There is something very quaint about Kapil Dev being given the BCCI lifetime achievement award. One cannot miss the ironic aspect of the announcement too for the former Indian captain and one of the greatest all rounders in the history of the game was for long persona non grata as far as the parent body was concerned.
He was involved in a long and bitter feud with the BCCI that began in 2007 with the birth of the now defunct Indian Cricket League (ICL). Interestingly enough it was the ICL that preempted the Indian Premier League (IPL). The ICL was soon declared unofficial and unlawful.
Worse, the players associated with it were barred from taking part in domestic cricket. Kapil as head of the ICL was sacked from his position as NCA chairman. All this was followed by a series of unhappy events including court cases and failed negotiations that led to ICL’s closure after a couple of years.
Kapil spent the next couple of years on the margins of the game as a television host and newspaper columnist. However, he did hold centre stage at the silver jubilee celebrations of India's 1983 World Cup win and was also inducted into ICC's Hall of Fame.
In April 2008 the BCCI announced an amnesty scheme for all involved with the ICL with a May 31 deadline to cut off all ties with the ''rebel'' league. About a year later, the BCCI announced an amnesty for players and officials connected in various capacities with the ICL.
Kapil, however, was omitted from the list and it was clear that the BCCI had not forgiven him for his role in starting the ICL. That was not all. In May last year the BCCI announced a one-time benefit payment for former national and domestic cricketers but added that Kapil was not eligible because of his association with the ICL. Adopting a defiant tone following his exclusion Kapil said ''not all cricketers are answerable to the board.''
However, once Kapil cut off his ties with the ICL in July last year he was welcomed back into the BCCI fold and became eligible for the Rs 1.5 crore benefit - the figure being commensurate with the number of international matches he had played. Adopting a more conciliatory tone this time Kapil said, ''the BCCI is like a parent and we are like its children. I have contributed to the welfare of cricket and cricketers during my earlier association with the BCCI and aim to do so even now.''
A five-year cold war had ended in a warm embrace or cordiality and bonhomie and though there were a few murmurs that Kapil had capitulated before the BCCI’s financial clout the general view was that it was a welcome development.
Whatever the background and the final denouement there is little doubt that Kapil is fully deserving of the award. His feats are legendary and part of cricketing folklore. If it was Sunil Gavaskar who was the inspiration for other batsmen to not only stand up squarely to pace bowlers but score off them it was Kapil who proved that Indians could also bowl fast whatever the surface.
The healthy scenario in the pace department over the last three decades can be traced to the emergence of Kapil. For an Indian fast bowler to hold the record of leading wicket-taker in Tests was something unimaginable particularly for those who were witness to the farce that the Indian new ball attack was in the 60s and early 70s when the opening bowlers included the likes of Wadekar, Jaisimha, Subramanyam, Durrani, Pataudi, Gavaskar and even a wicketkeeper in Kunderan.
It was again Kapil who was the path breaker as far as limited overs cricket was concerned. In the early 80s Test cricket was still the popular format and ODIs were hardly patronized or promoted. Kapil first by his all round skills and then by leading the Indian team to the famous triumph in the 1983 World Cup kindled the interest in the shorter format. India from being no hopers became a force to be reckoned with thanks principally to the efforts of one charismatic and dynamic personality.
Kapil’s pyrotechnics with the bat and inspirational deeds with the ball – not to mention his intuitive leadership style – all make for several glittering chapters in Indian cricket history. His feats in both formats of the game are too many to be recounted here; all the same it is to be hoped that they are remembered for his name is associated with the grandest and most gallant exploits.
The 175 not out at Tunbridge Wells that helped restore a faltering campaign that ultimately ended in a memorable triumph. His four sixes off successive balls in the Lord’s Test in 1990. The manner in which he put aside a groin injury and bowled India to a miraculous victory at Melbourne in 1981. The series triumph in England in 1986 under his captaincy.
One could go on and on for there were so many remarkable achievements that he is credited with. The fact that he is the only cricketer to have notched up the double of 5000 runs and 400 wickets in Tests is the ultimate proof of his ubiquitous skills and superb fitness. He is without doubt the country’s greatest cricketer. Indian cricket may produce another Gavaskar or another Tendulkar. It will never produce another Kapil Dev.