PARTAB RAMCHAND | 7 FEBRUARY, 2019
Down Memory Lane
During the sixties and early seventies when the Indian new ball attack was a joke and a farce had someone ventured to say that a day would come when an Indian fast bowler is the leading wicket taker in Tests he would have elicited loud guffaws from those around him. For those were the days when the Indian bowling was opened by the likes of Salim Durrani, Sunil Gavaskar, MAK Pataudi, V Subramanyam, BS Chandrasekhar and BK Kunderan while ML Jaisimha (career figures nine wickets at 92 apiece) and ED Solkar (career figures 18 wickets at almost 60 apiece) were regular new ball bowlers.
Things improved a wee bit in the mid seventies and there was no longer the sight of batsmen and wicket keepers sending down an over or two with the new ball before the famed spin quartet took over. But it was not until Kapil Dev burst on the scene in 1978 that the cricketing world really took notice of an Indian opening bowler. The very fact that Pakistan opening batsman Sadiq Mohammed had to signal to the pavilion for a helmet in Kapil’s first Test at Faisalabad in October 1978 was an unmistakable sign that from now on India’s new ball attack would not attract derisive laughter and in fact would be taken very seriously.
An ideal blend of talent, skill and hard work Kapil emerged as a world class fast bowler and when only 21 he became the youngest to take 100 Test wickets. His bowling allied to his dashing batmanship also saw him emerge as one of the leading all rounders alongside the likes of Ian Botham, Imran Khan and Richard Hadlee. But more than his batting it was his bowling that saw him the focus of much attention for while Indian cricket had produced several attacking batsman it had never seen a bowler like Kapil.
Kapil continued to take wickets regularly and in 1983 at the age of 24 he became the youngest to take 200 wickets. In the meantime the world record for most Test wickets was changing hands. In December 1981 Dennis Lillee overtook Lance Gibbs’ long standing record of 309 wickets and by the time he retired in January 1984 he had stretched the haul to 355. In August 1986 Botham took over at the top and had 373 wickets by November 1988 when Hadlee overtook him. In February 1990 Hadlee became the first bowler to take 400 wickets and in August that year he retired with a tally of 431.
Kapil in the meantime continued to be among the wickets and on his 28th birthday in January 1987 he became the youngest to take 300 wickets. A Perth in February 1992 he became the second bowler to take 400 wickets. It was then that talk about Kapil breaking Hadlee’s record and going to the top became the subject of intense discussion. At 33 he could not go on for too long but there was a chance that he just might be able to do what was once thought impossible for an Indian pace bowler.
Through 1992 and 1993 Kapil bowled sparingly but picked up his quota of wickets so that his average and strike rate remained impressive. The suspense now was terrific and his every wicket was celebrated. Finally came the big moment – or moments. First against Sri Lanka at Bangalore in January 1994 he took wicket No 431 to draw level with Hadlee. That was also the final wicket of the match and the scenes of jubilation were unbelievable and Kapil himself was overcome with emotion. And on February 8 1994 came the really big moment when on the opening day of the Test against Sri Lanka at Ahmedabad Hashan Tillekeratne was caught at forward short leg to signal wicket No 432 sparking off a long round of celebrations around the ground. It was Kapil’s 130th Test and finally an Indian was at the peak – an incredible achievement for a fast bowler from this country.
Kapil played just one more Test in New Zealand in March that year and announced his retirement from international cricket in November 1994. His tally of 434 wickets stood as the record till Courtney Walsh overtook it in 2000 and the West Indian before he retired with 519 wickets became the first bowler to take 500 wickets in Tests. But in cricketing history Kapil’s feat is always remembered fondly for he scaled a peak which was thought to be unreachable for an Indian pace bowler. Moreover he spawned a whole new generation of fast bowlers, proved that it was possible for an Indian bowler to hurtle down thunderbolts and is undoubtedly the inspiration for the very healthy state of fast bowling in India these days.