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Print edition : August 03, 2002

Former all-rounder Kapil Dev is adjudged Wisden's Indian Cricketer of the Century.

A SPORTSPERSON'S life is often a journey along a treacherous path - the vicissitudes are so unpredictable. Therefore it was not a surprise when Kapil Dev Nikhanj was overcome by emotions on being adjudged Wisden's Indian Cricketer of the Century, at a glittering ceremony in London on July 23. After all, the ace all-rounder's was a career of blood and guts, sweat and tears. His passion-driven game had often led India to stunning triumphs. And, then, his very integrity as a competitive cricketer had been questioned.

The major award is as much a vindication of Kapil's position as was the finding of the fair and just inquiry conducted by the Board of Control for Cricket in India's (BCCI) anti-corruption commissioner, K. Madhavan. The former Joint Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) cleared the name of the former Indian captain of wrongdoing.

The 43-year-old Kapil's priceless contributions enabled him to prevail over strong challenges to the title from batting legends such as Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar. The event, which once again brought to the limelight some wonderful achievements by great cricketers from the past and present, was a celebration in itself. There were only winners here, Kapil being the first among equals in the eyes of the panel.

Kapil Dev with the Wisden Indian Cricketer of the Century award in London.-N. SRIDHARAN

In the 1970s, a decade dominated by Bombay (now Mumbai), Delhi, Karnataka and Hyderabad, Kapil surfaced from "unglamorous" Haryana. He broke barriers, both seen and unseen. He soon changed the face of Indian cricket. Before Kapil arrived, the famous spin quartet ruled, and the new ball would often be rubbed into the ground to hasten the entry of the spinners. Kapil brought about a pace revolution in India, a significant shift in thinking.

India was the punching bag in one-day cricket until an inspirational Kapil brought about a transformation in 1983, leading the Indian side to a 'believe it or not' World Cup triumph in England against Clive Lloyd's West Indian team. The Indian skipper's 175 not out against Zimbabwe which pulled the team out of a precarious position of 17 for five, his quality swing bowling, his tremendous running catch that dismissed West Indian batting great Vivian Richards in the dramatic final at Lord's, and his positive leadership were major factors that helped India achieve that "Mission Impossible".

In an eventful international career stretching from 1978 to 1994, Kapil turned out for India in 131 Tests, claimed 434 wickets at an average of 29.65 and scored 5,248 runs (average 31.05). His record in one-day internationals (ODIs) is awesome: 3,782 runs at an average of 23.79 and 253 wickets at an average of 27.45 runs from 225 matches.

Indeed, Kapil played the game through his heart. He could endure immense physical suffering, as he did when he braved a pulled hamstring to bowl India to a sensational victory over a powerful Australian side in the Melbourne Test of 1981. With his thigh heavily strapped, Kapil operated unchanged for nearly three hours on the final day and finished with five wickets for 28 runs in 16.4 overs, a phenomenal effort for an injured bowler.

In the Madras (Chennai) Test of 1979-80 between India and Pakistan, Kapil's match figures of 11 wickets for 147 runs and his blazing 84 runs were major factors that helped India gain a 2-0 lead over Asif Iqbal's formidable Pakistan team.

Kapil's natural outswinger fetched him wickets in plenty. He was also a genuine mover of the ball at sharp speed, and he never ceased working on a batsman. His physical fitness and willingness to work hard meant that he could bowl for long spells, in searing heat on placid pitches, even with inadequate pace support from the other end - qualities that earned him a world record 434 Test scalps before West Indian Courtney Walsh crossed the mark.

With the willow Kapil Dev was a clean and effortless striker of the ball, fearless in facing fast bowlers and murderous against spinners. His aggressive and bold batting in times of adversity was evident in the 1990 India-England Test at Lord's, England. Kapil, with only last man Narendra Hirwani for company, smashed English off-spinner Eddie Hemmings for four successive sixes to avoid a follow-on. Similarly, his scintillating 119 against Australia helped India stay afloat in a desperate situation in the tied test of Chennai in 1986. He could orchestrate such massive turnarounds.

There were moments of disappointment too. Kapil did not always relish the captaincy, and on occasion the job appeared more of a burden. He was dropped for the Calcutta (Kolkata) Test of 1985 against England - a controversial decision prompted by his succumbing to a casual stroke in the Delhi Test.

The allrounder continued a touch too long in international cricket, and his body could not quite withstand the load and his short stint as India's coach was marred by the match-fixing scandal.

Yet, the memories of Kapil's conquests in the cricketing field far outweigh anything else.

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