From the Archives: When Kapil became the highest wicket-taker

On this day, in 1994, Kapil Dev went past Richard Hadlee to become the world's leading wicket-taker. Sportstar turns the clock back to one of Indian cricket's stimulating event.

Kapil Dev finished his career with 434 Test wickets and 253 scalps in ODIs.   -  THE HINDU ARCHIVES

"I was lucky to get 431 wickets," he said in a voice dripping with irony. He had never been like this. Always the type who would say: "So what if you think I am lucky. I have got so many wickets." But it was the questioner's fault that he should strike a wrong chord in the man at his finest hour.

Kapil had just got the wicket to the world Test bowling record. Having celebrated it in grand style with his teammates he walked into the press conference where this reporter wished to know if he had been lucky because that eighth over of his may have been the last he would have bowled on that spinners pitch in Ahmedabad.

Yes, Kapil may have been lucky that morning but only the good are really lucky. Was it not the golfing legend Gary Player who said the more he tried the luckier he became?

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Kapil is lucky simply because he is so good, a great medium fast bowler. He has worked extra hard to be where he is today. And who would have believed that one day an Indian fast bowler, a species never heard of for long in international cricket, would place his name above that of all the strong occidental, Anglo-Saxon or Afro-Caribbean types who have thundered down cricket run-ups to send the batsmen's stumps flying!

There was an inevitability to the event that, maybe, it did not stir the emotions as the 431st wicket had in the Bangalore Test. Those who have seen his career grow beyond 15 years knew he would get the record one day. It did not matter if he had to play mostly in home Tests at the fag end of his career. He viewed the getting of the record as inevitable and the mental strength behind such a resolve was sufficient to provide the drive.

With Kapil Dev coming in, India started travelling with five seamers on overseas tours.   -  The Hindu Archives

 

Sooner or later

If it did not come in the Ahmedabad Test, it would have come in Hamilton in New Zealand. There may have been an appropriateness to that, too, as it would have been the reverse of Richard Hadlee coming to India to break the record. But then the unkind whispering would have begun all over again. Some were out to persecute Kapil even in the days of this personal glory. Now that the record is his exclusively, it will adorn him for a while yet even as it keeps the hounds at bay.

There were pressures, mostly those whipped up by a certain section of opinion which has always believed in playing God to Indian cricket. Kapil had to go because he was old, unfit and what not, or he had to be rested while strapping young fast bowlers displayed their wares. While the acquisitive instincts of batsmen are tolerated in the country, even celebrated, bowlers should not seek records. Maybe, those who carped could not cope with this phenomenon-called Kapil Dev Nikhanj who had blazed a trail in his whole career, from the day he opened the bowling in Faisalabad and sent a few rocketing past Sadiq Mohammad.

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At a time of change, when the famous spinners were ageing and the new generation was not ready to take on the mantle, Kapil was India's sole strike bowler. The Lord's Test of 1982 is a perfect example of how much the team revolved around the bowling of one man. He made it hot for England even against a lowly fourth innings target. But the moment he tired, the match was over because the others were not really capable of bowling lethal stuff despite their being clever support bowlers.

For years he has borne the plough with the patience of India's fanners. He was for Indian cricket what an old symbol of a political party used to be: the lonely farmer trudging along with the plough behind him. For years he bowled with rare fire in his opening spells and came back to bowl stump to stump whenever the spinners proved ineffective. For years he bent his back to extract bounce and movement out of Indian pitches. He sweated, he toiled and now the rewards are his. There is an appropriateness to the record-breaking wicket of Hashan Tillekeratne falling to Kapil in Ahmedabad on a pitch that would have had Dennis Lillee and other pace bowling gurus frothing at the mouth. There was nil pace and nil bounce and unless you were young and fiery like Wickremasinghe you would be lucky to pass the bat once in a session. It was on this pitch that Kapil bowled with such great motivation. But then since he had done it all his career it could be assumed he would continue to do so.

The batsman was not convinced of the decision, or so he made it out to be. The umpire Narasimhan, standing in his first Test was ecstatic about the whole thing. "I must thank Tillekeratne for standing there. We all assumed he would walk an that thick edge to pad. By standing there he forced the fielding team to appeal and I became party to a historic moment. I had to raise my finger," Narasimhan was to say in explaining the golden moment everyone had been waiting for.

