All-rounders are a blessed lot. Which sport allows you to blend two skills? They are, in a way, cricket’s bilinguals who are able to exert their influence at any point in a contest. Gary Sobers had a celestial reach that none could match. But who can forget the early 80s when John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors were pitched in a headlong battle in one sphere and the four all-rounders – Ian Botham, Imran Khan, Kapil Dev and Richard Hadlee – in another?
You knew when they would announce themselves. Their captains must be truly subjugated, the team in need of a lift, and the contest poised to tilt either way.
“We were all great competitors,” Imran had said in a certain context. “I had my duels with all three. Botham was a better batsman than all of them, Hadlee was a better bowler than the others, and Kapil Dev, at one point, had great batting potential but never developed it. It’s not easy at that level to keep developing both skills.”
The Kapil-Botham duel was the running theme in two Tests in Wankhede in successive years (February 1980 and November 1981). Our instant recollection of the 1980 golden jubilee Test is Gundappa Viswanath’s gesture to recall Bob Taylor.
For the uninitiated, that game is also remembered for another Botham classic (13 wickets – six in the first dig, seven in the second, and a sparkling 114 in crisis). There was Taylor’s feat of 10 catches too but that can wait.
The Test, the Wisden notes, generally produced poor cricket which was “redeemed by an extraordinary all-round performance by Botham”. And yet it’s not called a ‘Botham Test’, for it lacked the timeless appeal and heightened narrative of Headingley ’81. According to the Wisden almanac, the “rival sides were mentally and physically at the end of an arduous series”.
Botham eclipsed Kapil completely in the first innings, dismissing him for a blob and running through India’s famed line-up (they were shot out for 242), with a six-wicket haul “in grassy, overcast conditions”.
“He bowled brilliantly,” recalls Dilip Vengsarkar, one of few Indian batsmen Botham did not dismiss. “I remember the ball had a pronounced hard seam and Botham made it wobble at will. While he could swing the cherry both ways, his outswing was the most lethal.”
Only briefly did the Test come alive. Kapil and Karsan Ghavri worked out India’s salvation decimating England’s top-order. The Wisden mentions, “Batting as indifferently as they did in Australia, England at 58 for five looked most unlikely to match India’s score, let alone build on the advantage created by their bowlers.” But it also adds that there was “hardly a session when he (Botham) did not bring his influence to bear”.
With half the side down, it was time for Botham, the batsman, to assert himself with “an innings (of 114) which was responsible and yet not lacking in enterprise”.
In a tribute, an illustrious British author remarks that the all-rounder had a knack of timing his hour of glory. Botham’s strengths, he outlines, was derived from an imposing physical presence and an almost maniacal self-belief that reduced the opposition to gibbering wrecks.
A deflated India never recovered from the onslaught. And Botham was still not done. With seven more wickets in the kitty in the second-innings, his plunder was finally complete. India were shot out for 149, and England knocked off a two-digit target without losing a wicket.
The Wisden says, “For India, the defeat ended an unbeaten run of 15 unbeaten Test matches, four of which they had won. If not for Kapil’s innings (an undefeated 45) who batted in the forthright manner of Botham, the match might not have gone into the fourth day.”
November 1981, Wankhede – now, it was Kapil’s turn to find a fund of inspiration. Not that India had a semblance of a perfect start. They were shout out for 179, with only Sunil Gavaskar (55) and Kapil Dev (38) unmoved against an attack comprising Botham (4/72), Bob Willis, Graham Dilley, Derek Underwood and John Emburey.
India still pulled out a slender lead, with Dilip Doshi getting a five-for. But, at 90 for five, the hosts were sinking in the second-innings too. By the way, Botham had another five-for to make it nine in his match tally – could anyone have kept the man quiet?
It needed a counterattack from Kapil to revive India. And while his 46 may not match up to Botham’s knock in the Jubilee Test, it was no less significant in a low-scoring encounter.
John Emburey recalls, “As a bowler, you were always aware that Kapil would try to dominate you. The key was to keep him silent which was obviously difficult because he was such a phenomenal player. He was India’s answer to Botham, a man no less in ability, one capable of turning a session on its head.”
The noted English writer John Woodcock likens Kapil to a Jat, a sect to which the Indian army looks for recruits. Woodcock notes that since Kapil is taller and stronger than the average Indian, it influenced his development as a cricketer. “It bestowed upon him the build of a fast bowler, and gave him the height and power to drive a cricket ball as lustily as anyone ever did.”
As England got down to chasing 240, ‘the bowler’ came to the fore. Madan Lal and Kapil (who claimed Botham as well) took five wickets apiece to dismiss Keith Fletcher’s side for 102 and win the Test by an emphatic 138 runs.
Emburey remembers Kapil’s action, a cartwheel of arms and legs. “He was actually quite difficult to pick with his earlier action as his body seemed all over the place. In India, he didn’t appear to be express, but at times he could bowl genuinely quick especially on favourable surfaces. Also, he had a deceptive bouncer which would surprise us,” says Emburey, insisting that England were also done in by a couple of bad decisions in the first hour.
When we turn to the tattered pages of history, it could be worth pausing at these two Tests. They could speak of the times that were and never will be.