(Excerpt from The Big Hitters, by Brian Bearshaw)

Tunbridge Wells in June is as pretty a spot as you could wish for. The blossom has given way to the rhododendrons and Kent, the fairest and most English of counties, is a picture. The oast houses disinguish it from any other county, the village greens and ponds emphasise the beauty and the peace. Big sport does not intrude; Tunbridge Wells has just a couple of Kent county games a year with neighbouring Sussex making a popular fixture.

In 1983 Essex, Kent's neighbours from across the Thames, played the first game of the festival week, a miserable match that was drawn. At least the peace and quiet were not disturbed. Sussex followed hard on the heels of Essex and were twice cheaply bowled out as Kent convincingly beat them. The game finished on the Friday, a pleasant day, and as Sussex prepared to go back across the border two more teams, from rather a few more miles away, arrived in town for an unlikely clash. It was the year of the World Cup and Tunbridge Wells had been blessed with a game between India and Zimbabwe, not the sort of encounter designed to set the town alight. There was no rush on the deck-chairs.

Zimbabwe had caught Australia cold in the opening round of games and pulled off a shock win but had then lost the next three matches. India had won two and lost two, the same as Australia, and could not afford to slip up. But slip they did, to 17 for five. Then came the most remarkable innings ever played in limited-over cricket, an innings of 175 not out from Kapil Dev, the Indian captain, which included six sixes and 16 fours. With the help first of Roger Binny and then Madan Lal, Kapil Dev got India to 140 for eight before really cutting loose in an unbroken ninth-wicket stand of 126 in 16 overs with his wicketkeeper, Syed Kirmani, whose contribution, 26, was modest but vital. India won but not by much and went on to beat the holders, West Indies, in the final at Lord's.

Sunil Gavaskar, who had been dismissed for a "duck," described Kapil Dev's innings as "unbelievable stuff". "His first 70 to 80 runs were really calculated in the sense that he pushed and nudged the ball and only hit those which he was convinced should be hit," wrote Gavaskar in his book, Idols. "After that he had enough confidence and when he saw he had partners who would stay with him he launched a counter-attack the like of which one had never seen before. He was hitting the bowlers as if at will and we were applauding each and every shot. Our hands became weary but each shot was absolutely thrilling."

Kapil Dev was just over twenty-one when he became the youngest player ever to have completed the double of 100 wickets and 1,000 runs in Test cricket and vied with Ian Botham, Richard Hadlee and Imran Khan for the title of the world's top allrounder. Botham was the most genuine all-rounder while Kapil Dev, although capable of explosive innings, was a better bowler than a batsman. He had made his first-class debut in November 1975 when still two months short of his seventeenth birthday, taking six for 39 for Haryana against Punjab, neighbouring states in the foothills of Northern India. Kapil Dev, himself a Punjabi, made much more impact as a bowler than a batsman in his early years with several outstanding returns while still in his teens, including eight for 36 against Jammu and Kashmir that was a match retum seven for 20 against Bengal and eight for 38 against Services. It did not escape attention, either, when he played in a University match and scored 300 in a day.

Kapil Dev's Test debut was in Pakistan in 1978 when India lost the series but gained some consolation in "the emergence of nineteen-year-old Kapil Dev as an allrounder of considerable worth. A clean and hefty striker of the ball he made some useful runs in the lower order." His most impressive innings was his 59 in 48 balls which included two sixes and eight fours in the third Test at Karachi.

A visit by the West Indians followed the trip to Pakistan and Kapil Dev strengthened his position in the side with some fine all-round displays, including his first century. Batting at number nine in the third Test at Calcutta he scored 60 out of 80 off 62 balls to help India from 220 for seven to 300. By the fifth Test, at Delhi, he was batting at six and took advantage of a strong Indian position at 353 for four to hit 126 not out. Kapil went to England in 1979, was the leading wicket-taker in Tests but throughout the tour played only one innings of real merit, 102 in 74 minutes the fastest century of the season until the penultimate day with a six and 19 fours. And he reached it in his first match, against Northamptonshire, the county he was to join two years later.

