Hard Work Paid Off to Make Quick Kapil the Pride of India by Gideon Haigh ("The Australian" dated 4 November 1994)
The record of 432 Test wickets that Kapil Dev achieved against Sri Lanka during his 130th test in February this year is justly a source of Indian pride, but it is probably the 217 of those wickets he ploughed in the heat and dust of his home conditions that will stand as his lasting achievement.
Kapil who retired on Nov.2, 1994 to pursue a career as a television commentator, was undoubtedly India's finest quick. "My effort should disprove that India can't produce fast bowlers," Kapil said as he overtook Sir Richard Hadlee in Ahmedabad. "Hard work never fails to pay".
Kapil's words were a jeering refrain on the advice he recieved at a Bombay training camp 20 years before from coach Keki Tarapore when he complained about meargre lunch rations. "There are no fast bowlers in India," Tarapore told the 15 year-old after a morning's toil, something the boy decided he would right irrefutably.
Despite the country's spin lineage, in fact, Indian cricket lovers have always nursed a yen for speed.
If you peer back to pre-war, pre-partition India, the country's opening attack was almost certainly Australia's superior: the likes of Tim Wall and Ernie McCormick had nothing to teach Amar Singh and Mohammed Nissar. But Nissar's most productive years were wasted by World War II, while Amar Singh died before he was 30 of pneumonia. Mihir Bose in his History of Indian Cricket points to the "feeling of loss" that pervaded the game in India in their wake. Where India and fast-bowling intersected over the next 40 years, many tears were shed.
Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller made them suffer in Australia, Fred Trueman and Alec Bedser lorded it over them in England, and the West Indies' Charlie Griffith almost killed Nari Contractor. The fast-bowling phalanxes of the '70s then came upon India like sadistic thugs in an alley.
The nadir was probably the 1975 test at Sabina Park in Kingston, Jamaica, where India was bowled out for 97 in their second innings with four bastmen absent injured and/or underinsured.
So when Kapil first took up the challenge of the sub-continent's barren pitches 16 years ago, he was a blessing that millions ached to welcome. Not least the batsmen above him who, with Kapil in the side, batted in knowledge of the retaliatory power at their captain's disposal. The 19-year-old Kapil assumed that attacking mantle gladly. Bose cites the third day of a Madras test against the West Indies four months after Kapil's debut as a turining point in Indian cricket. Even Wisden described it as a "bumper war" in which "Indians for once gave as good as they got".
With a bouncing approach, prehensible action and opportunist attitude, Kapil had 100 test wickets within a year of that game and matched the likes of Richard Hadlee, Ian Botham, Imran Khan, Malcolm Marshall wicket-for-wicket as the
He also kept pace run-for-run, although Kapil always required encou- ragement to take his batting as gravely as he considered bowling. Nearing his maiden test cemtury at Delhi in that 1979 rubber against the West Indies, Kapil was fortunate in finding as a partner the wicket keeper Syed Kirmani. The pair ended up at one end after a cacophony of calls and Kirmani took the powder, departing with the words: "You are playing well. Keep it up and get your hundred".
Kapil's batting became equally valuable to India, a country where record-breaking run-makers are revered. Though the country rarely wantted for runs during his career, he became a criticle centre of levity in Indian batting orders that sometimes seemed unaware that tests are no longer timeless.
Only Viv Richards, Jack Gregory and Roy Fredricks have taken fewer deliveries over a Test century, and he also has three of the swiftest test 50s : one in 30 balls, two in 33.
That verve led indirectly to the one interruption in a test career otherwise wholly consecutive. An indiscretion in the second innings of the 1985 Madras Test against England - where Kapil cost India a draw by hitting his second ball for six and his third ball to long-on - led to a discriplinary benching. But once bitten, kapil was still never shy. He won the 1986 Lord's test - his first victory as a captain - with a six from Phil Edmonds. And he memorably rescued India from following on there, four years later by driving Eddie Hemmings for four successive sub-orbital sixes.
Despite Kapil's conviction that fast-bowlers can thrive in India, he retires with the point still in contention. Shouldering ever- longer spells in intensifying test traffic as 20 opening partners came and went inevitably dampened the fire of his early years.
His 300th wicket came in his 83rd test in Januray 1987 against Sri lanka, and was a seven-year-creep almost when statistician's were'nt looking. Kapil's 432nd test wicket was only one in that Ahmedabad test to escape India's spinners.