He came down to the hotel lobby and greeted me. People lined up around him for selfies and he obliged most of them. As we took the lift, one person shouted: “Thank you for the World Cup Captain”. He just smiled in acknowledgement.
This gentleman whom I was with was none other than Kapil Dev. I was not amazed at this fan following even 24 years since his retirement. For, he has been one of the biggest names in the history of Indian and world cricket.
It was breakfast time as we reached the restaurant. He immediately asked me what I would have and then, in fact, got up to ask tea for me. I was embarrassed, to say the least. Now, there was a World Cup winning captain and there wasn’t an iota of arrogance in him.
“Playing for the country was bigger happiness than being worried about the performance”
We started the discussion and I asked about his debut match in 1978 against Pakistan. Given that the match was against Pakistan, I enquired about the pressure that a 19-year-old Kapil Dev would have felt back then. His response brought out his enthusiasm towards the game, he said, “Mujhe pressure kabhi bhi nahin tha. Mere ko passion tha. Mujhe khelne ka shauk tha. Jab shauk hota hai to pressure kam hota hai.” (I never had the pressure then. I had passion. I enjoyed playing the game. When you enjoy the game, the pressure is less) He went on to say that, “Playing for the country was bigger happiness than being worried about the performance.”
“Negative nahin sochna”
There was an air of positivity around him. As the conversation moved to T20, IPL and the future of Test Cricket; I asked him if IPL can be blamed for the decline in interest for Test Cricket. And his response was, “Negative nahin sochna” (Don’t think negative). He elaborated and said that while it is true that public do not follow tests much these days, but the blame shouldn’t be put on T20 or IPL. Instead, we should think what more can be done to make test cricket attractive. No sports can thrive without the spectators and the need of the hour is to get back the crowd to tests.
Like most of the cricketers that I have spoken to, he too said that test cricket was the pinnacle format of cricket. He added that all the cricketers think the same about test cricket. However, unlike many of the players of his era, he wasn’t against IPL. As per him, IPL has given strength to the players and T20 format is a reality which cannot be ignored.
“Courtney Walsh difficult lagta tha uske action ke karan”
I then went on to ask him about his playing days. When I asked him about bowler whom he found difficult to face, he said, “Courtney Walsh difficult lagta tha uske action ke karan” (I used to find Courtney Walsh difficult due to his action). Amongst the captains that he played under, he rated Sunil Gavaskar as very good.
Soon, my meeting came to an end and I can say that it was one of the most memorable hours ever. I got few photos clicked and even got an autograph from him on his book - 'The World of Kapil Dev' which was gifted to me by my parents on my 12th birthday in 1997.
As we went out of the restaurant, in the lift one lady started explaining about Kapil’s greatness to his son who must have been six or seven years old. Kapil willingly got a photo clicked with the young boy and his mother’s excitement knew no bounds.
I was still in awe of the man even as I bid him goodbye. One line that I will take away from this meeting is “Negative nahin sochna”. Today, Kapil Paaji (as his teammates used to refer him) turns 60 and I wish him a very Happy Birthday. May his positivity remain forever.