"Records are there to be broken and I only wish it will be an Indian who would do it," Kapil said after breaking Richard Hadlee's record.   -  The HIndu Archives

 

Fight pace with pace

The old fire may not be there in Kapil but he is still good enough to pick up five wickets in a Test on a pitch with some bounce as in Bangalore. The very emotional moments witnessed in that Test had already told the tale of how much one man had done towards carrying Indian bowling on his shoulders for more than a decade and a half. Of all his pace colleagues, only the astute swing bowler Manoj Prabhakar is close to getting 100 wickets.

Karsan Ghavri, who played much before Kapil made his debut, was the only other Indian pace bowler to have taken more than 100 Test wickets. But he got some of his 109 wickets with spin, bowled with quirky action. He was the sharpest of Kapil's early new ball partners. The scorer in the Sydney Test of 1980-81 had been stumped by the bowling figures of the two pacers who took five wickets each. Had there been a previous occasion on which India had taken 10 wickets in an innings without some contribution from a spin bowler? 'No' was assumed.

The Sydney Test, which India did lose by an innings, was a trend setter in that a nation of spin had discovered an entirely different way in which to play Test cricket abroad. When in Rome do as the Romans do. Fight pace with pace. Soon enough, a half fit Kapil Dev was bowling India to an unlikely victory in the fourth innings of the Melbourne Test, the first away win since the twin triumphs of 1971 and the first one in which pace bowling had played a leading part though one must not forget Dilip Doshi's support role in bowling Australia out.

The perspective of Indian cricket had been changed by the advent of Kapil Dev as much as the nation's batting self respect against quick bowling had been restored by Sunil Gavaskar and Gundappa Visvanath. If five seamers went to South Africa in the 90's rather than three spinners, it reflected how much had changed in Indian cricket. The playing of three seamers abroad had become a routine only after Kapil Dev arrived.

"Records are there to be broken," Kapil says with the magnanimity which is a natural trait. "I only wish it will be an Indian who would do it," he adds in that fervent nationalistic spirit which cricket seems to whip up. Gavaskar had aired a similar sentiment when seeing Kapil Dev touch the 400-wicket mark in the Perth Test. He was hoping Indians would be on top of both the batting and bowling ladders of merit at the same time.

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A coincidence

Allan Border spoiled the scene when he passed Gavaskar's 10,122 before Kapil could get to 432. The Indian team spent the evening singing and dancing with a boy scoutish sense of revelry on the magic figure having been reached. It was also a twin celebration since it was the captain's birthday. They saw in it an unusual coincidence. It appears the lucky coin had fallen in India's favour even when it upheld Ranatunga's call. "It was a good toss to lose," confessed Azhar since the pitch still damp from the previous day's watering, sounded the Sri Lankans' death knell somewhat more quickly than could have been anticipated.

The loss of the toss allowed Kapil Dev to put all his energy into a brisk opening spell in which he was unlucky to beat the elegant bat of Roshan Mahanama and still miss off stump. The skipper pressed on though the time may already have come for the total employment of spin. This was the Test in which Manoj Prabhakar went wicketless and Kumble took only one, both facts pointing to how depressingly slow the pitch really was. This was the closest an Indian cricketer may have come to bringing an entourage with him in the manner of some international tennis star travelling with a whole circus of friends and well wishers or a boxer going around with a retinue of promoters, sparring partners, masseurs and so on. It mirrored Kapil's generosity that he rang his friends to invite them to Ahmedabad so that they may witness first hand the breaking of the 431 barrier.

That the record came at a very vibrant time in Indian cricket for the team and its skipper Azhar made it even more special. Had it come in isolation in some dull draw, 432 would have looked more like a very personal landmark rather than an event to be celebrated in the team cause for which Kapil himself did so much as in two bright innings in Lucknow and Bangalore. In times of exceptional success for the Indian cricket team, the new benchmark of Test bowling glitters. It is a sparkling jewel in the crown that is studded now with gems.

The article was published in Sportstar issue dated February 26, 1994.

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