“His indomitable spirit to keep pushing himself hard in a field that he knew he might not find success in speaks of the determination that Kapil possessed and the fact that the Indian team is still finding it hard to find his replacement further highlights his undying aura”.
In a nation grappling to find superstars, hardly one would have imagined that the rusty looking youngster from Haryana, Kapil Dev, would go on to become the next sensation in India. Choosing a field away from the preferred department of spin-bowling was always going to be a risky task but Kapil’s greatest aura lay in the ability to take the conventional and mould it so that a new legacy could be scripted. As a fifteen-year-old, when Kapil was harshly told that India is not a land of fast bowlers, while many may have taken it as a personal attack, Kapil set foot to change just that.
The journey that he had set his eyes on was going to be anything but easy. Cricket in India had still not achieved the hysteria that surrounds it today, and on many occasions, it just seemed that the Indian outfit was on the field for the attendance. The bulk of the dirty work had to be shouldered By Bishan Singh Bedi, B.S. Chandrashekhar and Erapalli Prasanna, after Eknath Solkar and Sunil Gavaskar had started off the proceedings as “fast bowlers”.
It was in such circumstances that Kapil turned out for Haryana in the domestic arena and after a few impressive performances got a call-up to play for India. In the very first Test against Pakistan, he sent a bouncer that brushed Sadiq Mohammad’s cap and the fact that his helmet took a few overs to arrive only suggests the revolution that was about to begin. With the rivals not expecting India to field a pacer with such intent, in Kapil, the team found a hero who was soon to emerge as the X-factor.
Despite making the Pakistan squad sit up and take note, the teenager had a meagre series, picking up seven wickets at an average of more than 60. This was the norm in his first 10 Tests as well – despite impressing, his numbers hardly reflected his impact. He picked up 39 Test wickets at 39.06 but even while his bowling was unable to create headlines, his batting sure did. In his first ten games, he scored at an average of 42.5 with one century but over the next 52 Tests, his batting form dipped and his golden run with the ball commenced.
Sixteen wickets in four games against England was followed by 28 wickets against Australia at home and 32 in six games against Pakistan, where he averaged less than 18. The greatest hallmark of his performances was that whilst his contemporaries like Richard Hadlee and Sir Ian Botham had the luxury of helpful conditions, Kapil had to work doubly hard to extract bounce from the dust-bowls that were being produced in India. But that in no way hampered his concentration and by working out the outswinger to perfection, the wickets tumbled into his kitty.
From 1979 to 1983, Kapil played 13 Test series, wherein his average with the ball crossed 32 only thrice. In seven series, he averaged less than 26 and his per-wicket average leapfrogged from less than two to four in this interim.
In the shorter format, he emerged into his own in the two world events that made India a force to reckon with. From 1983 to 1986, when India won the World Cup and the World Championship of Cricket, he averaged 31.25 with the bat, including his sensational knock of 175 in the World Cup game against Zimbabwe after India had lost 5 wickets for 17 runs. With the ball, he averaged 20.39, taking 69 wickets in 47 ODIs.
However, the main difference between an ordinary bowler and a great one is his performances against the top sides and Kapil, with an average of 24.89 against the West Indies team that had players like Sir Vivian Richards, Clive Lloyd and Richie Richardson in their ranks only highlights his prowess. He took 89 wickets against them in 25 Tests, and 72 in 19 in the 1980s (average 22.98)- the most by any bowler.
Apart from his obvious bowling skills, Kapil was more than a handy batsman as well, averaging a little over 31 at number 7 and 33.52 at the number eight position, scoring two tons at eight.
However, the reason that Kapil is held in such high esteem in India is not only due to his figures, it is also due to his confidence that remained unshattered even in the most adverse situations. His belligerent knock of 175 has already been spoken about and his running catch to dismiss Richards in the finals of the 1983 World Cup, a part of folklore. Be it hitting four consecutive sixes in 1990 to save his team from a follow-on, with only the number 11 to accompany him or sitting on top as the leading wicket-taker in the world, Kapil never flinched away from responsibility.
He was creative with his captaincy and his 217 wickets that were taken in the dust and heat of India convey his ability to bend his back for the team’s cause. He missed just one Test match out of his 131 games, which shows the insane fitness levels that Kapil brought on in a team where fitness was not even in the scheme of things, forget it being on the periphery.
Lastly, his indomitable spirit to keep pushing himself hard in a field that he knew he might not find success in speaks of the determination that Kapil possessed and the fact that the Indian team is still finding it hard to find his replacement further highlights his undying aura.