"Never Say Die" - Sunil Manohar Gavaskar on Kapil Dev Nikhanj

The bouncer had taken Sadiq Mohammad by surprise. The ball had whistled past his head, with the kind of hiss only those who have faced deliveries of that speed can hear. It takes a great deal of nerve to get your mind back on the game and onto the next delivery, once you have heard that hiss. Sadiq was an old pro, who had faced many such deliveries during his stint in county cricket or Gloucestershire. But he also recognised that wearing onlt the green Pakistani cap was inviting danger and he promptly signalled for a helmet to be brought for him.

That one single gesture signified to the world that India, after a long time, had a bowler capable of generating disconcerting speed. He did not ask for the helmet a moment to soon, for in the next over he got bumped on it. G.R. Viswanath, at first slip, ex- changed a wry smile with me, at second slip, even as the normally unflappable and quiet Syed Kirmani clapped with his gloves and screamed "Shabhash! Aur ek! (one more)".

To those of us in the Indian batting line up who had only got used to facing a bombardment of short-pitched deliveries, with only a pea-shooter to return the fire, the sight of an opposing batsman asking for a protective helmet and then getting hit on it, was not only one for sore eyes, but also for cracked fingers and the badly bruised chests and thighs, that we had suffered over the years. Not long after the bump on the helmet, Sadiq pushed tentatively forward and edged the ball, which came at a fair clip, to me at second slip. The sting of that catch stayed on the palm for a couple more overs. The bowler was Kapil Dev Nikhanj and that was his first Test wicket.

Fifteen years and a few months later, he has become the highest wicket-taker in the world and that too, with a delivery he was not inclined to use often, the bouncer. Somehow, after that ini- tial display of aggressiveness in Pakistan in 1978, Kapil Dev did not use his bouncer ofetn enough. This allowed a lot of ordinary batsmen to come forward and smother his swing and that is why, in later years, when he did not get as much movement as he did with the outswinger in those early years, he found it difficult to get his wickets. The intelligent use of the bouncer keeps the batsman guessing, whether to come forward or not. But form the mid-80's, batsmen all over the world were fairly certina that they could go forward to kapil Dev, because he did not use the short ball too much. Yet, being the highest wicket0taker in the world is tes- timony to the fact that he did not need a bouncer to snare his victims. It is also a keen testimony to his superb fitness, his keenness to learn and improve, and to his unflagging energy.

Yes, if there was anything that symoblises Kapil Dev, it is his enrgy to play the fame. In his early years, one often saw the rare sight of Kapil running to the sight-screen, from the top of his run up, to help those moving the screen, if the batsman want- ed it moved. One would have expected a fast bowler to try and conserve his stamina, but not Kapil, for he wanted to be involved in all the action at the ground. It was difficult to get the ball from him, in those days, for even if he had bowled a long spell and was in need of a break he felt he could get the batsman out in his next over. Confidence is his middle name.

Way back in 1978, in the Wills Trophy at Madras, Indian cricket lovers sat up to see two energetic young fast bowlers cause all kinds of trouble to the bombay batsmen. The two young bowlers were Rajendra Jadeja and Kapil Dev. Jadeja was quite talented as an all rounder, but did not have the drive to utilise his talent fully. This certainly was not the case with the tyoungster from Haryana. I remember telling him, while I was at the non-strikers end, that he should bowl from closer to the stumps for his outsw- inger to be mroe effective. I also remember how players from the Wills XI ran up to him to enquire if I was all I was trying to do was help a youngster. Of course, with all his enormous natural talent, he did not need much help, though there were plenty who were keen to offer him tips and guidance.

His outswinger then, was as the celebrated Indian all-rounder Bapu Nadkarni would say "a banana outswinger". While Bapuji used this term to describe Truemans bowling, it was equally true of Kapil. Fortunately he did not heed all those who told him that he must mix his outswinger with the inswinger and how he should bowl the inswinger. When one is getting so many wickets with the outswinger it is foolish to try and do something different. In fact, in later years, due to the proliferation of one day crick- et, Kapil concentrated on the inswinger and almost lost his outswinger. The outswinger is easy to tap away for runs, in lim- ited overs cricket, for there are hardly any slip fielders for the edge, while the inswinger, if bowled well, cramps the batsman and tucks him up. With the cricket schedule being tight, and the one-day gmaes being mixed up with the Tests, it was difficult for Kapil to keep switching the modes of bowling.

Then came the tour of Australia in 1991-92. The early tour first-class games gave Kapil Dev the chance to get back his old rhythm. And, when the Tests started the lethal outswinger was back in place. The strong Australian batting, which was supposed to make mincemeat of the Indian bowling, suddenly found that a recharged Kapil and the wily Prabhakar were more than a handful. Thoug Australia did win the series, it was largely because of their bowling and, of course, with no small help from the um- pires.

It was during that series that he captured his 400th wicket in Tests, In between, he had given many a thoughtful moment for the world's top ranked batsmen, and there is not a single one in the last 15 years whom he has not dismissed. He has had some absorb- ing duels with the top batsmen of his tie, and has won many, and lost a few. But the one duel he somehow seemed to look forward to was the one with Dilip Vengsarkar. Vengsarkar, with his front foot movement, often managed to smother Kapils outswing, but Ka- pil always brought out something extra, which meant that he ended the duel with the big toothy grin signifying his triumph.

The year 1992 saw Geet Sethi grab the World professional bil- liards title, and now in 1994 we have Kapil Dev as the numero uno in bowling. Hopefully before the year is out, we shall have the pleasure of seeing Viswanathan Anand becoming the number one chess player in the world. Until then, let us bask in the glory of the champions in our midst. Kapil's ascension to the throne has made all of us Indians feel a few feet taller, and God knows, I personally needed that after having my inches clipped by Allan Border last year!

Well done Kaps! We are proud of you!