Hamstrung Kapil Dev decides to retire; Tony Cozier pays tribute to the great Indian all-rounder and cricket's leading wicket- taker who yesterday ended an era

Tony Cozier

A unique era in cricket's rich history has ended with the retire- ment of Kapil Dev, announced yesterday in Delhi with a suddenness that took his native India by surprise.

At 35 and the last to go, Kapil was the youngest of four of the game's outstanding all- rounders who simultaneously enriched it for fully a decade.

A grand finale in the imminent series against the West Indies would have been a far more fitting climax to the career of Test cricket's highest wicket-taker than the whimper of a bland an- nouncement. But a pulled hamstring, sustained in the first one- day international last month, and the unmistakeable signs of in- creasing age, prompted him to go the way of so many retiring players - into the television commentary box, where he makes his debut today.

For much of a career that began at the age of 19 against the West Indies in 1978, Kapil shared cricket's global attention with three other greats.

Sir Richard Hadlee, the New Zealander whose 431 Test wickets stood until Kapil passed them against Sri Lanka last February, played his last match in 1989; Imran Khan, the princely Pakis- tani, bowed out after leading his team to the World Cup in 1992; and Ian Botham, the charismatic and controversial Englishman, quit a year later. All, like Kapil, had more than 3,000 runs and 300 wickets in Tests.

Paradoxically, in an age when the limited-overs game places such value on versatility, there is not a successor in sight.

Kapil destroyed a stereotype of Indian cricket. ''My efforts should disprove that India can't produce fast bowlers,'' he said on breaking Hadlee's record. ''For 15 years that has been my one great motivation and especially to take wickets on Indian pitches, which are regarded as so unhelpful to fast bowlers.''

If the Indian authorities have reverted to the practice of favouring spinners with selection and pitch preparation, it is a negation of Kapil's legacy. Although fast enough, he was never express. Instead, he relied on late swing, generated by a clas- sic, side-on action, and variation. Tall (6ft 2in) with the loose-limbed movements of a natural athlete and an aggressive at- titude rare in Indian cricketers, he was also a batsman capable of breathtaking hitting and an outstanding fielder.

That he also played 224 one- day internationals - in which his record of 253 wickets was surpassed only by Pakistan's Wasim Akram in September - led India in 34 Tests and 74 internationals and never missed a match through injury until now was a measure of his durability.

As revered as he was, he was not immune to the political intrigue that afflicts the game in India. He replaced the other contem- porary Indian legend - the batsman, Sunil Gavaskar - as captain in 1983 and, within months, had led India to their most famous victory, the World Cup upset over the West Indies at Lord's.

Within a year, though, he had been sacked and Gavaskar reinstat- ed, a process reversed in 1986 before defeat by the arch-enemy, Pakistan, at home in 1987 saw Kapil returned to the ranks for good.

His approach to the game, if not to life, had much in common with Botham. In a first- round match in the 1983 World Cup, India were in an embarrassing tangle at 17 for 5 against Zimbabwe at Tun- bridge Wells when Kapil arrived to devastate their attack with one of the one-day games most astonishing innings, 175 not out.

Joined by the last man in the Lord's Test of 1990 and with 16 re- quired to avoid the follow-on, he lashed four consecutive boun- daries to the Nursery sightscreen. The last of his eight Test hundreds, 129 against South Africa at Port Elizabeth in 1992, was made out of 188 after India had been 31 for 6.

LEADING TEST WICKET-TAKERS:

1 Kapil Dev 434 2 R J Hadlee 425 3 I T Botham 383 4 M D Marshall 376 5 Imran Khan 362 6 D K Lillee 355 7 R G D Willis 325 8 L R Gibbs 309 9 F S Trueman 307 10 D L Underwood 297.

Thanks :: The Independent

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