The year was 2000. My heroes, idols and inspirations all lay on the floor, humiliated and accused. The game I had played for most of my life, and one day (foolishly) hoped to play was hit by the matchfixing scandal.
It was the time when private news channels were sprouting everywhere, and India was seeing a shift from the behenji on Doordarshan news, to the sansani-sensation style of reporting.
Karan Thapar was acquiring a reputation for being a hard-hitting interviewer, and was working with BBC.
This was the time when Kapil Dev, arguably India’s biggest cricket icon then, was also named in the list of cricketers accused of throwing away matches for money.
Kapil Dev was our fathers’ Sachin Tendulkar. There was something that was endearing about Kapil Dev, to make him an icon of an India that emphasised on honesty, simplicity and hard work. The way he played his cricket, his opinions, even the products he endorsed, had a lack of sophistication to them.
Kapil Dev was invited to an interview by Karan Thapar.
To his credit, Kapil Dev was the only one among those accused to have agreed to do an interview in the first place. None of the others – Azhar, Jadeja, Mongia, or Prabhakar had come on a show to defend themselves.
I personally think Kapil Dev took the interview a little less seriously. You can see he is dressed casually in khaki shorts. Kapil’s naivety probably led him to think it would be an ‘Aap ka Adalat’ kind of a show where jingoistic lines win you applause from the audience, and emotional dialogues are given prominence.
Clearly, Kapil Dev did not know much about Karan Thapar.
With a degree in Economics and Political Philosophy from Cambridge, Thapar was also the President of the Cambridge Union, and had won awards for his work, and a reputation of being a no-nonsense interviewer.
It was an interesting clash: a hard-hitting, articulate, informed journalist. And a man who had the reputation of being spontaneous, honest and hardworking.
Like Ravi Shastri would say, “You can expect something big here…”
The interview began slowly, with questions on cricket, integrity and some facts. Gradually, the questions got straight to the point. Thapar has this way of getting statements out of his interviewees. He asked Kapil straight – “So you’re telling me that you never accepted any money to fix a match?”. And then asked the same question four times over.
I must say I am not a huge fan of the Karan Thapar style of interviewing. An incisive, caustic approach is fine when you have a corrupt politician to interview, but it restricts you to doing ‘investigative’ sort of interviews.
I believe a good interview is one in which the person feels comfortable and has opened up to you – impossible when you have Karan Thapar looking into you from above.
Kapil took it for a few minutes, this was clearly something he wasn’t prepared for. The usual respect and praise that he people gave him everywhere he went wasn’t there. There was Karan Thapar, and his questions, and it was getting hotter by the minute.
After about ten minutes, there was a tear in Kapil’s eye. He asked for a few moments off, which of course, Karan Thapar did not give him.
Instead, the camera zoomed in on him further. Thapar pushed on with the interview.
Kapil Dev was sobbing now. He spoke in a high-pitched, girly voice – nothing like the man who held the World Cup in his hands. Even after his breakdown, the interview carried on for a good ten minutes, as everyone watched in stunned silence.
More than a decade has passed since the interview, and that remains the worst shame to have come across cricket.
Was Kapil involved? No one knows for sure.
While Manoj Prabhakar kept saying that Kapil was aware of matchfixing, and there were doubts about a fan having ‘gifted’ Kapil a BMW. However, in the investigations that followed, Kapil’s name never came up.
It’s hard to see Kapil as a matchfixer. There is no science behind this, but the swagger that Azhar had made it easier for me to deal with the truth that he wasn’t entirely honest. Ajay Jadeja never had too much character anyway.
No one knows what really happened. The matchfixing incident became a ghost of the past, and India quickly grew to become a country that controlled cricket all over the world.
But this episode with Karan Thapar remains one of the most riveting interviews in the history of Indian telejournalism.
Watch the clip here: Link