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Indian cricket

August 20, 2013

The eternal search for the next Kapil Dev

Kaushik Bhattacharya

Kapil Dev walks the ramp during the Wills India Fashion Week, New Delhi, October 24, 2009
For 20 years India have searched everywhere for a worthy successor to this man. Time to stop? © AFP
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Kapil Dev is arguably the most magical player India ever produced - even ahead of Sachin Tendulkar and Gavaskar - partly because it was always so unlikely that a country like India would produce a fast-bowling allrounder. Gideon Haigh explains this quite eloquently here. In some ways though Kapil is also the worst thing that could have happened to modern Indian cricket, kicking off as it did an eternal hunt for a seaming allrounder that's gone on for about 20 years and counting. Whenever India begins to do badly it feels like the solution to all problems would be to find a new Kapil. The list of players who have been branded 'the next Kapil' on the basis of promise is endless.

First there were the 1983 World Cup men, Madan Lal and Roger Binny, who despite their stellar efforts in that tournament and ample opportunities in Tests (39 and 27 caps respectively) never quite cut it as international allrounders. Then came Manoj Prabhakar who with his banana swing and doughty opening batting was more effective than the earlier two, until Sanath Jayasuriya and the match-fixing controversy brought an end to his hopes. After a brief lull came the man whose credentials for the label bordered on the inexplicable. Ajit Agarkar's first-class record when he got picked for India in April 1998 had nothing to suggest that he was anything more than a quick bowler. Yet, the flashes of incredibly good cricket he managed to produce amidst longer patches of incredibly bad cricket, meant he was branded something he could never really be. And finally, there was Irfan Pathan who came closest of all to fulfilling the role. Debuting in the match that featured Agarkar's best moment, Irfan came close to being a left-handed clone of Kapil. Prodigious swing at a decent clip allied with a smooth batting technique and big-hitting ability meant that he was quickly anointed India's new hope till injuries and a dip in form stymied his career.

Such has been India's obsession with finding a seaming allrounder that you'd believe their spinners never learn to bat. The truth though is that they never got the right sort of backing or assistance. Ravi Shastri was not as gifted as Kapil but would have ended up with much better figures if he had not been forced to play the role of stock bowler and "crisis-batsmen-anywhere-in-the-order" through much of his career. Anil Kumble scored three hundreds and three fifties in his first three Ranji seasons and was good enough to score a Test match ton abroad aged 37. But, barring injuries to other players, he batted as high as No. 7 only eight times in 173 Test innings. Harbhajan Singh was always capable with the bat as his back-to-back Test hundreds in testing circumstances prove, but he got the chance to bat at No. 7 only twice in 101 Tests. Sunil Joshi and Ashish Kapoor had promise but never the confidence of the selectors or their captains.

So it's ironic that now, the two men pinned down as the next all-round hopes for India are also their first-choice spinners across formats. Ravindra Jadeja has had a lot to live up to ever since Shane Warne christened him a rockstar, and R Ashwin also rose to fame through the IPL despite having a solid first-class record. A quick look at their first class records shows that they both have solid credentials, and so far at the international level they have demonstrated enough all-round ability. Jadeja in particular has come on in leaps and bounds, and has just made it to the top spot in the ODI bowling rankings. However, it's in Test cricket that they should demonstrate whether they are the Real McCoy or not. As Harsha Bhogle summarises here a lower middle order that reads Jadeja, Dhoni and Ashwin at 6, 7, and 8 could be central to India's Test success. Given that Jadeja averages over 50 in first-class cricket, he should surely be batting ahead of Dhoni and allowing the captain to play his natural game at No. 7. In that light, Jadeja's absence in the India A side touring South Africa is a missed opportunity. Playing Jadeja in place of Ajinkya Rahane, who is a misfit at No. 6, would have given him a chance to at least get a taste for the role. Ashwin already has the highest batting average among India bowlers with atleast 50 Test wickets. The next year or two will tell us whether these two can go on to bigger things and it'll be an interesting journey to follow. If they succeed, it might just put an end to the search for the next Kapil Dev.

