Tunbridge Wells old-timers relay what BBC didn't - Kapil's 175

The legendary allrounder’s unbeaten 175 against Zimbabwe in the 1983 World Cup has a touch of mythical allure to it

The pavillion and the scoreboard at Tunbridge Wells. Kapil Dev smashed a masterly unbeaten 175 against Zimbabwe in the 1983 World Cup.   -  K.C. Vijaya Kumar

A bright Thursday morning with clear skies and the chirping of birds, was the perfect setting for embarking on a cricketing pilgrimage. Tunbridge Wells is a familiar name to cricket lovers and it was time to head there. Before VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid engineered that engrossing turn-around against Steve Waugh’s Aussies at Kolkata’s Eden Gardens in 2001, the Indian version of rising from the ashes, harked back to a glorious June 18 in 1983 at Tunbridge Wells.

Kapil Dev’s unbeaten 175 (138b, 16x4, 6x6), miraculous in its conception, resuscitated India from a precarious 9 for four in a World Cup match against Zimbabwe. The skipper’s dare-devilry and partnerships with Roger Binny and Syed Kirmani ensured that his men scored 266 for eight and subsequently the opposition was bowled out for 235. It was a tipping point in India’s sporting history and Kapil’s Devils eventually won the World Cup in a David quelling Goliath moment against the West Indies at Lord’s.

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The 36th anniversary of Kapil’s supreme effort passed by just recently and it was time to snuggle into nostalgia’s warmth. Strangely on that epochal day, the BBC crew had a strike and there is no footage of an innings for the ages.

A member of the 1983 Indian squad once told this correspondent: “I think the strike was an excuse, the BBC perhaps presumed that there was no value in reporting a game involving India and Zimbabwe.”

Kapil Dev set Tunbrige Wells on fire with a masterclass of 175 not out, 138 balls, 16 fours and six sixes, carried India to 266 for 8 with Syed Kirmani keeping him company in the 1983 World Cup.   -  Getty Images


All that remain are a few photographs of Kapil launching his sixes and shards of memory fixated to a few anecdotes and R. Mohan’s despatches in The Hindu.

Cut to the present, trains had to be switched: Southampton Central to London’s Waterloo; and Waterloo East to Tunbridge Wells. And as the rail-lines snaked past London’s high-rises, rolling greens, slumbering sheep, and through tunnels burrowing into hills, a slice of history was to be relived.

Tunbridge Wells is a quaint town and the venue — Nevill Ground — that witnessed Kapil’s masterpiece, is fringed by country homes and the woods laced with flowering shrubs. The guard whispers: “Kapil Dev, 175!” In the middle, a county skirmish was in progress involving Kent and Nottinghamshire.

Related: When Kapil Dev lit up Tunbridge Wells

A wicket falls, Samit Patel departs, there is measured applause from an audience munching cucumber sandwiches, pork pies and imbibing ale or wine. The thud of the red cherry in a pastoral setting, surely picture-postcards are made of these moments.

Paul Downton, former England wicket-keeper and the director of Kent County Cricket Club extends a firm handshake. “I missed that match but it changed Indian cricket didn’t it? Till then India only cared for Tests and then this match and the World Cup win shifted attention to ODIs,” he says before seeking out the regulars, who were present when Kapil made a mockery of the odds with his rousing big-hits and toothy grin.

Two gentlemen nursing their beers on the grass-banks, raise their hands when asked about that distant magical day. Carl Openshaw, president of the Tunbridge Wells Cricket Club, remembers: “India was in trouble, losing wickets, first two and then another three and it looked like the match would be over by lunch. It wasn’t meant to be that way, imagine India was playing against little Zimbabwe and then Kapil Dev steps in and soon he is hitting sixes and fours all over. It was incredible to be here. It has been our only ODI so far.

Bruce Standring (left) and Carl Openshaw, president, Tunbridge Wells Cricket Club.   -  K.C. Vijaya Kumar

"This ground has limited facilities and it is difficult to accommodate so many modern-day television cameras. We have the stands here and the woods there and you are in time for our annual Kent game too. We prefer it this way.”

Carl’s friend and fellow old-timer Bruce Standring was at the arena with his then little daughter and he recalls: “It was jaw dropping, first there were the wickets and then Kapil Dev strikes those sixes. There were not many Indian fans back then and we were all just catching a game of cricket but it was special.”

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But is there anything related to the fortune-flipping joust? A scorecard, may be an old picture, any remembrance of things past? Downton does the rounds in the pavilion, the members’ bar and the club’s office but there are no physical clues to Kapil’s incandescent moment under the sun. The only lingering references are photographs passed across generations and perhaps that adds a mythical allure to a stupendous knock.

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