'Kapil Dev inspired me to take up the J&K mentor role' - Irfan Pathan opens up about his 'biggest sporting hero'

Kartik Iyer
·5-min read

Irfan Pathan is regarded as the best all-rounder produced by India after Kapil Dev
Irfan Pathan is regarded as the best all-rounder produced by India after Kapil Dev

Former Indian all-rounder Irfan Pathan recently shared that Kapil Dev had played a significant role in the left-arm swing bowler taking up the player-cum-mentor role with the Jammu and Kashmir Ranji team.

Irfan Pathan spoke about the influence of Kapil Dev on his cricketing career in an interview with ESPNcricinfo.

The first Indian pace bowler to take a hat-trick in Test cricket recalled that the only photograph from his childhood that he remembered was of Kapil Dev holding aloft the 1983 World Cup Trophy.

Irfan Pathan mentioned that although Wasim Akram had inspired him a lot, it was Kapil Dev with his all-round abilities who was his greatest role model.

"Wasim Akram inspired me a lot during my career, but I don't think there was a bigger sporting hero than Kapil Dev when I was growing up. He was captain of the side, a match-winner with the bat, and he swung the ball. If anyone wanted to be an all-rounder in India, there was no better role model."

Irfan Pathan talked about the unbeaten 175-run knock played by Kapil Dev against Zimbabwe at the 1983 World Cup when India were in dire straits after having been reduced to a score of 17/5, an inning he has heard a lot about from the people around him.

"When we were kids, people would tell us about how he won us that game against Zimbabwe from a losing position. You want your heroes to stand tall and fight when all others are down and out, don't you? And what bigger heroism is there than to carry the whole team on your shoulders."

Irfan Pathan revealed that his first recollection of watching Kapil Dev was not from a cricket match but from the Palmolive advertisement that the latter had appeared in.

The Baroda all-rounder added that he had seen very few matches featuring Kapil Dev as only occasionally were they telecasted live, and even if they were, he did not have a television at home.

The junior Pathan mentioned that his first memory of watching Kapil Dev was the outstanding catch he took running backwards to dismiss Vivian Richards off Madan Lal's bowling in the 1983 World Cup final apart from the former Indian captain's superb swing bowling against Australia.

"The first highlight of his I can remember is his catch from the 1983 World Cup final, when he ran backwards to dismiss Sir Vivian Richards. Another is of him bowling against Australia a couple of years later and dismissing batsmen with his outswing."

Irfan Pathan disclosed that as young kids, he and his friends would try to impress each other by showing how to take a similar catch running backwards, and would try to imitate the famous Natraj pull shot while batting.

He added that Kapil Dev's unconventional head position while bowling was difficult to imitate but that he would try to copy it in a jovial fashion.

"His bowling action was difficult to copy because in the loading position, his head used to tilt to one side. That became his trademark too, but if you ask any youngster to bowl outswing with the head tilted, it's not going to happen. Only he could do that. So I never tried it seriously, but I would imitate it in a fun way."

Irfan Pathan lauded Kapil Dev for having such a long cricketing career as an all-rounder, terming it a hard grind and not an easy task.

"His longevity makes him an even bigger player - allrounder banna koi mungphali khaane jaisa kaam nahi hai, ye lohe ke chane chabane wala kaam hai. There is a lot of physical stress but he was never injured."

Irfan Pathan on Kapil Dev's influence in taking up the J&K mentor role

Irfan Pathan played the role of a player cum mentor of the J&K Ranji team
Irfan Pathan played the role of a player cum mentor of the J&K Ranji team

Irfan Pathan recollected his first meeting with Kapil Dev, where the latter gave tips about swing bowling to the then-upcoming all-rounder.

"The first time I met Kapil paaji was in 2004. We had a fast bowlers' camp in Kolkata before the Pakistan tour. There we discussed different aspects of fast bowling - swing, wrist position. He would always say the wrist should be supple and he emphasised the importance of recovery between series."

Irfan Pathan revealed that although they met a few times post that, the telling meeting between the duo was in 2017-18, with Kapil Dev's words inspiring him to take up the mentorship role with the Jammu and Kashmir Ranji team.

"In 2017-18, when I was about to take up the role with Jammu & Kashmir, Kapil paaji was in that meeting with the J&K officials."

"I still remember his words: 'If you genuinely want to do something for the country, stop thinking about playing all those leagues and take Jammu & Kashmir cricket in your hands. Help the youngsters out there. It won't be just a cricketing assignment but a service to the nation.'"

Irfan Pathan played 9 matches for Jammu and Kashmir in the 2018-19 Ranji Trophy season. He scored 463 runs at an average of 30.86 while also taking 19 wickets at 22.26 runs apiece.