New Delhi: Indian icon Kapil Dev, who severed all ties with cricket in disgust over match-fixing allegations two years ago, has been welcomed back into the fold with a bang.
The former all-rounder was on Tuesday named 'Indian-Cricketer-of-the-Century' in London by a panel of experts at a function organised by Wisden to celebrate the glorious heritage of Indian cricket. The committee, comprising former cricketers and journalists, adjudged Kapil the best in a 16-man field, including batting greats Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar, for his remarkable contribution to Indian cricket. His most memorable moment came on June 25, 1983, when 'Kapil's Devils' charged to a stunning victory over a formidable West Indies in the World Cup final at Lord's. But in 2000, the cricketer's world collapsed around him. Teammate Manoj Prabhakar alleged Kapil offered him money to under perform during the 1994 Indian tour of Sri Lanka. Millions of fans then saw their idol shed tears during a TV interview while denying the charges. Kapil kept defending his reputation until he was finally cleared. "They did not believe me when I said I was innocent," said Kapil. He was named the national coach in 1999 but quit the post a year later, saying he was disgusted with the Indian Board for not backing him during the match-fixing crisis. Kapil made his debut against Pakistan in 1978 and went on to score 5,248 runs and take 434 wickets in 131 Tests before retiring in 1994. He was also a force to reckon with in the shorter version of the game, scoring 3,783 runs and grabbing 253 wickets in 225 One-dayers. "He changed the face of Indian cricket by leading the country to a World Cup triumph," said former India batsman Yashpal Sharma, a member of the 1983 World Cup- winning squad. "I'm not surprised over his selection because he played a special role in shaping Indian cricket. We've many great batsmen like Vijay Hazare, Gavaskar and Tendulkar, but he's the finest all-rounder. "He defied all the odds and rose to fame with sheer determination and courage." Kapil's main contribution was in making the Indian new-ball attack a thing to be feared and respected. Before his arrival, the new ball was often in the hands of seamers whose only job was to take the shine off it to make way for the spinners. The balance of power shifted from spin to pace during his career. "My effort should disprove that India can't produce fast bowlers. Hard work always pays," said Kapil after breaking New Zealand paceman Richard Hadlee's then world record of 431 Test wickets at Ahemdabad in 1994. He was quick to realise that pace alone was not enough to unsettle batsmen, especially on slow Indian pitches. He relied on swerve and seam and subtle variations in pace to lead batsmen to their doom, the outswinger being his main weapon. "God has given me my outswinger. The rest I had to learn," remarked Kapil, who bagged 219 wickets on low, slow Indian tracks. "It's really praiseworthy that he got so many wickets on docile Indian pitches," said former India all-rounder Madan Lal. "He was great as a captain too. We won the World Cup under his leadership and then beat England in England in a Test series in 1986. What more do you expect?" His bowling, however, overshadowed his batting, which was marked by flamboyance and flair. His rapid-fire 175 not out in a 1983 World Cup match against Zimbabwe at Tunbridge Wells ranks among one of the best One-day knocks. He could have found a place in the Test squad on his batting alone, emerging as the sixth-highest Indian run-getter with eight centuries. "I think I could have scored more runs in international cricket had I been more serious about my batting," Kapil said recently. Other Wisden awards: Best batting performance: Venkat Sai Laxman (281 v Australia at Calcutta). Best bowling performance: Bhagwat Chandrashekhar (6-38 v England at The Oval, 1971). Special achievement award: Mushtaq Ali (first Indian to score a century abroad, against England at the Old Trafford in 1936). Spirit of cricket award: Viswanath (for recalling England wicket-keeper Bob Taylor during the Golden Jubilee Test in Bombay in 1980). People's choice award: Sachin Tendulkar. Team-of-the-century: Gavaskar's 1985 One-day squad that won the Benson and Hedges tournament in Australia.
Kapil declared Indian Cricketer of the Century