A benefit match in Bangalore produced a spectacular century in 33 minutes with ten sixes and eight fours but there was little to rave about on his next tour, to Australia and New Zealand, although he did produce one quite special shot during a one-day match at Brisbane where he hit New Zealand's Jeremy Coney over the Clem Jones stand and into Stanley Street. It was an enormous hit and forced Coney to wave his handkerchief in surrender. Kapil Dev's best innings in many a Test came against England at Kanpur in 1982 when, with nothing at stake, he hit a century off 83 balls in the final afternoon of the series, lovely entertainment that included two sixes and 16 fours. The entire morning session had been lost because of mist, before Bob Willis took three wickets in 18 balls to make India 207 for six. Kapil Dev scored 116 out of a 169 stand with Yashpal Sharma before being dismissed in David Gower's only over of the innings. Kapil Dev was now ready for his second tour of England, in 1982, better equipped and eager to take on Ian Botham for the "title" of the world's best all-rounder.

Many of Kapil Dev's finest and most exhilarating displays as a batsman have happened in England. In only his third game for his first county, Northamptonshire, in 1981, he hit 79 against Worcestershire, taking advantage of the small Stourbridge ground to thump six sixes and six fours. But the best came in 1982, spurred possibly by the head-on clash with Botham which produced some entertaining encounters through the summer. He scored a thoughtful 41 in the first innings of the opening Test only he and Sunil Gavaskar got into double figures but gave Botham a first-hand glimpse of his power by hitting 89 out of the 117 added for the last four wickets in the second innings. He hit Botham into the grandstand to reach 50 and hit two sixes off Phil Edmonds and was on course for the fastest Test century of all time when he was out after batting 77 minutes and facing 55 balls. England needed 65 to win but Kapil Dev showed his bowling talents, too, by removing Geoff Cook, Chris Tavare and Bob Taylor in eight balls before the job was done.

In the second Test at Old Trafford he hammered 65 but saved the best till last, the final Test at the Oval, his final innings of the tour which saved India from followingon after England's 594. He went in at 248 for five and in the next 102 minutes hit a sparkling 97 which included two sixes one into the Vauxhall Stand off Botham and 14 fours.

When playing for Northamptonshire later that season, he rattled off a couple of whirlwind centuries in the half-dozen matches he played. He went to Eastbourne on 11th August and hit 103 on a pitch that was so bad it was reported as being unsatisfactory for first-class cricket. He hit three enormous sixes and 11 fours as Northamptonshire walked off with an innings win over Sussex. Northamptonshire's next match was against Derbyshire, over a weekend. On the Saturday, the opening day of the championship match, he scored 65 not out with four sixes and four fours. On the Sunday, in the John Player League he hit 75 off 48 balls with four sixes and eight fours. On the Tuesday, he tore the same attack apart again with an unbeaten 100 in 98 minutes in which time he and Robin Boyd-Moss added 182 for the fifth wicket.

India have needed Kapil's bowling more than his batting and when they went to Pakistan a few weeks later he was again their best bowler by a mile but scored only one half century in eight innings, hitting 73 of India's 169 in the second Test at Karachi. The Indians moved on to West Indies with Kapil Dev installed as captain at twenty-four years of age. Again he topped the bowling and his batting, greatly improved, included an unbeaten, explosive 100, helped by the West Indies taking the extra half hour at the end of the game which was no use to them, and which included three sixes and 13 fours.

He returned to Northamptonshire in 1983 after his great triumphs in the World Cup but played only seven games in the championship. His bowling was disappointing but he took the chance to bombard a new, unsuspecting ground with 120 at Weston-super-Mare. He got his runs out of 172 and hit two sixes and 16 fours in a stay of 38 overs. Kapil Dev moved on to Worcestershire in 1984 and scored his first century for them on the opening day of the 1985 championship season. He went in at 96 for five against Middlesex at Lord's, and walked out 75 minutes later at 223 for six after scoring 100.

By this time he had lost the captaincy of India to Sunil Gavaskar and had even had the ignominy of being dropped by his country during England's tour of 1984-85 for reckless batting during the Delhi Test. Kapil Dev had been heard to say to Gavaskar on the final afternoon of the match: "This match is safe. I'm going out to have a slog." Gavaskar disagreed and Kapil Dev then apparently said casually: "Slogging is my normal game." He was later reinstated in the side.