Happy Birthday, Kapil Dev – the Man Who Changed Indian Cricket

Kapil Dev with the 1983 World Cup trophy
Kapil Dev with the 1983 World Cup trophy (Credits – BCCI)

Some decades ago, when colour telecasts – leave alone the Internet – were unheard of, we had only newspaper reports and radio commentary to rely on to track cricket with passion. India had a set of wonderful batsmen and magical spinners, but the new-ball options were spoken of in anything but attacking terms.

Abid Ali and Eknath Solkar were game triers, but they gave way to the spin bowlers –Bishan Singh Bedi, BS Chandrasekhar and Erapalli Prasanna. Of course, KarsanGhavri, the left-arm fast-medium bowler, was capable of delivering a good bouncer but even he was not the kind who could run through international opposition on all tracks.

One man’s arrival on the scene changed it all. The achievements of Kapil Dev Nikhanj go beyond the 434 Test wickets and 253 ODI scalps that he retired with. As the legend turns 65 on January 6, it is time to salute him and recall his contribution to Indian cricket. I shall focus on tracing his rise from the unlikely city of Chandigarh.

For someone aware that he was perhaps a bit more gifted than his friends, he took his cricket seriously from the age of 12 and did his best to find some formal coaching from DP Azad at the Chandigarh Cricket Club in Sector 16. His family encouraged him no end, especially in convincing Azad to give Kapil a look.

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Azad worked on getting the strapping young lad’s action right without changing it completely and it was only a matter of time before he was making waves in the under-19 tournament –enough to be chosen for a national camp at the Brabourne Stadium in Bombay when he was just 15 years old.

A Board official told him at the camp that there were no fast bowlers in India, reducing him to tears. It was a humiliation that Kapil was never to forget. In just a couple of years, the young man’s pace made him the cynosure and he was brushing shoulders with more experienced cricketers as a probable for the Indian team on its tour of Australia in 1977-78.

He did not have to wait long to be part of the Indian side. He was chosen for the tour of Pakistan in 1978. I remember watching the series at a friend’s home and recall him making an immediate impact. He was gifted with an outswinger that was the envy of the best of bowlers. He had the pace that forced the batsman onto the back foot. And he could bowl a decent bouncer.

India’s prayers for a fast bowler of quality had been answered. What’s more, he was named man of the series in India’s next home series against West Indies. His batting skills also came through and India were celebrating a quality all-rounder whose basic talent revolved around bowling fast.

The good thing was that he knew that he could not base his career on his ability to bowl outswing alone and, before he went on the tour of England in 1979, he spent time in Delhi working with Rajinder Pal. The former India paceman helped him add the off-cutter to his repertoire and taught him to slant the ball into the right-hander even if he could not bowl the inswinger.

It was another milestone in a fascinating journey that held Indians spellbound. Suffice it to say that Kapil’s emergence on the scene came as a whiff of fresh air. At last, India had someone who could cause rival batsmen to think. We did not know it then, but it was to transform Indian cricket.

He made Indians pursue the dream of bowling fast so much that India now has a bunch of fast-medium and swing bowlers capable of winning Tests at home and overseas but have been left hunting high and low for quality spinners to be a part of the Test team. If ever one man burst onto the scene and changed how India approached its cricket, it was Kapil Dev.

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