Kapil Dev would have been India’s finest T20 player

Ayaz Memon/Mumbai
Filed on October 23, 2020
The brilliance and brutality of Kapil’s 175 not out off 138 balls in the 1983 World Cup is now a part of cricket lore. (File photo)

Such was the influence of his bowling and achievements, that he sparked off a fast bowling revolution in the country

News of the angioplasty procedure which Kapil Dev underwent after suffering a heart attack on Friday went viral within minutes after being posted on social media, drawing concern and best wishes from all over the world.

I’ve been in touch with people close to Kapil and his family, and the good news is that after the medical procedure, he is stable, improving rapidly and could be out of the hospital in a couple of days.

This piece is essentially for millennials, weaned on T20 and the IPL who will have surely heard of his achievements, yet may not have a clear idea of Kapil Dev’s brilliance.

In my opinion, Kapil would have been easily the finest T20 exponent for India, perhaps in the world. And the most coveted player in the IPL because of his multifarious skills, and his capacity to succeed on the big stage.

Quite simply, he is the greatest Indian cricketer ever. In 131 Tests, he took 434 wickets and scored 5248 runs. These are staggering figures, and the best amongst the four great all-rounders of the 1980s-1990s, Imran Khan, Ian Botham and Richard Hadlee being the other three.

From the time into the Test team as a rookie in 1978-79, Kapil made opponents, critics, teammates and fans take notice. His first series was against Pakistan, and with his sharp pace he forced opener Sadiq Mohammad to wear a helmet.

India had bemoaned the lack of a fast bowler for decades, since the era of Mohammad Nissar and Amar Singh had passed, so to see a young man with the skills and desire to bowl at more than medium pace was a shot in the arm for Indian cricket.

Throughout his career, Kapil missed consistent support with the new ball at the other end. But such was the influence of his bowling and achievements, that he sparked off a fast bowling revolution in the country.

Javagal Srinath, Venkatesh Prasad, Zaheer Khan, all came in his wake, and they have passed on the baton since to bowlers like Irfan Pathan, Ishant Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah, Umesh Yadav et al.

There are 8-9 fast bowlers vying for places in the Indian team today, a far cry from the time when the likes of Sunil Gavaskar, Budhi Kunderan and even Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi used the new ball just to get the shine off before the spinners came on.

This massive turnaround can be traced to one man: Kapil Dev. And it didn’t stop at just fast bowling. As batsman, fielder and captain, Kapil transformed Indian cricket from its lugubrious state into a dynamic power.

These are some outstanding performances — batting and bowling — by Kapil Dev I’ve been fortunate to see: 8-85 v Pakistan at Lahore in 1982-83, 9-83 v West Indies at Ahmedabad in 1983, 119 in the Tied Test v Australia at Madras, 1986, 109 v West Indies at Madras, 1988-89, hitting Eddie Hemmings for four consecutive 6s to avoid follow on at Lord’s in 1990, 129 v South Africa at Port Elizabeth, 1992-93.

But without doubt, his best performance came in the 1983 World Cup. India were then known as the dull dogs of cricket and had a miserable record in ODI cricket. Nobody gave his team a hope in hell of winning the tournament.

By the time the return match against Zimbabwe arrived, it was a do-or-die situation for Kapil & Co.

An hour or so into the match, it appeared that it would be die. On a seaming track, the Indian top order was blown away by Kevin Curran and Peter Rawson.

Kapil Dev walked in at 9-4, which soon became 17-5. An early end to the match seemed imminent. Then came the most astonishing turnaround in ODI history as yet.

The brilliance and brutality of Kapil’s 175 not out is now a part of cricket lore. He played just 138 deliveries and hit 16 fours and six 6s. With Syed Kirmani, he put on 126 runs, of which the wicketkeeper’s share was 26!

I maintain this is the greatest ODI innings ever: for the dire circumstances in which the runs were scored, the fact that Kapil was not a specialist batsman, that it inspired so much self-belief in his team that India went on to beat Australia, England and, in the final, reigning champions West Indies.

This victory in the 1983 World Cup turned the cricket world upside down, and within a few years, India had become the epicenter of the sport. Not much later, it was also to become cricket’s El Dorado.

Sadly, there is no footage, not even radio commentary of Kapil’s spectacular 175 not out as BBC was ostensibly on strike that day. Which is why I consider myself blessed. I was there.

Ayaz Memon is an Indian sports writer and commentator

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