Despite a billion opinions to the contrary, yours truly believes Kapil Dev Ramlal Nikhanj is still the greatest and most important cricketer in Indian cricket history. Arguments of 100 100s, 33000 runs, top scorer in world cup blah blah will be summarily expunged by White Rice Vellasamy. India has never failed to produce test quality batsmen. N. E. V. E. R. F. A. I. L. E. D.
There is the famous Ranjitsinhji who played for England as early as 1896 averaging almost 45 in tests (when the pitches were awful) and more than 56 over 300+ first class matches. As soon as India were awarded test status, we had the brilliant Vijay Merchant whose first class average is second to only Sir Don Bradman. Merchant averaged nearly 48 (all vs England) in his 10 tests. In India’s tour to England in 1936, he scored 1639 runs at 49.66. Sportsman/politician/diplomat/academic/teacher/writer/polymath C.B. Fry was so impressed with Merchant that he wrote, “Let us paint him white and take him with us to Australia as an opener.” When India returned to tour England 10 years later, Merchant scored 2385 runs at 74.53 to prove that the first time was no fluke. Vijay Merchant is generally considered to be one of the defining pillars of the Bombay school of batsmanship.
Then there was another Vijay, Hazare who lost his best years to the war and made a belated test debut at the age of 31. Prior to his test debut Hazare once scored 309 runs out of a total of 387. Against Lindwall & Miller, Hazare famously scored twin 100s at the Adelaide Oval in India’s first ever tour to Australia. Hazare passed the mantle to another Bombay cricketer called Pahlan Ratanji Umrigar better known as Polly Umrigar. Umrigar set records of most runs and most 100s by an Indian.
After Umrigar’s retirement in 1962 there was a period there weren’t any standout batsmen but a set of solid but not spectacular line up of Engineer, Manjrekar, Kunderan, Borde until Gundappa Ranganath Viswanath made his debut in 1969. He was soon joined by his future brother-in-law Sunil Manohar Gavaskar just two series later in 1971. Gavaskar would become the first batsman to score 30 test 100s and the first batsman to breach 5 digit barrier of runs. Along the way there were others like Vengsarkar, Amarnath, Azharuddin and Shastri. Then came the glorious 1990s and 2000s of the fab 5 where India had their most powerful batting line up of Sehwag, Dravid, Tendulkar, Ganguly and Laxman. Even today India have solid batting in Vijay, Kohli, Pujara and Rahane. As I have mentioned before India have produced outstanding batsmen always throughout our history.
India is, of course, the land of spinners. Starting from Subhash “Fergie” Gupte, who is held in high regard (better than Warne apparently) by some guy called Garry Sobers, Mankad, the quartet (Bedi, Prasanna, Chandrasekhar, Venkataraghavan), Dilip Doshi, Jumbo, Bhajji to the current record breaking Ashwin, India have had no dearth of quality spinners. In fact there was such heavy competition that guys like Shivalkar, Rajinder Goel, V V Kumar who had more than 1900 first class wickets between them hardly got an opportunity to represent India. Of the trio, only Kumar got to play for India.
India had no real history of fast bowlers. Apparently there were two terror inducing bowlers who played in India’s first ever test: Amar Singh and Mohammad Nissar. Amar Singh was described by an authority no less than Wally Hammond as “he came off the pitch like the crack of doom.” After the duo it would be another two decades before we had a regular new ball bowler: Ramakant “Tiny” Desai. It would take another decade and half for India to unearth bowlers who ran more than 5 paces to bowl. The man who bowled the first ever ball in a world cup match: Madan Lal and the rarest of the rare breeds of fast bowlers: a left-armer Karsan Ghavri.
Here is guy who comes from the cricketing backwaters of Chandigarh. A place from where cricketers were rarely picked for India. Indian cricket is still dominated by the 3 regions of Delhi, Bombay and Bangalore. A 15 year old Kapil Dev, at a training camp in Bombay, was rebuffed with “there are no fast bowlers in India” when he went all Oliver Twist on them. Five years later Kapil made his test debut in Faisalabad. Sadiq Mohammad, the youngest of the Mohammad brothers, sporting a cap opened along with Majid Khan. The man had played Australia in Australia (where Pakistan drew 1-1) and West Indies in West Indies (Pakistan lost an extremely tight series 2-1) just a year and a half earlier. Within minutes of facing the young Haryanvi, he asked for a helmet.
There are numerous highlights in Kapil’s career. The 11 wickets in Chennai vs Pakistan, that Melbourne spell on half a leg, the lone hand against mighty West Indies in 1983, the catch, another lone had against Australia (25 wickets @ 25.8) in 1991 on his last legs. All this came in a period where Kapil’s support was slim and none. In any case almost everyone knows how good Kapil the bowler was. This post aims to highlight how good Kapil the batsman was. In terms of talent, technique and pure flamboyance, Kapil Dev was streets ahead of every Indian batsman (including Gavaskar) of his era. He had no real weakness against any kind of bowling. Azhar could not face the short ball. Gavaskar had his troubles against spin. The only thing he lacked was Gavaskar’s application. In fact Gavaskar himself said that Kapil should have scored at least 10000 runs given his talent.
900+ words later here are a few gems of Kapil that I think are underrated and under-appreciated by the general Indian cricketing loving populace.
