The square face with a protruding jaw is more pronounced now. A stubble with shades of grey make the once youthful face appear mature and even aging. But the eyes still retain the sparkle and intensity of yore. He speaks in a measured voice and despite having been embroiled in many controversies; the man who still is a folklore hero, has not lost his bearings.
Kapil Dev is a proud man. Proud of his achievements as a cricketer and believes he has never or rarely ever done any wrong in his life. Be it the launching of the Indian Cricket League or asking for a larger share of food in a cricket camp when he was a strapping young lad with potential to play for India one day, Kapil believes that he was always ahead of his time.
Standing for his rights
Perched on his cushioned chair in a plush room adorned with photographs of his loved ones and a framed Padmashri citation, Kapil says he has never been a controversial man. "I have always done what I believed was right. When I was a teenager I asked for my share of roti in a National camp. When I was banned from playing in America, I went to court and won. In 1987 I was the first one to defy the Board and wore a logo on my shirt. I was the one who started using logos on the bat. I may have lost my captaincy because of that, but look what happened after that. So don't say I am a controversial man, I did what was right and if it was not right, it would not have been adopted by the establishment later," he says.
The man who led India to its only World Cup victory in 1983, and has been literally shunned by the establishment in the year that marks its 25 th anniversary, is not "hurt" by what happened at Mohali, where the Punjab Cricket Association removed his life-size mural adorning one of its walls.
“They never asked for my permission when they put it there in the first place so they don't need to ask me when they decided to remove it,” and then, with tongue firmly in cheek, he adds:``I had given them the bat with which I played in that World Cup for their museum, I only hope that they return it to me, if they no longer require it.”
He does admit that he felt bad when his pension and that of his colleagues who joined the ICL was stopped. “I felt bad not because of the money involved, but on principle as this was a right we had earned for having played for the country.”
Till date he has not been officially informed of his removal as the National Cricket Academy director and neither does it “bother him.” “That is the way the Board has functioned all these years so why lose sleep over it.”
‘IPL success will help ICL’
His role in establishing the rebel T-20 League, the precursor to the now much talked-about IPL, cut him off from the Indian Board, but there are no signs of regret. The more the merrier, he believes and says that the IPL has given a boost to the ICL. “Everyone can't afford a Mercedes or a BMW. There is a demand for a Maruti as well. And not everyone can play in IPL. There is a vast number out there who are good and need a platform to showcase their talent. We have done that and will continue to do so,” he says.
He does not think that the Board banning those who play in ICL is a deterrent. “Look we started it all, gave unsung players Rs. 30 lakh contracts. They all came with their eyes open and I am sure if the ICL produces talent meriting India recognition, the Board won't be able to ignore that player.”
He believes that all disputes can be sorted out through dialogue, which the Board does not believe in, though quickly adds that it is not his role to act as a mediator.
Wearing a spotless white shirt on which the imprint “Lord's of cricket” stands out, Kapil does not think T-20 is a threat to the traditional form of cricket. “It will only enrich One-day cricket. Now even 40 or 50 runs are going to be made in the last four overs of a one-day game and that will only make it more exciting.”
Does he regret not having played in the T-20 age? “I don't regret anything in life. Forget me that way Sobers should regret he never played in a one-day game.”
‘Don’t neglect Tests’
He hopes that the money which IPL has generated will be ploughed back into the traditional format of the game, like Ranji Trophy. “Parents should always be careful how they nurture their children and I hope the Board does believe that Test cricket is still their main priority.”
Kapil is nothing if not pragmatic and his run-ins with the board are well documented. But he does not care and believes that a time will come after a decade or so when the players' voice will become powerful. And he thinks it has to do with the players getting richer and richer. “When I started playing, I could see that the earlier generation was frustrated. So, probably was mine, but once the money comes in and the players are no longer dependent on the largesse of the Board for making a living, a change will take place.” He thinks that once the present generation of greats retire, they will become a powerful voice for the players as they will have enough money not to be cowed down by the establishment.
Despite all his optimism and rebellion, stemming from his financial security, he sounds a warning note. “I have always believed that sports administration should have a mix of 60 per cent players and 40 per cent others. The players will always safeguard the playing turf and not allow too many changes in the game due to purely commercial reasons. See what happened to hockey in the sub-continent. If there were players at the helm, they would have alongside with astro-turf forced the world governing body to have a few international tournaments on grass where India's traditional skills would have stood out,” he says.
He fears that even cricket can some day go the hockey way, if the Indian establishment does not let cricketers have a large say in the running of the game. As he readies himself to be feted by the cricketing community on his achievements for winning the World Cup 25 summers ago, Kapil Dev, despite an outwardly calm, gives you the feeling that he is preparing himself for a fresh innings. Fifty is too young an age for a man who still has a spring in his walk and a mind that is still yearning for more.