A TELEGRAPH SPECIAL : LEGENDARY KAPIL DEV ON LITTLE MASTER ... INTERVIEW BY LOKENDRA PRATAP SAHI
Back in 1989-90, on Sachin Tendulkar’s maiden tour as an India cricketer, one recalls Kapil Dev saying “Bachcha hai... Usko rahne do...” Given a chance, Kapil would, even today, probably be as protective about Sachin. It’s just that he’s now 36 and not 16. On the eve of Sachin completing 20 years as an international cricketer, Kapil (the only India captain to have lifted the World Cup) spoke to The Telegraph about Little Master.
The following are excerpts
Q When did you first see Sachin?
A At the CCI (in Mumbai), before he’d been picked for India... I recall Raj Singh Dungarpur asking me to bowl a few balls to ‘a highly gifted kid’... I couldn’t say no to Rajbhai and, so, obliged... I didn’t go flat out, aware that I was bowling to a teenager... Sachin, however, flicked one off his hips so beautifully that I couldn’t but stand and marvel... It was an extraordinary shot from one destined to become the world’s best. Of course, I didn’t know that then.
You’d already played for 11 years when Sachin got selected for India (tour to Pakistan in November-December 1989). What did you make of him on his debut series?
Look, you can’t make predictions when somebody is so young... Sachin was only 16 then and I don’t think he’d begun to even shave... At that age, children want to be with their parents and brothers and sisters, but this young boy was alone in an alien country... I would encourage him... When somebody so young is around, you do tend not to talk about a few things... I used to be conscious of Sachin’s age.
What have been your impressions of Sachin over the past 20 years?
I admire Sachin’s passion, his commitment... He has a sense of humour... However, I still don’t know much about his personality... I know Sunil Gavaskar’s, but not Sachin’s... A player of his stature, for example, should regularly be coming out with his views... Should be expressing his opinion... Sachin doesn’t... As a cricketer, he has changed his game... His innings of 175 in Hyderabad the other day showed the Sachin of old... One who would dominate... Over the years, I would’ve liked to see many more such innings... Or, like his knocks in Sharjah (April 1998)... Or, like his Test hundreds in Sydney and Perth on his first tour of Australia (1991-92)... I remember Sachin smashed me for a six in the 1990-91 Ranji final in Mumbai... What a shot that was! Sachin has broken all the records, but hasn’t kept up the pace he had till the 1990s... Given his talent, Sachin should’ve continued to be ruthless. Instead, in more recent years, he has allowed bowlers to dominate... I hope you’ve got the point I’m making.
Why did Sachin change his approach?
Perhaps, he came under pressure from the media... People have been comparing Sachin to (Brian) Lara and (Ricky) Ponting... I find that totally out of place... Sachin, as I see it, should only be compared to Sir Don (Bradman), not the Laras... When he plays his natural game, Sachin is above Lara and Ponting... (After a pause) Sachin has more ability than (Sir) Viv Richards had, but along the way, he chose to play like a Gavaskar!
Little Master I Gavaskar and Sachin... Who would you rate higher?
I’d say Sachin has more ability, but Gavaskar got more out of himself... Gavaskar would tire the bowlers and, then, help himself to big runs... Sachin has it in him to scare the bowlers from the beginning.
What’s the one stand out memory, featuring Sachin, from his first tour?
The way he smashed Abdul Qadir in one over during the exhibition match in Peshawar... Glimpses of a genius were there for all to see. He’d been mind-blowing in that innings of 53 not out.
Records apart, what is special about Sachin?
The way he has taken on the role of India’s greatest sporting ambassador... He has, among other things, inspired a generation and more to play cricket.
What can today’s cricketers learn from Sachin?
The seriousness with which he approaches the game... The manner in which he accepts poor decisions from umpires... He doesn’t react, doesn’t make a scene... No tantrums... Indeed, there’s much to learn for those who actually wish to learn from Sachin.
For all his greatness as a batsman, why did Sachin not succeed as a captain?
It’s not necessary that he had to succeed in that role, too... Having said that, sometimes, a captain has to come down to the level of his players... Surely, everybody can’t bat like Sachin, who is so focused on his game... Sachin, to my mind, is quite a ‘closed’ person, like a (Sir) Richard Hadlee... Sachin wants to bat and bat only, just like Hadlee would only want to bowl and bowl... A captain needs to be quite active with the media, but Sachin didn’t look at that aspect of captaincy.
Can we get another Sachin Tendulkar?
When Gavaskar retired (in 1987), we all wondered whether somebody of his class would ever be seen again... Well, within a couple of years, we got Sachin... So, let’s see...
The last one... You’re worried about losing a further Rs 200...
(Laughs) Yes, as I’ve told you, if Sachin plays till 2019, then I’ll have to send him Rs 200 more!