On this day: When Kapil Dev lit up Tunbridge Wells

Standing at the Neville Cricket Ground, Jeffrey Richards points to his house stating how the original owner played the Kapil Dev card to sell the property after the 1983 World Cup; one of his sixes had hit the roof.

The house of Jeffrey Richards, whose roof was hit by former Indian cricket captain Kapil Dev's six during the knock of 175 against Zimbabwe in World Cup 1983.   -  PTI

Quiet, indifferent, devoid of people — it’s like any other small railway station in England on a gloomy working day afternoon. But it starts feeling surreal when you get down from the train and the brick-lined station wall reads ‘Tunbridge Wells’.

“You want to go to Neville Cricket Ground?,” the station officer asks and then gives you the direction. It is a 15-minute walk into one of the quaint sleepy towns in the Kent county.

The first look of it is like any other English ground, picturesque, lined with big rhododendron trees, small gallery of few hundreds. But this ground is more than that.

It is the place where Indian cricket’s most defining innings was played by the legendary Kapil Dev, 36 summers back on a damp June morning.

Kapil Dev receives the 'man of the match' award from Mike Denness after the unbeaten 175 against Zimbabwe at Tunbridge Wells in 1983 World Cup.   -  THE HINDU PHOTO ARCHIVES


An immortal innings of 175 not out against Zimbabwe in the 1983 World Cup, coming in at 9 for 4. An innings that only 4,000-odd people saw and could only retain in their memory bank — one for posterity.

A ground where course of Indian cricket changed forever. A ground where 16 boundaries and six sixes in a fairy tale comeback sowed the seeds of a commercial behemoth that Indian cricket is today.

The county ground at Tunbridge Wells is like a shrine for Indian cricket as much as the Lord’s ground is.

“One of those sixes hit the roof of our building. He was a strong lad that Kapil Dev fellow, wasn’t he,” the 60-something Jeffrey Richards says, standing at the gate of the Neville Cricket Ground.

He has a funny story to tell.

“We bought this house after 1983. When the original owner was selling it off, one of his calling card was Kapil Dev’s six hit the roof of this house. He was proud of it,” Richards started laughing.

Jeffrey Richards.   -  PTI


Richards’ house is bang opposite the ground and if he is to be believed, the six that Kapil hit would have been over extra cover and must have travelled at least 90 metres even though the boundary would measure only 60 to 65 metres.

You could only imagine as BBC strike robbed fans from watching one of the greatest ODI innings ever played.

“Every summer, we do get a lot of Indian fans coming here. Kapil made this ground famous. When Indians come, they would ask us about that innings. There is a certain degree of interest among Indians,” Richards said.

However, when you walk straight down to the pitch and look at the white pavilion, it surprises you. The pavilion wall doesn’t have a single photograph of that game.

There aren’t any pictures of the only men’s international game ever played at the ground.

A fellow scribe counts the number of bucket seats on the gallery and it’s less than 550. You can only create a picture of how Kapil wearing that hand-knitted full sleeve sweater must have walked in with his weapon — the Slazenger bat.

A look at the Rhododendrons in full bloom and you remember the picture of Kapil’s snaps from the game and those trees in the background. The grass embankments.

The only boundary that could be close to 70 yards is one on the deep mid wicket area from one side. So Kapil must have hit Peter Rawson, late Kevin Curran (Sam Curran’s father) and John Traicos over that area into the grass embankments.

The lucky souls present on that day must have had a feast. The ones who weren’t so lucky can only let the imagination flow.

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