket or golf... I don’t know whether they’ve got the returns on their investments, though... We have to thank them.

You’ve been an Ernie Els fan, but is he your favourite golfer?

Picking a favourite is tough... Of course, Tiger is the one golfer who has caught everybody’s imagination. He’s encouraged a level of interest which just wasn’t there before. Tiger’s like Sachin Tendulkar, attracting hordes. Till Tiger came along, only White golfers had a following. He’s changed the script so dramatically.

What drew you to Els?

Els’ swing... It seemed he was playing an instrument of music.

Who is India’s finest golfer?

There are so many... Jeev, Shiv Kapur, Gaganjeet Bhullar, Arjun Atwal, Jyoti Randhawa, Anirban Lahiri... Internationally, they’re recognised, which is pleasing. It’s a matter of pride.

To succeed, do you need to do anything different in golf?

(Passionately) No... As with the other fields, you need to be disciplined and you need to enjoy what you’re doing. You may not always get the result you want, but the level of enjoyment should remain high. That’s a must.

The last one... Is there a message for the younger lot?

Enjoy... Sport, studies... Whatever.