VIJAY LOKAPALLY | 7th August 2021

Kapil Dev was a parade of talent, a supreme athlete of pedigree, known to revel in all conditions. His cricket was simply spectacular – a bowler, batsman and a fielder of immense potential, a man of all talents to say the least.

A force designed to change destinies, there was no pretence about the way he handled business. There’s no way of being sure when you say this; but it came across as natural as you could imagine.

Watching Kapil was sheer joy. When he arrived on the scene, a raw, lanky youngster, dreaming of writing a new script, the lad made an instant impression.

First things first, Kapil Dev wanted to bowl fast. As simple as this may sounds; in India, a fast bowler was a rare commodity.

After Mohammad Nissar and Amar Singh lit up India’s debut Test against England at Lord’s in 1932, only Ramakant Desai generated the pace that unnerved batsmen.

What set the 1983 World Cup winning captain apart from the rest is that if his pace was frightening, his sheer skill would give batters nightmares.

Added to that, the fact that he managed to acclimatise himself with such ease only confirmed Kapil’s incredible hunger to grow when faced with a challenge. When others shrank, he expanded when adversity knocked on his door.

Kapil’s spirit to compete, at times interpreted as impudence, was a new phenomenon in Indian cricket. After all, his demand for more food to be provided at a coaching camp in Chandigarh because he was a fast bowler was mercilessly mocked by one of the officials.

The incident, even before he had played first-class cricket, left Kapil in a state of rebellion.

This overriding theme of an unseen hunger and desire I present to you is due to a simple reason- Kapil Dev was born to play cricket. To be honest, he could have been a footballer too.

Some athletes are extraordinary enough to do so, be it a Michael Jordan or our very own Kapil.

“I loved football. To tell you the truth, I tried every sport except hockey. It was damn tough”, he once told me.

But focusing on the sport he did change forever, it’s with the ball in his clasp where he left an indelible impact.

Kapil’s batting on the other hand was sheer entertainment, a huge draw for fans long before the Indian Premier League (IPL) came to dominate the game as the most sought-after product in cricket.

Kapil, with his abilities, was one-of-a-kind and not only was India’s very own action-man adventurous but always a player looking to write his own script. Turn the clocks back to when he accomplished the feat of reaching his first Test century with a fearless six and it just strengthens this observation.

Among those who played cricket with distinction in an era when India was delighted to draw the matches, Kapil stood out. He played to win, to make a strong statement of his prowess.

“It was not in my nature to be defensive,” he recalled. Even while playing, Dev played in midfield, constantly leading attacks as well as falling back to defend.

Be it whichever sport, regardless of the magnitude of the occasion, Kapil Dev guaranteed never resting on his laurels and instead, constantly running the show.

His cricket was structured. Conquered opponents with a flurry of winning moments crafted from an incredible streak of confidence seemed planned with how much of a habit he made it.

Kapil’s long strides when bowling and fielding and the arc of the bat, from a high backlift, when decimating the ball, were unfettered celebrations of a sportsman whose talent knew no boundaries.

The man was sporting dynamite who excelled at golf after taking up the game, much after his cricket was over like it was child’s play.

“A natural sportsman” was how a certain Sunil Gavaskar, one of the greatest batsmen the game has ever known would describe him. However, there’s a certain achievement of Kapil’s that is underrated.

Look, the 1983 World Cup achievement is too well documented to beg a detailed description here. But by leading India’s Class of ’83 to glory, Kapil Dev ensured respect to lent to Indian cricket.

And there aren’t enough words to do justice to how titanic this very feeling of recognition was for a sport that has gone on to become a national treasure.

Kapil Dev’s 175 against Zimbabwe in the 1983 World Cup was an innings that transformed the face of batting in ODIs

The triumph itself transformed Indian cricket forever, galvanizing a generation of youngsters to believe in themselves when facing formidable opponents such as Australia, Pakistan and the West Indies.

Having played the game in a way that was unheard of, let alone unseen, Kapil’s greatest contribution among many was to emerge as a figure that inspired.

Most fast bowlers in the last three decades were fascinated and motivated in equal measure by the man himself who opened the Indian attack like never seen before.

In Kapil Dev, we were fortunate to have a sportsman who defied the established norms. A rebel who gave Indian cricket a new image.