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The first Test he watched was the one in which he played! “I always concentrated on playing than watching,” remarked Kapil Dev. Watching would have deprived him of precious training time. So it was only playing.
At the end of his career, Kapil can look back with pride at his cricket conquests – 131 Tests, 5248 runs and 434 wickets. He has lost count of the trophies he has won but has some fond memories from his illustrious journey.
The 1983 World Cup victory changed the face of Indian cricket. The team was no more a miniscule presence in the international arena. It was an epic performance that gave the game a great fillip in the nation. Cricket became a way of life and Kapil a household name.
But, unsurprisingly, he has been more of a Test cricketer. “There is nothing like a Test match. Each session is an intrigue. Each session counts. Each session throws up challenges. There is tension. There is fun. I have enjoyed my Tests.”
1984 exclusion and Tiger’s advice
Kapil should have ended with a fantastic record of playing all his Tests without a break. But there was one after 66 Tests. India lost against England at the Ferozeshah Kotla in 1984. And Kapil his place in the side. He and Sandeep Patil were excluded for what the National selectors thought were casual shots that propelled India to a defeat. Kapil returned to the team but Patil never played Test cricket again.
Regrets? “No. I did feel bad at that time. But then I won’t blame anyone. I blamed myself for it because I gave the selectors an opportunity to drop me,” Kapil told The Hindu.
The match he missed was the Calcutta Test where debutant Mohammad Azahruddin scored a fine century.
If Kapil took the episode in his stride and decided to “move on”, the credit lay with Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi.
“I can never forget his gesture. He wrote a letter and warned me not to react strongly. It would have been easy for me to lash out but Pataudi cautioned me. He wanted me to just be patient and make my point by performing well,” remembered Kapil. He responded with knocks of 53 and 49 and two wickets in his comeback Test at Madras.
Two favourite Tests
The 1984 incident cannot be forgotten. But Kapil would always cherish the Tied Test at Madras in 1986 and the Kolkata epic in 2001 — both against Australia.
“For four days Australia dominated the Test. We held the upper hand on the final day (chasing 348 to win). We accepted the challenge and went for it. It was a great match. Each session saw fortunes oscillate. At the end of it the Australians were happy and we were sad. But it was a fair result that the match ended in a tie,” said Kapil.
A match in which he did not play in but does not mind revisiting is the Laxman-Dravid jugalbandi at the Eden Gardens.
“I don’t think anyone would have achieved what Laxman and Dravid did. It was a big day for cricket when they batted the entire fourth day. I did not watch it. I was on a flight back home from London and the first thing I asked on landing was the score. I was told we had not lost a wicket.
Kapil, 57, also spoke glowingly of India’s 1986 triumphs at Headingley and Lord’s and the 1981 Melbourne show when “Sunil (Gavaskar) walked out in anger” and India almost forfeited the match.
As he prepares to attend the 500th Test celebrations at Kanpur, Kapil has one word to describe India’s journey — “Wonderful.”