To Sushil Kapoor, a bank employee of modest means who would blow his monthly salary on a rag-tag bunch of cricketers in Chandigarh.
At a time when sports as a career option was frowned upon, Kapoor would arrange matches for these kids, ferry them long distances and spend much money on feeding their ever-hungry mouths.
Travelling long distances for cricket games was a problem. Kapoor had a two-seater scooter and four adolescent boys to carry. He would squeeze two on the back seat, ride a mile and then drop them. He would then go back to fetch the other two boys who would have jogged some of the distance. He would ride with them till the first two boys were in sight. This tedious process would go on till they had reached their destination.
The riches of cricket — IPL, the multi-million salaries, the endorsements — were many decades away. Kapoor simply did it for the love of the game.
To A.N. Sharma, an aspiring footballer who was ill-treated by football coaches in Delhi and couldn’t live his dream of playing the sport. He took to cricket, but underwent immense financial hardship when his father died. His family had to sell their house and they were in dire straits.
Sharma eventually gave up the thought of playing cricket and became an umpire. He sustained himself earning seven rupees a match. Later, he took to coaching. One day in the early 1990s, he met a young boy with a keen interest in batting.
Sharma took the boy into his coaching program and realised he had special skills. He was fluent with strokes square off the wicket. He had impeccable hand-eye coordination. And he could bat longer than most of his other students.
In the absence of proper facilities like a gym and modern equipments, Sharma made the best use home-grown tricks. He gave his special student a bat in its cloth casing, and filled the casing with mud. The mud made the bat heavier and the student’s arms got stronger from batting with it. When he played with the normal bats in practice games, the shots would ping off his bat — something is he so famous for now.
To Gurpal Singh, who spotted a young Sikh boy in Amritsar and watched him bowl for the very first time. The young boy of about 13 or 14 marked a long-run up at the nets at Khalsa College. Gurpal told him he could never be a fast bowler with his slight build.
So the boy turned to left-arm spin. He bowled a full-toss first up and earned the wrath of a university official watching them. Gurpal asked the official to cool down. The young boy corrected his length and started bowling proper left-arm spin.
Gurpal helped the boy break into the college team and kept an eye on him through his formative years. The boy moved up in the cricketing world as was his destiny. Gurpal’s simple request of asking him to bowl left-arm spin defined the boy’s life.
To many such gurus who made such small but incredibly important decisions that would ultimately help redefine the sport itself. Who sacrificed a great deal — time, money, labour — to invest in these special kids. To Kapoor for giving us Kapil Dev, to Sharma for Virender Sehwag, to Gurpal for Bishan Singh Bedi. Perhaps a simple thanks will never suffice.