How Kapil Dev rose to lift the World Cup

RAJU BHARATAN

WAS it not Sunil Gavaskar who had, by end-1986, chosen to compose the swan song about being "in the December of my career"? Well, the December of 1982 had Sunil still at his performing zenith. This as Sunil and his men played the first of six Tests in what was destined to be an Indian psyche-shattering tour of Pakistan. The 83 Sunil grafted at Lahore's Gaddafi Stadium (as Test series opener) underlined to viewers why Imran Khan esteemed the Little Master as the toughest nut to crack in world cricket. There was no hint of the trauma awaiting Sunil (India's firmly entrenched captain by then) as that first Test was drawn — a measured response of 379 to Pakistan's 485. The iron fist in the velvet glove of Imran Khan was really to be felt only as India lost the succeeding three Tests in a numbing row (each virtually by an innings).

The Cup that cheers India -- "Kapil, Kapil, never another like Kapil!"

Thus did Sunil's suzerainty as India's opener skipper come under serious Kapil-pitchforking scrutiny. Sunil's second innings 127 not out in the crucial third Test at Faisalabad — crafted in the face of one-up Pakistan leading by 280 runs — turned out to be a knock sustained in vain, as only Mohinder Amarnath (78) was prepared to stand firm alongside his skipper in neutralising the hand-grenades of Imran Khan. An Imran who, in going on to clinch the rubber 3-0, had a predatory haul of 40 wickets at 13.95 runs each to show from six Tests. Thus was Sunil mentally prepared for the Axe Effect in Indian Cricket.

Hard lines on Sunil's brow that Kapil Dev, as his match-winner `mover', momentarily lost his outswinger during that prestige 1982-83 tour. So much so that we saw this world-beater, for the first time, `buying' his wickets for India in neighbouring Pakistan. Sunil's cause was hardly furthered by the fact that the series also witnessed the eclipse of his vintageing vice-captain, G. R. Visvanath (1; 24 & 0; 53 & 9; 0 & 37). Vish `did not bat' (demoted to No. 6 by then) in the drawn fifth Test at Lahore, next stood jettisoned from the Indian XI for the sixth Test at Karachi. Thus was the World Cup opening created for Kapil Dev to emerge as India's surprise new captain. The 0-3 loss to Imran Khan's Pakistan hurt Sunil like hell. What pinched even more was the fact of Kapil Dev's being clandestinely summoned to India (across the Wagah border) by our Cricket Board bigwigs — during the January 2, 1983, Sunday Rest Day of the sixth and final Test at the National Stadium in Karachi! Sunil, for his `secretly' toppled part, put a gloss on this piquant development. In a pre-emptive strike, when the public in India had still to get wind of his being pulled down, wrote Sunil Gavaskar in his Sunday Mid-Day column:

"I knew that I was not going to be the captain of the Indian cricket team for the West Indies tour on the Rest Day of the last Test against Pakistan at Karachi. That was the day I learnt that Kapil Dev had cancelled his plans of returning to India by the Wagah border and, instead, had decided to come to Bombay with the team. Bombay, of course, was the venue of the selection meeting. Earlier, Kapil and Yashpal had made arrangements — and obtained special permission from the team manager as well as the Government of Pakistan — to return to India by the Wagah border. The change of plans could have been initiated after Kapil got an inkling of the events to come through some important channels present during the Karachi Test. Not that I deserved to lead the side after such a convincing thrashing in Pakistan. The sack was expected and quite rightly too. What Indian cricket needs is a shot in the arm and who can do better to provide it than our best player: Kapil Dev."

Added Sunil: "Contrary to what some people would like to believe, my relations with Kapil are excellent. He is a very honest person who has nothing but the interest of the team at heart. He will strive his every sinew for the team. Any time he asks me for anything, I will do it. I will certainly try to put in more than 100 per cent for him — like he did when I was captain." Exceedingly graciously couched. But a major snag developed at this Sunil-Kapil rupture juncture. Some uncomplimentary references, made in Sunil Gavaskar's book, Sunny Days, to savage crowd behaviour in the West Indies were blown up, as newspaper headlines, in the Caribbean. Clearly by those who logically saw Sunil Gavaskar as the one-man stumbling-block to Clive Lloyd and his muscle-men's crushing Kapil Dev's India during our 1983 World Cup-preceding tour of the West Indies. So much so that the issue of Sunil's touring itself came into doubt. Only as saner voices prevailed in the West Indies did Sunil, later, join the team — on the eve of the first Test.

That end-February 1983 Sabina Park Test was the one in which Sunny was subjected to a rib-caging psychological assault by Michael Holding and Andy Roberts, Joel Garner and Malcolm Marshall. Tony Cozier from behind the mike did little to alleviate the plight of a Sunny clearly short of tour-match practice while confronting the fastest bowlers in the world. As Sunil, in his first Test essay for Kapil's India, scratched around for 20, Tony Cozier turned the `pen' knife in the wound by observing in his radio commentary: "Surely this is not the Sunil we know. It's someone else — someone disguised as Gavaskar!"

