Kapil Dev, a living legend, spoke to The Telegraph for around 45 minutes over breakfast in Kolkata on Saturday. Typically, he was emotional at times and candid always. The following are excerpts
After another defeat, what’s the way forward for Indian cricket?
It’s not for me to offer a prescription... It’s time for the Board to put its head together and correct the things which have gone wrong.
Something has to be wrong for us to lose in England, lose in Australia and lose to Bangladesh in the Asia Cup.
Are you suggesting that the Board should have learnt from Cricket Australia and initiated a full-fledged review?
(Smiles) You’ve answered the question yourself... I don’t need to say it in as many words. Is the Board concerned or not?
Doesn’t look like...
Exactly. You can’t say that defeats happen... Yes, you can lose, but you shouldn’t be losing with such regularity... We should be proud that we’re controlling world cricket, financially, but we must also dominate on the field. That’s important.
The biggest problem is that the Board isn’t professional. Do you agree?
The Board has had some brilliant individuals as its president... Say a Jagmohan Dalmiya, but neither Dalmiya nor anybody before or after him put a system in place... Nobody has had a great team working with him... I have high regard for the current president (Narayanswamy Srinivasan), but is he putting systems in place? No. It’s not healthy if only one person decides everything and is the only one calling the shots. The really good organisations don’t depend on one person, no matter how brilliant he is.
Moving away from the Board, is there a deeper problem, within the team?
Difficult to say from a distance... I’m, after all, not privy to what is going on. But the reality is that we’ve been losing overseas for eight months... I’d like to know what exactly Gary Kirsten did during his three years as coach. If he was so good, he should have put systems in place and the team ought not to have crumbled within months of his departure. We were No.1 in Test cricket and the world champions in the 50-over game when Kirsten left. Within months, things started to change. Why?
In your view, then, Kirsten got far too much credit?
Absolutely. If I’m a good CEO, who has put systems in place, then the organisation shouldn’t collapse when I exit... It should continue to flourish.
What about Duncan Fletcher, Kirsten’s successor?
I won’t be too critical of him, not at this stage.
You were once a big fan of captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, but have been quite critical of him of late. Why?
I’m still a fan of Dhoni... He remains one of my heroes, but that doesn’t mean I can’t engage in constructive criticism... If I’m critical, there are good reasons for being so. I can’t pretend to be blind... I can’t get over Dhoni taking his pads off to bowl in the Lord’s Test... I know we were a bowler short (with Zaheer Khan out with a hamstring), but that was a bit too much... Somebody else should have put his hand up, should have volunteered.
Then, you’ve got to blame Dhoni’s team, not him...
Sure, but Dhoni is the captain... He has to set the direction which the team must take.
Are you in favour of a new captain for Test cricket?
That is Sourav Ganguly’s view, not mine. I love Dhoni the captain, not Dhoni the ‘cool’ captain... He has to show some emotion on the field, has to be seen as being proactive.
Isn’t it bewildering that Manoj Tiwary, who scored a hundred in his last ODI, in early December, hasn’t got a game after that...
That’s where one has to criticise the captain, who happens to be Dhoni.
Does Dhoni have favourites?
I’ll say that if he keeps playing somebody (out of a motive), but not if he’s making an error in judgement.
Bangladesh are turning out to be a thorn for India...
On the one hand, there’s reason to be sad... But, on the other, one must appreciate the good cricket played by a far less experienced team. One should also respect the contribution made by the T20 Bangladesh Premier League.
In this part of the world, at least, your Indian Cricket League (now defunct) started it all. Surely, you can take some credit?
Do you follow the Indian Premier League closely?
Not with interest, but with an open mind. I’m not rigid... I like to see fresh talent and new players... I keep my eyes open too.
How are you looking at Sunday’s India versus Pakistan match, which we must win big...
Well, Dhoni has to get his act right... He has to pick the right team and not allow things to get out of hand. I accept it’s easy to be critical from hundreds of miles away, but we haven’t been playing anywhere close to our potential.
I assume you’re baffled that young Umesh Yadav, who is a wicket-taking bowler, was rested in the Asia Cup... What’s your take?
Dhoni should have had him in the team.
But the selectors took that decision...
Are you telling me that somebody of Dhoni’s stature can’t get the team of his choice? He should have insisted on Umesh being there, he should have put his foot down. If the selectors alone are the ones responsible, then they should face the music. They should be answerable.
Should captains have a vote in the selection process?
Provided they aren’t biased.
What do records mean?
They’re important, but not more important than the country. It can't be ‘I, me, and myself’.
There was an obsession with Sachin Tendulkar’s 100th international hundred...
Because it’s such a huge milestone, the obsession was justified.
Do sportsmen chase records?
They do... They’d be lying if they said they were into sport purely for the sake of being an athlete or a cricketer or... Don’t the sprinters aim to be the fastest in the 100m? Don’t they aspire to be the record-holder? What do you play for? To be an achiever, to be hailed as the best of your generation or one of the greatest of all-time... Records drive you... If milestones don’t matter, then why do batsmen raise their bat on reaching a hundred?
You’d yourself been rather anxious (in early 1994) to get past Sir Richard Hadlee’s record of 431 wickets...
I was, of course.
Are records everything?
Not everything... First the country, then the team... Records come after that. I really liked what Sachin said after his hundred in Dhaka... The bit about chasing dreams and that those dreams can be realised. That was a terrific line.
Should Sachin retire from ODIs?
It shouldn’t only be left to him to decide... The selectors too have to be involved... If Sachin’s fit and continues to be among the runs, then he could continue. But, remember, that nobody is bigger either than the team or the country... Sachin is everyone’s hero and we’d like to know just what he has in mind for the future... Sachin hardly speaks, so one doesn’t know what goes on in his mind... My objection is to people saying that only he should decide when he wants to leave ODIs. The ‘I’ has to come last.
Ideally, a succession plan, so to say, should be in place...
Yes, because age could come into play.
How well do you know Sachin the person?
I know he’s a great cricketer, but is he also a great person? I don’t know... Sachin hardly airs his views, when he should be doing so... Navjot Sidhu never said a word in the dressing room, but he can’t stop speaking nowadays! He’s a very good friend of mine, but I don’t know how to react.
During the first few tours of Sachin, you would be protective towards him... Twice, I remember, you’d told me ‘bachcha hai, use khelne do’ (he’s a kid, let him play)... That I not bother him for interviews...
(Laughs) Sachin bachcha tha (Sachin was a kid), now he’s a chacha (uncle) and the chacha should come out with his thoughts... On the game, on life in general. Sachin could speak on so many things... It’s good to be quiet at the start of your career, but not after you’ve put in 22 years. Why do we want to know the views of a Mukesh Ambani or a Sunil Mittal? Because they’re big achievers in their field. Sachin is a master in his.
Is Sachin the perfect role model?
Yes, in much the same way as Rahul Dravid is... Rahul doesn’t talk much, but when he does, he talks straight and we know where he stands... Sachin’s handled the pressure superbly, he’s got that extra something in him.
Who is the next one, after Sachin?
There’s Dhoni... It could be Virat Kohli after Dhoni.
What should today’s generation learn the most from Sachin?
The importance of discipline.
Finally... Just how important are role models?
Every generation needs role models... I looked up to so many cricketers... I’ve met Nelson Mandela, who looks up to Mahatma Gandhi, even though he’s himself no less than Gandhi... I’m sure so many girls have taken to badminton after seeing Saina (Nehwal) do so well... In time to come, a Sandeep Singh could be a role model for many. It doesn’t have to be a cricketer... Sachin is so different because he’s a role model for so many sportsmen and women outside cricket as well.