Sunday, June 06, 2010

Glory Days - 1

Tall and lean, he worked hard, making his way up the grades to the point when, aged only 19, he was selected to make his Test debut for India against Pakistan at Faisalabad in 1978.

Sadiq Mohammad took guard on the first morning, hardly noticing the rookie fast bowler marking out his run-up. The first ball was a bouncer, soaring, fast…the old pro rocked on his heels, blinked. The crowd gasped. Wicketkeeper Kirmani clapped his gloves and shouted for more ‘Shabhash! Aur ek!

Sunil Gavaskar had heard about the youngster’s potential, but this was extraordinary. As one of many bruised Indian Test batsmen who for long has suffered a torrent of bouncers because their bowlers had no capacity to retaliate, this scene felt like something out of a dream.

He was now moving in again, smooth, swift, lithe and he bowled…another short delivery, higher faster. Sadiq ducked again, and the crowd roared. The opener had seen enough. Walking towards the pavilion, he removed his green cap and signalled the 12th man to bring a helmet!

Gavaskar grinned. ‘As Sadiq called for his helmet, it felt to us though he was telling the world that, at last, India had found a bowler capable of generating genuine speed. Our entire team grew in stature. It was remarkable’.

The second ball of the lad’s fourth over struck Sadiq on the helmet, and two balls later the opener edged a stinging catch to Gavaskar at slip. KAPILDEV RAMLAL NIKANJ had taken his first Test wicket, and embarked upon a record-breaking career that would establish him as one of the sport’s greatest all-rounders.

Statistics expose only the bones of this legend: he played in 131 Tests and 225 one-day internationals for India between 1978 and 1994. His 434 wickets and 5,248 runs in Test cricket are unmatched. He led the team 108 times, and until last year never missed a single match through injury.

Yet Kapil Dev is remembered for his spirit as much as his stats; the spirit that shone in the Madras Test of 1978, when he matched the West Indian fast bowlers bumper for bumper; the spirit that shone one evening at Lord’s in 1990 when, with India needing 16 runs to save the follow-on and one wicket standing, he resolved the crisis by crashing Eddie Hemmings for four boundaries in succession.

The World Cup triumph in 1983 and the series win in England three years later sparkle as JEWELs in his crown.

-Glory Days, Forty years of One-day Cricket, Edward Griffiths, Viking

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