It was a contest of equals. Either man could turn a match on its head with his murderous batting or cultured swing bowling. Both were superb athletes and great team men. Both played with their hearts. Botham had just passed the landmark of 200 wickets and 2000 runs, while Kapil went to England with 147 wickets and 1468 runs.
The audience had got a teaser of the battle in store at the beginning of the year. At Kanpur, in the last Test of a dreary series, Botham had biffed 142 off 214 balls with two sixes and a dozen fours. Kapil responded with 116 off 98 deliveries, hitting four more boundaries than Botham. One figure would have worried the stats fans, though: till then, Kapil had averaged only 13 with the bat away from home.
That was to change, and how. In five consecutive innings, from Kanpur to the Oval later that year, only once did Kapil not score at better than a run a ball.
Cut to the sunny morning of June 10 at Lord's. Kapil drew first blood, removing Geoff Cook and Allan Lamb with two inswingers before prising out Chris Tavare with one that went away. England were stuttering, much like in their first Test against India in 1932, at 37 for 3.
Enter the belligerent Botham, who proceeded to lift Dilip Doshi over his head for a four before clubbing him beyond the rope for the first six of the series. Kapil came back to induce an edge from the well-set David Gower, but Botham continued to attack Doshi and Ravi Shastri before finally falling to Madan Lal. Then Derek Randall chose to celebrate his return to Test cricket with a bubbly century, and Phil Edmonds chipped in with a gritty fifty. The last four wickets produced 267 runs as England sailed past 400 - a score that didn't look too likely when they had been at 166 for 6.
Kapil had bowled his heart out to take five wickets, but he lacked support. That was to be the theme of the summer for India who, it was said, lost the three-match series 0-1 because they had only one Kapil.
In the first innings, Kapil (41) was the only batsman apart from Sunil Gavaskar (48) to get to double figures. India were shot out for 128. Following on, they rallied thanks to a charming knock from Dilip Vengsarkar, but were still in the red when Kapil strode out after tea on the fourth day.
Botham had the mortification of seeing his rival reprieved, dropped in the slips when he was on five. Kapil's bat, Wisden noted, made the sound of gunfire as he capitalised on the let-off to light up the arena with sparkling strokeplay: Bob Willis was hooked over long leg; Phil Edmonds was driven over cover and swung over cow corner. Three sixes and 13 fours flew off Kapil's bat as he charged on to 89 off just 55 deliveries. When he was removed, by - who else? - Botham, he still had 16 balls left in which to make the 11 runs he needed to score what would have been the fastest Test century at the time.
But Kapil was not done. England needed only 65 to win but he removed the openers and the nightwatchman as England stumbled to 18 for 3 at close of play. There was to be no drama on the last day, though, and England went on to win. Freddie Trueman awarded Kapil the Man-of-the-Match award. The first round to Kapil.
Botham returned the compliment in the next Test, at Old Trafford. Coming in at an uncomfortable 161 for 5, he counter-attacked with two sixes and 19 fours, clubbing 128 off 169 balls in all, feasting in particular on the short offerings of Madan Lal and Suru Nayak.
Early on day two, Kapil Dev teased Botham's outside edge with a couple of outswingers, but those proved to be rare aberrations. Despite having bruised his toe when he inside-edged an inswinger from Nayak onto his boot - which forced him to call for a runner - Botham pulled and drove furiously. He drilled Kapil through the covers to bring up a memorable hundred, and celebrated by carting Doshi and Shastri for sixes before finally dragging another attempted big hit onto the stumps. He then limped off to the hospital for an x-ray that revealed deep bruising, but shrugged off the pain to bowl 19 overs in the Indian innings.
Kapil walked in at 173 for 6, with India staring at a follow-on, and smashed 65 in 55 balls - four consecutive boundaries off Willis were the highlight - to raise visions again of the fastest Test century, but fell checking an intended cut shot. His fifty had come in only 33 balls with eight fours and a six.
The battle hurtled towards a thrilling finale at The Oval. Botham struck the first blow with a booming cut that crashed into Gavaskar's shin, rendering him out of the Test. He then continued to cut and drive merrily, and smoked three sixes off Doshi. Two shots still stand out in the minds of those who watched the awe-inspiring display. The first was when he walked imperiously down the track to cart a length delivery from Kapil 40 yards over the long-on boundary. The other came when he blasted a ball from Doshi onto the pavilion roof, smashing the tiles. His dismissal was in character: off a reverse sweep. In all, he had batted 276 minutes, hitting four sixes and 19 fours for his highest Test score.
Kapil's turn came when another Botham speciality - a lethal long-hop - removed the aggressive Sandeep Patil. Surely Kapil couldn't outdo Botham's stupendous effort? He took up the challenge nevertheless, driving and pulling his way to a breezy fifty.
Botham slipped in a slower delivery, which was promptly dismissed over deep midwicket, and when he pitched one full and outside off, Kapil sent it soaring over long-on. A length delivery from Derek Pringle soared over long-on, and Kapil moved into the nineties with a six over extra cover off Edmonds. But another four later, he square-drove Edmonds straight to cover point and it was all over. His 97 had come in 93 balls, with two sixes and 14 fours - only four fours fewer than Botham. All the England fielders, including Botham, applauded Kapil off the ground.
Botham was voted the Man of the Match while Kapil, despite having been outscored to the tune of 111 runs in the three Tests, won the Man-of-the-Series award - the critics thought he had scored his runs against a tougher bowling attack. It was, as the Daily Star put it, "Kapital Devastation". Two great allrounders had left an indelible mark on the memories of those who were lucky to have witnessed their duel.
Sriram Veera is an editorial assistant on Cricinfo