An incredible knock indeed

VIJAY LOKAPALLY

ALL SPORT

I envy M. J. Kitchen and B. J. Meyer. They watched it from vantage positions. One of the greatest innings of cricket unfolded in front of their eyes and remained ingrained forever. At the Nevill Ground in Tunbridge Wells, a week before the final at Lord's, the 1983 World Cup witnessed a grand performance, the likes of which only belonged to folklore.

Here, Kapil Dev had realised a dream. Words shall never describe the effort by a cricketer who, during the course of this one great knock, changed the face of cricket in his country. He gave enough reason for an Indian cricketer to believe in himself and back himself to do the impossible.

The result in the score-sheet ought to have read Kapil beats Zimbabwe. Such was his domination, such was his monumental contribution with the bat in conditions most inimical.

When he walked in, the scoreboard read nine for four. The men out were Sunil Gavaskar, K. Srikkanth, Mohinder Amarnath and Sandeep Patil. Soon he lost Yashpal Sharma at 17 and India's dreams lay in a heap. At 17 for five, there was little left to salvage as Peter Rawson and Kevin Curran threatened to humiliate India as no team had done before.

And then began one of the most incredible comebacks. History may have recorded many great, some even greater efforts than Kapil's unbeaten 175. But everything paled into oblivion because this was an innings, which came from the heart, lifting a team from absolute despair.

Let us borrow Gavaskar's description of Kapil's innings from his book, Idols. "Kapil led by example in the game against Zimbabwe when five Indian wickets had gone for 17 runs to a mixture of good bowling and poor strokes. Kapil went out and played an innings that is truly unforgettable. His first 70 to 80 runs were really calculated in the sense that he pushed and nudged the ball. And he only hit those, which he was convinced should be hit. After that he had enough confidence and when he saw that he had partners who would stay with him he launched a counter attack the like of which one had never seen before. It was absolutely unbelievable stuff. He was hitting the bowlers as if at will and we were applauding each and every shot. Our hands became weary but each shot was absolutely thrilling. When he was around 160 we all had our hearts in our mouths. We knew that the record score of 171 (by Glenn Turner against East Africa in 1975) was so near and perhaps Kapil was not aware of it. And in his anxiety to get as many runs as possible he would perhaps play an ambitious shot and get out. It was obvious at this stage that he was a tired man and might hit a tired looking shot and get out. But fortunately he didn't do that and went on to make 175 not out... "

This account came from a man who once confessed he did not miss a single stroke of that epic knock. Just as Mohinder, who recalled, "I was in a trance, sitting in the dressing room and watching Kapil dismantle Zimbabwe's hopes. He just connected every shot. I can't recall Kapil in any discomfort at any stage. He was amazing that day. And I think I must consider myself extremely lucky to have witnessed such a great batting performance."

Mohinder's sentiments were shared by Roger Binny, who was involved in a stand of 60 runs for the sixth wicket. Binny's share was 22. "He was incredible," Binny said of Kapil's innings. After Shastri perished cheaply, Kapil added 62 runs with Madan Lal, the latter's contribution 17. And then a partnership of 126 runs between Kapil and Syed Kirmani gave India the chance to fight. Kirmani made 24 and paid glowing tributes to his partner — "a priceless innings."

As Gavaskar said, Kapil built his innings. He knew it was important to see off the wily Zimbabwe pair of Rawson and Curran. The bounce and seam movement was a great challenge. Kapil did not lose his composure and concentrated on staying in the middle. It was tempting to go for his shots but the situation demanded utmost discipline from this cavalier stroke-player.

Kapil Dev receiving the 'Man of the Match' award for his dream knock against Zimbabwe at Tunbridge Wells.-ALL SPORT

Kapil recalled in his autobiography how he returned to the dressing room an angry man at lunch and how everyone left him alone with just a glass of water. When Kapil resumed his innings after lunch, he knew his job well. He exploited the small ground and prospered through a series of grand strokes, a couple of times his mishits cleared the boundary.

With every shot, Kapil gained in confidence and at one stage threw a challenge at one of the bowlers, and put him in his place by hooking him for a six. It was vintage Kapil, playing with the freedom that made him such a sight on the field.

The enormity of the innings could be calculated only in terms of the impact it made on the game in India. It was one innings, which restored the Indian confidence in its World Cup campaign as it swept Australia in the following encounter to grab a semi-final berth. It was one innings, which brought out the leadership qualities of Kapil. He set a stirring example with his deeds at Tunbridge Wells and never looked back.

It deserved to be ranked an all-time great innings. It was flawless, entertaining and match-winning. A lethal essay of a wide range of stroke-play, which showed that Kapil could keep his place in any team on the strength of his batting alone. It was batsmanship of the highest class, the kind, which would make a McCabe or Jessop proud.

Watched by a few hundred fortunate cricket lovers, it was an invaluable innings, which ought to have been preserved for posterity. Sadly, it remains recorded in statistical terms only — 175 not out with 16 fours and six sixes. There is no known footage available as BBC was on strike that day and one of the finest works of batting could not be captured for the sake of future generation.

By the way, Kitchen and Meyer were the umpires for that game, with privileged seats for the epic show. That's the reason why I envy them. They saw what very few could!