India's Cricketer of the Century
Kapil Dev is the finest allrounder to have played for India, and one of the best to have pulled on a pair of coloured trousers anywhere. He was more than a cricketer, he was an inspiration. If one player could be given the credit for changing the way a nation thought about the one-day game, it is Kapil. This he did by leading India to the World Cup win in 1983. He was probably the only person born between Sydney and Jamaica who thought India could win. After that year, India were no longer embarrassed by the one-day game.
At 21 Kapil became the youngest to the Test double of 1000 runs and 100 wickets. He held the world record for the most wickets in Tests, 434, before Courtney Walsh went past that mark. On a memorable tour of England in 1982, he thrice came close to making the fastest ever Test century, his 89 off 55 balls at Lord's setting the pace. Four years later, he led India to a 2-0 win in England.
His unbeaten 175 against Zimbabwe in the '83 World Cup after India were 17 for 5, must rate as one of the most significant centuries in the one-day game. At Melbourne in 1980-81, he claimed 5 for 28 to dismiss Australia for 83 and help India draw the series.
What makes him special
He brought to the game an intuitive understanding and enthusiasm that communicated itself both to his colleagues and the spectators. Indian players were best known for wristy strokeplay if they were batsmen or ability to spin the ball if they were bowlers. Kapil went against this stereotype, as a tall, strong man, capable of driving the fast bowler for a six into the stands or knocking the batsman on the helmet with an unexpected bouncer. With the last man at the wicket during a Test at Lord's, Kapil hit four consecutive sixes off Eddie Hemmings to avert the follow on. No. 11 Narendra Hirwani was clean bowled the first ball of the next over.
At his peak, Kapil was a sight to behold. When he played the pull swiveling with his front leg in the air, it was dubbed the 'Nataraja' shot, uniquely Indian and compressing an age-old Indian dance and sport in one instant. He hit the ball cleanly, and made everything look so simple; it was a combination of talents that made him a huge crowd favourite.
As a bowler, it was his ability to move the ball rather than hurl it at great speed that earned him nearly 700 international wickets. His approach to the wicket was classic, his leap controlled, and if coaches were unhappy over the way his head fell away in delivery stride, they were wise enough not to dwell on it because it worked for Kapil. His coach Desh Prem Azad, recognising natural talent did not attempt to change anything and thus served Indian cricket by not doing something rather than doing it.
His sheer exuberance while batting could be used against him by bowlers who placed temptations in his path knowing he wouldn't be able to resist it. His slide from strike bowler to stock bowler out of necessity in a side devoid of great bowling reduced his overall effectiveness.
How history views him
When Kapil Dev was given the Wisden Indian Cricketer of the Award, the judges seemed to be endorsing the words of John Woodcock who wrote, "India have never had another cricketer like him, and quite conceivably they never will." It isn't the figures alone but the presence. Kapil Dev has a place reserved for him at the head table of the greatest allrounders to have played the game.
Life after cricket
Kapil Dev, a natural sportsman is a scratch golfer who participates in tournaments around the world. He was briefly coach of the Indian cricket team. His business interests - from media and modeling to electronics - have capitalised on his image as cricketer.