Appetizer: 23*(10) at Lord’s 1986
India’s first ever win at the home of cricket. The most infamous six conceder Chetan Sharma’s 5 wicket haul restricted England to a sub par 294. Colonel Dilip’s 3rd consecutive 100 at Lord’s and some lower order biffing by Kiran More gave India a slender 47 run lead. Kapil Dev first reduced England to 35/3 and Maninder Singh’s 3 shot England out for 180. India needed just 134 runs to win their first ever test at Lord’s. India made heavy weather of it losing wickets at regular intervals and were reduced to 110/5. 24 runs to win 5 wickets in hand. Those who are even juuuuuuuuuuust a bit familiar with India would say, “Advantage England.”
In walks the skipper and in the space of just 10 balls turns the game on its head. Ignoring the conditions and the match situation, Kapil hit 3 fours and 1 six in one Phil Edmonds over. He turned a tight finish into a cakewalk with his tremendous hitting ability and range. It was India’s first ever test win in 21 matches under Kapil’s captaincy. Only fitting that he was named man of the match for his hustling 2nd innings new ball spell (3/1 in 19 balls) and the blistering 23* off 10 to finish things off in style.
Main Course: 119 (138) vs Australia at Chepauk 1986
A test more famous for being only the 2nd (and so far last) tie in the history of test cricket. I have already touched upon this test in an earlier post on great tests at Chepauk. After making India toil in the sweltering Madras heat for more than 2 days, Border declared early on day 3, a mammoth 574. Three of the top 6 batsmen made 50s and when Ravi Shastri fell after a well made 62, India were 206/5 still needing 169 runs to make Australia bat again. Kapil joined Chandrakant Pandit (playing as a batsman) as the last recognized pair with Kiran More and the bowlers to come. Pandit & More left quickly and India ended day 3 on 270/7 still needing 105 runs to avoid the follow on.
Kapil, overnight on 33, counterattacked on day 4. With just the bowlers for company he hit boundary after boundary. Chetan Sharma & Shivlal Yadav gave him solid support as the captain added 143 runs for the 8th & 9th wickets. Kapil hit 21 fours in all and completed his 100 off only 109 balls. His 2nd 50 contained 11 fours. He was last man out with the score on 397. Kapil’s belligerent innings helped India score 191 runs for the last 5 wickets. He helped India avoid a huge embarrassment and helped the home team to live and fight another day. Kapil’s humongous effort is usually forgotten in the din of Dean Jones, Greg Matthews & most importantly umpire Vikram Raju.
Dessert: 109 (124) vs West Indies at Chepauk 1988
Kapil loved batting against West Indies. He scored his first 100 (before he took his first 5fer) vs West Indies. He scored 3 of his 8 100s vs the Caribbeans. When India toured West Indies in 1982, he scored a 95 ball 100 vs Marshall/Garner/Holding/Roberts and a 97 ball 98 vs Marshall/Holding/Roberts/Davis albeit on flat decks. His 3rd and last 100 vs West Indies came against an inferior Patterson/Walsh/Davis in Hirwani’s match in the Pongal test of 1988.
As was the story of Kapil’s career, it was yet another counterattack after yet another top order misfire. This time India collapsed to 156/5 with only Arun Lal (69) and Azhar (47) making any real contributions. Kapil walked in to join debutant Arun Sharma needing to stem the tide. Fighting fire with fire, he added 113 with Sharma who contributed just 30 runs in the partnership. Kapil was the 7th man out with the score on 313. He scored 109 off just 124 balls in the 157 runs added during his stay at the crease. His innings was studded with 18 boundaries. Another diamond in the rough forgotten thanks to Hirwani’s record breaking 16 wickets on debut.
Post Lunch snack: 54* (37) vs New Zealand at SCG 1985
My followers on twitter (its @karikadaiboy FYI) would know my disdain for the limited overs format especially the shortest kind. Yet I wanted to show that Kapil’s genius wasn’t limited to test cricket alone. India’s biggest triumph outside the two world cups was in Australia 1985. India comfortably won their group (Pakistan, England, Australia) and faced New Zealand in the semifinals. Siva & Shastri put on a chokehold to restrict New Zealand to 151/7 in 43 overs before Chris Cairns’ dad biffed a 29 ball 39 to give the Kiwis a respectable total of 206.
The total was below par but led by the irresistible Richard Hadlee, the Kiwis put a chokehold of their own to reduce India to 46/1 in 20 overs. Shastri, Azhar & Colonel steadily upped the run rate but when Hadlee removed Shastri, India were 102/3 in the 31st over. 104 runs required in around 19 overs. Not an easy task in those days. Gavaskar was ready to go when he spotted a restless Kapil and promoted him up the order. He straightaway got into the groove hitting Hadlee for 4 fours in the 34th over. In the same over Hadlee deceived Kapil with a slower ball and John Reid dropped a hard low chance at mid-on. Kapil hit the next ball for 4 through cover past Reid which the inimitable Richie Benaud described as “adding a little bit of insult to a lot of injury”. India overhauled the total with more than 6 overs to spare. A tricky chase became a canter in just over 12 overs all thanks to powerful hitting of the Haryana Express.
Four gems from that underachieving batsman Kapil Dev which aren’t as popular as I think they should really be.