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Kapil Dev isn't quite over yet

Bhupesh Bhandari  |  New Delhi 

It has been 13 years since Kapil Dev said goodbye to international cricket. But the media arc lights just can't stop chasing him. In the few hours before we met at 11:00 am for brunch at his tastefully done house in the capital's tony Sunder Nagar, I saw him on television in an insurance commercial, heard him on radio endorsing a campaign to save the girl child and read his comments in a newspaper that it was wrong to make Sachin Tendulkar the vice-captain of the Indian cricket team when he had given up the team's captaincy long ago, writes Bhupesh Bhandari.

"Absolutely. If the selectors want to send out a message, they should do it directly," Kapil says easing himself into a wooden chair. The drawing room has period furniture in polished wood. At the centre is a low table with an enormous brass top. Half a dozen paintings adorn the walls, including a Hussain. A wooden staircase in the right corner runs into the first floor, beneath which is an ample bar. On the side is a rectangular dining table, big enough to seat a cricket team "" the playing eleven as well as the twelfth man and the coach.

Just back from Chandigarh, Kapil looks fit as ever. Dressed in casual trousers and a black tee shirt, he pours tea for himself and coffee for me: "I am busier now than I was during my cricketing days." Yes, we all know about the Rs 2.5-crore deal he has struck with two television channels to cover the coming World Cup for them, I say.

"I will do daily capsules. No more commentary," he says. Actually, the last time he did commentary in the mid-1990s, he didn't really cover himself with glory "" after a West Indies batsman was hit on the groin, Kapil had said that his wife had some serious reasons to get worried. "People don't have a sense of humour. It would have been a totally different matter had a gora said it," Kapil says.

The channels, it is clear, will be able to recover the money only if Rahul Dravid and his boys put up a good show. Otherwise, their viewership will plummet, Kapil or no Kapil. On his part, Kapil says a tough challenge lies ahead of the Indian team, the weak spots being fitness, fielding and running between the wickets. "Once you are in the semi-finals or quarter-finals, anybody can win. Therefore, it is important to perform consistently well in the league games to reach the final eight," he says.

We now move to the dining table. The china has a gold KD monogram on the rim and the spread is sumptuous: Baked beans, corn salad, French fries, sausages, eggs (fried as well as scrambled), toast and juice.

Apart from an all-time great cricketer, Kapil has the reputation of being a good businessman. He had started a stock broking outfit after his retirement from test cricket.

That firm is still there, though Kapil's main business now is stadia lighting systems (he has done the Mohali, Cuttack, Ahmedabad and Brabourne cricket grounds) and hiring out cameras and lights to television software producers including television news channels.

"What about your hotel (aptly called The Sixer) in Chandigarh," I inquire, cutting the perfectly fried sausages. "That I sold four-five months back as I want to focus on something in and around Delhi before the Commonwealth Games," Kapil says. Some gentle probing reveals that he has a health resort in mind either in Haryana or Uttar Pradesh, but not far from New Delhi so that he can personally run it. "Ninety-nine per cent, I will do it on my own. But if there is a good offer, I may go for a partner as well," he says.

"Have you never thought of setting up a training facility for young cricketers? With your name thrown in, it could be a runaway success," I ask Kapil. His answer takes me by surprise: "How many of your current Indian cricketers could have afforded it? These people can't even manage to buy a cup of tea." His solution: Ex-cricketers like him should be paid by the BCCI to train cricketers. "A person who comes first in university does not set up his own university; he comes back to the university to teach," he adds.

"The BCCI did appoint you coach of the Indian team. Why did you give it up midway?" I quiz him. "It was because of the match-fixing scandal," Kapil replies with a straight face. What hurt the most about the scandal, Kapil says, was that it boiled down to a match of one-upmanship between the media. The charges against him did not stick "" he was subsequently chosen the Indian cricketer of the century by Wisden.

Things have moved on since then. Every year before the elections, Kapil discloses, he is approached by more than one political party for campaigning "" an offer he refuses. "I am not interested in elections and seats. If they approach me two-three years before elections for some work, I may consider that," he says.

People have different perceptions of Kapil's contribution to Indian cricket. While some say that he gave Indian fast bowling its life breath back at a time when the spin quartet had a mafia-like hold over Indian bowling, others say that Kapil brought the much needed aggression into Indian sport. Kapil's own take is different: "My biggest contribution was that I brought small town India into the cricketing landscape of the country. If you look at the current crop, you will find only a handful of big city boys. The rest of the team comes from places like Jalandhar, Allahabad and Ranchi."

Kapil's rivalry with one city-boy, Sunil Gavaskar, was much written about during their cricketing days. To be fair, Kapil acknowledges Gavaskar's role in his career, especially in perfecting his deadly out-swinger. "He was a perfect cricketer, though my idol was (Gundappa) Vishwanath," he says. "Then how did the fall-out happen?" I ask. "There was no fall-out. Even if he comes today, I will get up and offer him my chair," Kapil replies.

Why is it, I ask Kapil, that there are so few all-rounders left in the game today? (Jacques Kallis and Andrew Flintoff are the only names that come to mind.) Kapil's answer is insightful: "It puts a lot of strain on the body. These people do ten months of cricket in a year now, we used to do just six."

By now, Kapil has visitors waiting for an audience. Also craving for attention is his Lhasa Apso. I get up and take my leave.

First Published: Tue, February 27 2007. 00:00 IST