Kapil Dev spares India's blushes
India 266 for 8 (Kapil Dev 175*; Rawson 3-47, Curran 3-65) beat Zimbabwe235 (Curran 73; Madan Lal 3-42) by 31 runs
Tunbridge Wells was quite a small ground, but that day was packed with a large crowd, squeezing in between the marquees and hospitality tents that surrounded much of the boundary.
After India had decided to bat, Zimbabwe losing the toss for the fifth consecutive time, Peter Rawson and Kevin Curran bowled as if inspired, moved the ball sharply off the seam, found a lot of lift in the pitch and routed the Indian top order. Openers Gavaskar and Srikkanth both failed to score, and the five top batsmen were all gone for a mere 17 runs, with Dave Houghton taking three catches behind the stumps.
Gavaskar fell in the first over, playing forward defensively but down the wrong line. Srikkanth, always eager to dominate, tried to pull Curran and got a top edge, the ball looping into the air to be well caught by Iain Butchart running about thirty metres backwards from mid-on and taking it over his shoulder. Mohinder Amarnath received an off-cutter from Rawson; he played back, the ball took an inside edge and Houghton dived to his left to take a superb catch. Sandeep Patil and Yashpal Sharma departed to the more conventional outside edge.
The organisers of the match by now were getting worried, afraid that the match would be a fiasco and over by lunchtime. They mentioned their fears to Dave Ellman-Brown, who cautiously advised them that things could still change. The BBC, anticipating a startling Zimbabwean victory, phoned him as well, intending to come over and do an interview. He told them too, "The game is not over," and so it proved.
At some stage a recovery is always expected and Roger Binny stayed in with Kapil Dev, but India were in further danger later on at 78 for seven, when Madan Lal joined Kapil Dev. Kapil played an incredible innings, but he did gain some advantage from the fact that this match was played on a pitch at the very edge of the square at Tunbridge Wells. This meant that one boundary was immense, making it possible for batsmen to run three for a hit about ten metres to the side of a boundary fielder on that side, while on the other side two runs were impossible for the same hit. On the other hand, of course, fours and sixes were so much easier to hit on that side; a strong hit only a few yards from a boundary fielder would invariably beat him for four.
Kapil Dev took full advantage of the short boundary and, in the opinion of both Pycroft and Houghton, a mistake that Duncan Fletcher will always own up to with regret, due to lack of experience in this form of cricket, was his decision to take off Rawson and Curran at the same time after bowling eight or nine overs of their permitted twelve instead of keeping one of them going. Instead, Fletcher brought himself on in tandem with Iain Butchart, and this was the only match in the World Cup when Fletcher bowled poorly. On the other hand, Robin Brown feels that 12 overs was a lot for a pace bowler to bowl without a break, even when taking wickets, and that they needed to have a break before they lost their effectiveness.
This removed the pressure from Kapil and Roger Binny, his partner at that stage, and enabled them to settle in and begin a recovery that Kapil completed in partnership with Madan Lal and Syed Kirmani. The latter partnership, unbroken, added 126 and is still an official one-day international record for the ninth wicket. Both junior partners did a superb job for Kapil, working the ball around to give him most of the strike, and they have not received enough credit for the invaluable role they played that day.
Kapil gave no real chances, if one excepts a very difficult one to Grant Paterson on the boundary in the nineties and a number of miscued strokes that fell clear of the fielders. Otherwise it was an amazing innings of clean striking against a quality attack, a performance that Kapil never equalled in a similar situation at any other time in his career. The vital statistics of his innings are: 181 minutes, 6 sixes, 16 fours, and century off 72 balls. The total number of balls he faced has not apparently been recorded. As Houghton remembers it, most of his six sixes were actually over the long boundary.
After reaching his century Kapil called for a new bat, one of the new fashion at that time with tapered-down shoulders and shaped almost like a baseball bat, and he stepped up the assault even more. Rawson and Curran when they returned later were pulverised and had their figures ruined in their last three overs, conceding about ten an over at that stage. Butchart, who bowled five overs at the death, was rather more economical as he aimed consistently at the blockhole. At the close of the innings Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil's rival for the captaincy, met him as he came off the field with a cup of water, which Ali Shah thought a very nice gesture of respect. It was a legendary innings, and even four years later in the World Cup in India the Zimbabweans frequently had people remind them or spectators call out to them, "Remember Kapil Dev!" They were not about to forget in a hurry.
Dave Houghton believes that on this beautiful batting pitch Zimbabwe should still have been able to win this match. Once again, though, so many batsmen made a start but failed to build on it. They began with a good opening stand of 44, but were set back by two run-outs. Heron's run-out was particularly unnecessary; he hit the ball out to the sweeper on the short boundary and tried to take two, which was completely impractical, and the batsmen had scarcely crossed when the return came in. Robin Brown also feels he was greatly at fault for running himself out; he was playing the sheet-anchor role when he called Fletcher for a leg-bye that was never on. Fletcher refused the call, but Brown insisted and ran through from the non-striker's end, to be easily run out.
All appeared lost as the score slumped to 113 for six, although Brown feels that the Indians did not bowl as well this time as they had at Leicester. Curran played a superb innings, though, in partnership with Butchart and Gerald Peckover, before being out to a very tame catch. He apparently misjudged the pace of a long hop and lobbed an easy catch off the splice. As long as he was still there, the Zimbabweans had favoured their chances of winning. In the end they fought back well to finish only 32 runs short of a victory they had looked like winning easily a few hours earlier. Kapil Dev bent down to kiss the ground as he came off the field as the victorious captain.
In this innings, as well as others, Robin Brown feels that too often the Zimbabweans would lose wickets in twos. They had not yet learned that when a wicket fell they needed to consolidate, start again as it were, even if it meant not scoring for three overs.
Again Zimbabwe felt afterwards they should have won the match, even after Kapil's historic innings. Due to their inexperience they had not paced their innings well, got behind the required run rate and lost wickets at the wrong time. For India, it was the turning point of the tournament, for had they lost to Zimbabwe they would almost certainly have failed to reach the semi-finals. As it was, they went on to win the whole tournament, surprisingly defeating an over-confident West Indies in the final.
This match was not televised, to the disappointment of Kapil Dev himself among others. One Indian supporter made himself a lot of money, though, as he had brought his video camera to the match and captured Kapil's great innings on it from his place in the crowd. Kapil was very happy to buy the tape off him for a large sum.