Kapil Dev - The man who elevated Indian cricket to greatness

Kapil Dev, who was born in Rohtak but made gigantic strides in the Indian cricket team, is responsible for putting them on the world map and ensuring that they are a dominant force in the modern era. It was ‘Kapil’s Devils’ that stunned the cricketing world when they defeated the mighty West Indies in the 1983 World Cup clash in Lord’s which changed the cricketing world forever.

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Kapil Dev - The man who elevated Indian cricket to greatness
Kapil Dev's 1983 World Cup win transformed Indian cricket forever and it made them the superpowers of cricket.

You often hear of small-town individuals achieving big on the global stage. What is the first impression that you get? It gives you confidence. It gives you wings to succeed despite the odds. In cricket, that is the reason why every individual from all walks of life likes to connect with MS Dhoni. Dhoni, from the backwaters of Ranchi, had shown that hailing from a small town is not a criterion to restrict one’s dreams. From Ranchi, MS Dhoni has charted a course which has ensured Indian cricket is on the path of domination in the modern era. However, 26 years before MS Dhoni, there was one individual who had to overcome insurmountable odds to get to an elevated position of greatness. When he finally did, he changed the face of world and Indian cricket in such a way that they were stunned.

The year is 1978. There is a youngster from Rohtak, Haryana. The state itself has been only 12 years old with no cricketing history. During that period, the cricketing rivalry between Delhi and Bombay in the domestic circuit was at its crescendo. Players from Delhi, Bombay and to a certain extent from the South Zone would get a chance in the national team. For Kapildev Ramlal Nikhanj, the fact that he could get into the cricketing team at a time of the aforementioned circumstances, it was indeed a worthy feat.

Nothing came easy for Kapil Dev. When he came into the Indian cricket team, Indian cricket had reached it’s lowest ebb. They had lost to Sri Lanka, who was an associate nation at that time in the 1979 World Cup. They were getting beaten on a consistent basis by teams like Australia, New Zealand, West Indies and England. But, then a small incident in 1982, just before the 1983 World Cup final, would give Kapil Dev and the Indian cricket team the wings to achieve glory.

From Albion, Lord’s and the Promised Land

During the ODI against the West Indies in Albion in 1983, India finally defeated the West Indies in an ODI for the first time. Although they lost the series, that win in Berbice would be the tipping point in the confidence of the Indian cricket team. Heading into the World Cup, India were 66-1 outsiders in winning the World Cup. However, a miracle was starting to unfold. They defeated the West Indies again, they got the better of Australia and New Zealand. For Kapil Dev, his brilliance was epitomised in the game against Zimbabwe in Turnbridge Wells.

Coming into bat at 17/5, Kapil Dev blasted 175 but unfortunately, there would be no TV footage of the knock as the BBC broadcasters were on strike. There was another story that no crew was assigned for the game as it was a ‘low-key’ affair. Kapil’s knock only survives on oral history. In the semi-finals, India got the better of England.

In that final at Lord’s, India was restricted to 183 with Kris Srikkanth the top scorer with 38. However, India played like Tigers on that day. The trend was set by Kapil Dev himself. Madan Lal was the bowler and Viv Richards was going like a train. He mistimed the pull shot and Kapil Dev, running back from square leg, took the catch near the boundary. That catch changed the match. Mohinder Amarnath took three wickets and India won the game by 43 runs to create history.

From that point on, India achieved glory after glory. They won the 1985 Benson and Hedges World Championship of Cricket in Australia by beating Pakistan while they were undefeated in England in 1986 in Tests and ODIs.

As the decade wore on, Kapil Dev’s returns dwindled slightly. However, he still showed he was the master of audacity. His four consecutive sixes off Eddie Hemmings in Lord’s to avoid the follow-on with one wicket remaining is the stuff of folklore. Kapil Dev evolved into the Marathon runner as he kept breaking records and eventually, he would go past Sir Richard Hadlee in 1994 when he dismissed Hashan Tillakaratne to take 432 wickets. The boy from Rohtak had finally climbed the summit.

In between, he achieved something far more unbelievable. He led his domestic team Haryana to a Ranji Trophy title. They achieved it by beating a Bombay side that had Sanjay Manjrekar, Dilip Vengsarkar, Sachin Tendulkar, Vinod Kambli, Pravin Amre and Chandrakant Pandit by just two runs in 1991 final. Kapil Dev’s Haryana had achieved what other teams could only dream off and that was to break Bombay’s domination in their own fortress of the Wankhede.

He had a torrid time as the manager of the Indian cricket team as the millennium closed in. The match-fixing allegations, and the sight of Kapil Dev breaking down on national TV on hearing about those allegations, made for sorry viewing. His later years were punctuated by forming the breakaway ICL (Indian Cricket League). However, there can be no denying it. Kapil Dev IS a legend. He did change Indian cricket for the better and the 1.3 billion Indian fans are forever in debt for his legendary contributions.

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