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Retired unhurt

Kapil Dev, the cricketer `la-jawab', was in the city recently. In a freewheeling conversation he discussed life and cricket. K. PRADEEP feels that after being awarded the Wisden Indian Cricketer of the Century, he's now the `Dev' of cricket

KAPIL DEV looks to be coming out of the trauma he went through for almost a year. That famous rabbit-toothed smile flashes across his face occasionally, but he still seems to be wary when he speaks. The tell tale signs of that terrible phase in his life is still evident in those strands of grey hair and the slight drooping of those strong shoulders.

During his playing days there were so many occasions when Kapil pulled India out of adversity. Bravura, unmatched flair which was transmitted to millions of his fans, the never-say-die attitude, he had to harness all this and more to pull himself out of that match-fixing nightmare. The fall out of this scandal was disastrous, for Kapil had decided to end his association with cricket.

Being selected as the Wisden Indian Cricketer of the Century perhaps vindicated all that he had stood and played for. It was a verdict that, more than any other judgment exonerated Kapil. He is now trying to carefully sew, with those strong social and family threads, all that had been shattered. Like one commentator once observed hyperbole comes to Kapil by default and `his English would make the Queen's Haryanvi appear more coherent'. He was never at ease before a microphone but always came out as a frank, opinionated person. But munching into some of Kerala's fish delicacies and chatting away informally, Kapil was that simple, friendly self. "We former players can only give suggestions, it is the Board that has to finally decide on what is good or bad for cricket in India. And very often the Board is not open to very different suggestions. I realised this during my tenure as coach of the National side and as a member of the grounds committee."

Great players do not necessarily make good coaches and in Kapil's case this adage proved true. His comments were taken to be outrageous; his strategy on team management often created a friction and the bad performances of the team did not help either. On his comment that he would like to return as a bowling coach, Kapil had this to say: "Even if I return I don't think I will be able to do much what with the players always on the road. If this is going to be the kind of schedule the players will get not time to brush up their skills."

There were a few points during the conversation when it appeared that Kapil his association with the game was minimal, exactly as he promised at the time of quitting as coach. Though he was in South Africa, on what he termed as a private visit, Kapil said he never visited any of the grounds where the keenly fought series between Pakistan and the Proteas were on. "I saw a bit of the matches only on television, like you'll. In fact, I rarely go to the grounds for matches nowadays. And regarding that new cricket Max played in New Zealand; I have not really watched it carefully. But then if it helps to popularise the game I think it should go on," says this cricketer who breathed only cricket till a year ago.

Being a brand ambassador for Kinetic and Sony Entertainment Television has helped Kapil retain his links with the game at least to a small extent. "This galli (street) cricket that Sony is now trying to propagate is interesting. I think I must ask them to make a trip down to Kochi as part of the series. I may also be there for the World Cup this time as part of this promotional campaign," informs Kapil whose previous visit to Kochi was as coach of the Indian side for the match against South Africa in that tainted one-day series, which was the only saving grace of an otherwise disastrous tenure.

When his world turned upside down, a career and life on the verge of crumbling down it was Kapil's family that stood as a tower of strength. His wife Romi and daughter Amiya went through the continual probing into the lives with dignity. Amiya was said to have been completely traumatised to see her Dad break down, revealing those scars in public. She was a changed child for long, even needing help to be handled. "She now seems to be following her mother. She is into painting and all that stuff. Maybe when she is a bit more older I will see that takes to some sport," says Kapil.

A sumptuous South Indian lunch and Kapil was ready to catch a flight back to Delhi. These are days when players are called out for retirement to fill up some gaping holes in the side. Though this may be a far-fetched dream will Kapil be ready if he got a call. "Oh! Never. I can only bat a bit perhaps (he even demonstrates a few shadow strokes). But no no... ." Kapil signs off, but with a huge, hearty laugh.

Kapil had laughed. For long the only image of this great cricketer was that of his sobbing before the cameras, desperate, disillusioned. That perpetual smile he had had for long disappeared. This laugh, this adventurous, this special attitude was what millions of cricket fans wanted to see back.

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