On this day: Kapil Dev goes past Richard Hadlee's 431 Test scalps

Sri Lanka's Hashan Tillakaratne was Kapil Dev's 432nd Test wicket, taking him past Richard Hadlee's 431 scalps and as the highest wicket-taker in the format.

Kapil Dev

Sir Richard Hadlee gave away a commemorative plaque to Kapil Dev on behalf of the New Zealand Cricket Council after the Indian went past his tally of 431 Test wickets.   -  V. V. Krishnan

There was a eddy of emotions. First in the performer, of course. Kapil Dev leapt in the air with the springy step of a teenager as soon as he knew he had got the edge. Next, it was Azharuddin's turn to leap in joy, throwing the ball to the next planet as it were with the same safe hands which had held it a split second earlier. 

The others came running towards the central figure in this huge drama of human emotions. They chaired Kapil, the hero on India's Martyr's Day, all the way to the pavilion and everyone in the stadium would have had a perfect view of all that was happening if not for the dreadful board of the sponsor getting in the line of vision. 

Even in these crass, commercial times. it was great to be witness an event that every Indian may have been looking forward to with keen anticipation, a pity then that Doordarshan did not even think of switching the national channel to the cricket match when they knew India's all-rounder was only a wicket away from the world record and numbers nine and eleven were in. 

If there have been exemptions to the rule that all Indians enjoyed the moment, they are not worth talking about because this was one great national occasion that brought a lump to many throats, much like the single that Sunil Gavaskar ran for his 10,000th Test run to break a barrier. Spurn transcends national barriers but there are moments when only fellow nationals of the performer can enjoy a warm and heart-filling empathy.

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Kapil Dev may be many things. But he is no thespian. Consider the ease with which those Oscar award-winning actors and actresses come up to the podium to receive their statuettes to say their lines of thanks in fine style. It is very impressive. Kapil Dev could not manage that. In fact, he broke down, unable to control his feelings on what was a very great personal moment for him but one that a whole nation will cherish. 

And to think this was one cricketer least given to displays of emotion. The event was, however, overwhelming. There was Azharuddin, a deserving winner of the 'Man of the Match' award, giving it away so sportingly to Kapil. It was a rare gesture and coming from a captain even more touching. Everything pointed in a solidarity which, again, was touching. Indian cricket has come a long way from days of pointless divisions. 

Great moments must prove overwhelming. It was the same ground from which Sunil Gavaskar came away with tears in his eyes. He knew it was his last Test innings. He had tried his hardest on a treacherous pitch to steer Indian to victory but he could not. A fan ran in with a garland of roses for him. The offering was dangling around his neck, bathing in Gavaskar's tears, as the master made his exit from the Test arena. 

In retrospect, it was a great pity that Gavaskar could not formally announce his retirement from Test cricket and only a few were privy to his plans. The people would have given him a greater ovation than they did for his knock of 96 which should rate as the finest in the modern era on what was a virtual minefield. There was to be no touching public farewell for even such a performer who made a quiet exit, bowled by DeFreitas in his last international innings in the World Cup semifinal. The Lord's century in the Bicentenary Test had been the real moment, the emotional farewell, with the whole of Lord's rising as Gavaskar walked back. 

To that extent, Kapii was luckier. His hunt for the record wits supported so splendidly by a team effort, including that of Anil Kumble not howling at the stumps lest he takes another wicket of the last three in the Sri Lankans second innings and deny Kapil the chance to make his collection 431. The goodwill of his team-mates is worth more than the record. 

It had been different when Richard Hadlee bloke the existing world record in 1998 on the same ground. There was a clinical precision to the short ball fired in to rise awkwardly and force Arun Lal to pop it to gully. Hadlee put his hands up in the air to savour the triumph. His fellow Kiwis ran to greet him. He had waited for a year to get his 374th wicket. But there was a distance between the knight-to-be and his team-mates. Hadlee was not always the most popular member of New Zealand sides. He was seen to be too much of a pro who viewed the game as another day at the office. 

The scene was more touching at his home Test in which Hadlee took his 400th Test wicket with a clever incutter into Sanjay Manjrekar's pads. No man had been near that barrier of 400. Hadlee's nieces were sent to the boundary with bouquets of flowers and play was stopped while the son of Christchurch, that picturesque and petite city of New Zealand's Pacific Coast, came to receive them. There was a human bond when he kissed them. The emotions came into play to make this a fine human drama. Somehow, that was lacking when Hadlee had left Ian Botham behind in Bangalore. 

There was great dignity to a private moment when Dennis Litlee came over to hand a bottle of the bubbly to Hadlee by the swimming pool in the West End Hotel in 1988. One world champ was saluting the other in this fine gesture. For years Lillee's mark of 355 had been the special one just as Freddie Truerman's 307 had been until Lance Gibbs passed it. It is not known if champagne had changed hands in those days.  

The debate that rages in the sports departments of newspapers is which is the bigger moment — when a record is equalled by a cricketer who is also bound to set a new one soon or when the record is actually broken? Journalists even flew out from England to watch the India-West Indies series because Gavaskar was close to equalling Sir Donald Bradman's 29 Test centuries. But they did not stay to watch him make his 30th in Madras. Maybe, they are of the school which believes equalling a record is a great moment by itself and that the actual breaking of a record is but a natural corollary. 

The breaking or breaching of barriers become important events too. Hadlee's 400th wicket was a barrier-breaking event just as Gavaskar's 10,000th run in Ahmedabad had been. Kapil Dev's 400th was celebrated with bottles of bubbly bought by the correspondents of two sports magazines. When the greater personal moment of equalling the world record came, Kapil was too emotionally strung to savour it fully. He had a towel over his face as he sat and wept in the dressing room. It took him a long time to compose himself. But so enormous is the task of getting those wickets that, maybe, only bowlers will know what it takes to get to the very top.  

Azhar's gesture may have been a sincere appreciation of the difficulties of bowlers in Test cricket. The batsman may feel lonely enough when he is out there taking on the new ball when the fielders are extra keen. They may expect to make just one mistake. But bowlers toil so much without enough appreciation in what is largely a batsman's game that, maybe, the celebration is just a bit more joyous when they cross significant milestones.

This story was published in the Sportstar magazine on February 12, 1994

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