"What Indian cricket needs is a shot in the arm and who can do better to provide it than our best player: Kapil Dev?" said Sunil Gavaskar, after he was sacked as captain for the West Indies tour, following a thrashing in Pakistan, before the 1983 World Cup.

That tart comment certainly left its impact on Sunny. In the second innings, Sunil (0), unwittingly rarely for him, left one flank open for his leg peg to be claimed as the West Indies booty by Mike Holding. One must here perceptively insight the mindframe of Sunil as he came to Sabina Park himself, rather late in the day, for Kapil's first Test of strength as India's captain. Sunny here had yet to come to terms with the shell shock of shedding India's captaincy crown. Such a body-blow `Pakistang' Sunil into making a valid point via a potshot he took at those feeling fulfilled in seeing him down and `out'. "What is disappointing," wrote Sunil, "is the utter lack of courtesy and finesse with which the removal has come. Right from the time I started playing cricket at the Test level to the present day, captains have been discarded as one would brush away some dust. Neither the Cricket Board Secretary nor the Chairman of the Selection Committee calls to inform the deposed leader that he is no longer wanted as captain. Instead he has to learn about it from outside sources. What's the harm in one telephone call to the deposed captain?"

A ring of bitterness in Sunny's tone was understandable in the `Kapillion' riding circumstances. Circumstances that conspired to see Sunil, by his known Caribbean standards, fail Kapil during the Test series in the West Indies. Sunil's scores of 20 & 0 at Sabina Park; 1 & 32 at Queen's Park Oval; 147 at the Bourda Oval; 2 & 19 at the Kensington Oval; 18 & 1 at St. John's Recreation Ground, Antigua, showed up Gavaskar to be Calypso-so — for once, in no major way able to contribute during a Test campaign in the Caribbean. This while Kapil Dev, commanding full player support, led the team with vim and vitality. That the early-1983 five-Test series was lost but 0-2 by Kapil Dev's India, at a time when the West Indies was annihilating the rest of the world, became almost a point of national pride back home.

For all that, the spotlight was yet again on Sunil in the `core' Test of the series at Georgetown. For, in coming up with a willow-in-hand 147 here, Sunil mesmerisingly stole past West Indies legend Gary Sobers' record of 26 Test hundreds. Some Gavaskar achievement on Sobersoil! But the way Gavaskar agonised through his 90s convinced Caribbean crowds that Sunny, an immortal in their eyes till then, was mortal, after all. Yet, that Georgetown Test 147 not out was not the only `Sunny' moment on Kapil-testing tour. Indeed, in a manner of speaking, it was Sunil who showed Kapil the World Cup way as, out of the Blue Mountains, he rediscovered his touch with the second ODI at Berbice, immediately after having failed really to distinguish himself (1 & 32) in the Port of Spain Test.

The Berbice Indians turned up in 15,000 force for that rare ODI in their tiny terrain, after Clive Lloyd's West Indies had wrapped up the first LOI (at Port of Spain) by 52 runs. As India was asked to bat first at Berbice, Sunil looked to be up against it, given the norm of form he had displayed on tour. But now, against Holding, Roberts, Marshall and Winston Davis, Sunil proved a spot shot as a one-day opener! As Ravi Shastri stood steady at one end, Sunny struck an incredibly rich vein, scoring at almost five runs an over from the word go. Indeed Sunil looked all set for his maiden ODI hundred when he was run out on 90. Mordantly when his running mate was Kapil Dev! India's fresher skipper had, by that needle point, to concede that it was Sunil who had demolishingly demonstrated that even the West Indies fast attack could be lashed for runs, come the World Cup.

Still how possibly could Kapil, now India captain, let the focus rest on Sunil and his 90? Promoting himself in the order to join Gavaskar at 152 for 2, Kapil matched Sunil stroke for stroke as the two put on 72. When Sunil (90) left, Kapil saw the opportunity to get even, the neo-skip's 72 coming off just 38 balls (3 sixes, 7 fours). All Berbice was abuzz as the mighty West Indies had no winning counter to India's 282 for 5 from but 47 overs. The highest ODI score against the West Indies till then! That the West Indies still lost only by 27 runs is a point of detail. The point is Sunil, so one-day unlikely looking, had shown Kapil the Windies-bending World Cup path to Lord's. That Kapil picked up the Sunil-90 gauntlet with a stunning 72 was but a Tunbridge-to-cross rehearsal for that Zimbabweb-casting 175 not out — replete with 6 sixes and 17 fours. That second ODI 72 in the West Indies it was that saw Kapil rise on Sunil's Berbice shoulders to glimpse the World Cup — if still as a mirage.