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Comments have now been closed for this article

Posted by Dummy4 on (August 22, 2013, 10:08 GMT)

There will NEVER be another Kapil Dev!!!

Posted by Ramesh on (August 22, 2013, 1:52 GMT)

Kapil, OMG... how can we ever replace him in out team ? such a fluent bowling action and such a fearsome striker of the cricket ball ! If the alrounders named in the article match just 25%-50% of Kapil paaji, India would be very happy. I completely agree with Mr. TATTU. We need not find Kapil, but we need to extract Kapil from these new gen players !

Posted by Ajay on (August 21, 2013, 16:53 GMT)

"Next Kapil Dev" is an honor bestowed upon the next talented allrounder. Durin Kapil Dev's time, the comparison was to Vinoo Mankad - 1000/100 in 21(?) games. With his achievements, Kapil surpassed all comparisons - perhaps his biggest achievement was the will to win. Or was it to impose his will upon the game? Just like the search for next Bradman was frantic for at least 5 decades after Don retired, it was abandoned only after the realization that there would never again be another Bradman; the search for next Kapil will continue until the futility of it is realized. The revelation though, will come only after thorough exhaustion - human nature - India will never ever win the world cup for first time again. Gavaskar will never lead the reception party with a cup of water.

Posted by James on (August 21, 2013, 7:56 GMT)

If getting an allrounder was higher in the selectors' priorities, they would have given more chances to Irfan Pathan, and also given a few chances to Rishi Dhawan and Rasool.

Posted by ramachandra on (August 21, 2013, 6:54 GMT)

I guess it is not about the 'next Kapil' being a spin bowler would take out the Kapil out of him! Its about a player who can score averaging 35 - 40 and can take wickets , that is the most important thing, may be averaging around 30 and striking around 60. Be it a spinner or pacer, he has to take wickets and wickets in almost all conditions and also score or at least has the technique to bat in all conditions. Thats what Kapil did. Aswin has the technique to bat in all conditions, but less said about his bowling the better it is. Jadeja is not yet tried with his batting in tests, but hs bowling is somewhat improved. Infact at the moment India is looking for fast bowlers who can take wickets in all conditions. Just wickets.

Posted by parjanya on (August 21, 2013, 5:49 GMT)

Despite having a bowling workload that would stagger a horse,kapil excelled in the field and the catch of viv richards in the WC final had the purists in ecstasy.For sheer batting talent,he was the best of the 4 all-rounders and could have walked into the team on batting strength alone.To go on doing it consistently,year after year,speaks of the man's physical and mental strength.After the semi-final against new zealand in WCC 1985,Philip knightley,in the Sydney Morning Herald went into raptures over his inns and stated"there is only one kohi-noor." Enough said.

Posted by VENKATESA on (August 21, 2013, 3:45 GMT)

Its very very difficult to be a pace bowling allrounder these days because of the amount of cricket being played these days..But we do have some seam bowling allrounders in our domestic ckt though.. Rishi Dhawan has decent pace..,bowls around 130-135 Kph with good control for his FC team and picks up crucial wkts( he held his own when given chances in IPL 6 ),..his batting (though is still untested at higher levels) record is good in ranji trophy and has the ability to score big runs.. Abhishek nayar is a very determined,gritty and experienced player @ FC level,with good technique against pacers while btng & a knack of picking crucial wkts while bowling seam around 125-130 Kph with control,consistency & reverse swing..,an ideal player for the No.7 slot when playing tests abroad.. Both these players could have been tried out in the Zimbabwe & SA tours keeping our team's future & WC in mind..!! Also Jadeja should have def been on the flight to SA & be made to bat higher in the order..

Posted by Amrutur on (August 20, 2013, 18:01 GMT)

That build, that body frame, and that non-strained delivery, that's the Kapil Dev Package, hard to duplicate. Great, selfless players like Kapil, Dhoni, and to some extent Jadeja are all sons of soil; they don't come from city production machinery, the latter can be mostly duplicated.

Posted by Dummy4 on (August 20, 2013, 15:40 GMT)

it would be good indian cricket seriously look for fast bowlers if they want to win worldcup

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