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Since 1st March, 1999
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Straight from the Heart: An Autobiography By Kapil Dev, Macmillan, Rs 395

Straight from the Heart is the rough-and-tough story of one of those rare Indian cricketers who played their game that way and succeeded to a great extent. The man in question is Kapil Dev Nikhanj, the first player to show the world that India too could produce an aggressive brand of cricket — something not associated with Indians till he arrived and stayed on for an astonishing 17-long years.

This autobiography, apparently written without the help of a ghost, can be broadly divided into four parts: Kapil’s formative years, his cricketing career, his observations on the administration of the game in this country, and the traumatic post-retirement period when his name was dragged into the match-fixing controversy. It is good to see that Kapil does not limit his autobiography to his glorious career, but chooses to give a candid account of the most controversy-ridden part of his life. The book would have remained incomplete without his own account of the controversy that shook the cricketing world.

But Straight from the Heart would have been more reader-friendly had its author paused to edit his thoughts from time to time. Strange as it may appear, the part dealing with Kapil Dev as one among hundreds of aspiring youngsters is more interesting than that on his record-smashing career. A non-specialist reader may find going through these two sections a bit of a struggle, alternating as they do between unwavering hard work and unmatched success. This is perhaps why the book comes alive when Kapil begins to talk about his experience with India’s cricket administrators, and suggests how the game should be managed. Unquestionably, this is the most captivating section of the autobiography, otherwise replete with quotes and trite sentiments.

Kapil comes down heavily on those running the game in India, caring little about the damage this may cause to his image as a former cricketer, and his future association with the game in the country. Here’s a sample: “If the game in our country has gone off the track, it’s owing to the basic flaws in the constitution of the board…this is where the malaise lies …how can anyone become the board president without having played the game …in most countries players have greater representation in the board. India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka are the only three countries, which follow a different principle.”

While pointing a finger, Kapil makes sure that he has enough up his sleeve to substantiate his charges. “Indian cricket has modelled itself after the Australian system…but the Indian board hasn’t tried to emulate any of the methods of the Australian board…while Australia has stuck to an administrative manager (Steve Bernard) for five years, in India the job is doled out to people who vote for the ruling group, and every tour has a new manager.” This is vintage Kapil, the cavalier cricketer speaking without inhibitions. He is not as much in his elements while speaking about his role in the match-fixing controversy.

This book is not short on revelations. It is evident that the years have not made it easy for Kapil to digest his omission from the Eden Test against England in 1984. Nor is he prepared yet to accept with grace the shuffling of captaincy between him and Sunil Gavaskar which, he feels, unsettled Indian cricket at a time when the game was taking a defining turn towards the one-day variety. Kapil does not have Sidhu’s gift of the gab, nor Gavaskar’s sophistication. It is even possible for the uninitiated reader to find him pretentious and self-important. But if you accept his version of the match-fixing saga and manage to cope with the overdose of emotions, what you will get is the man, completely spontaneous and speaking straight from the heart.

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