x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

When Kapil Dev made India believe in cricket

A century on this day in 1983 paved the way for his team to win the World Cup and changed how the sport is followed and run in the country.

Despite scoring a tournament-defining 175 against Zimbabwe at Kent in the 1983 World Cup, Kapil Dev remains an outcast in cricketing circles for his involvement in the 'rebel' Indian Cricket League. Trevor Jones / Getty Images
Despite scoring a tournament-defining 175 against Zimbabwe at Kent in the 1983 World Cup, Kapil Dev remains an outcast in cricketing circles for his involvement in the 'rebel' Indian Cricket League. Trevor Jones / Getty Images

Right from the first tournament in 1975, the World Cup has rewarded all-round excellence. Gary Gilmour was a relative unknown when he appeared for Australia, but he topped the wicket-taking charts with 11 and chipped in with a vital unbeaten 28 as Australia prevailed in a low-scoring semi-final against England.

Nearly a quarter-century later, Lance Klusener smashed 281 runs off just 230 balls while being dismissed just twice. With the ball, he took 17 wickets at 20.58. But for the moments of mayhem that resulted in the tie at Edgbaston in Birmingham and Australia going through to the final, his colossal performance would probably have been rewarded with a winner's medal, and we would not still be talking about South Africa freezing on the big stage.

Both Gilmour and Klusener are just footnotes in World Cup history, however, because they were unable to inspire their teams to the ultimate prize. One man did though, taking a team that were rated rank outsiders to the title, beating the West Indies – perhaps the most dominant team in the history of sport – twice along the way.

Kapil Dev Nikhanj was coming into his prime in 1983. A couple of months before the World Cup in England, he had smashed a 38-ball 72 and taken two for 33 as the West Indies were beaten at Berbice in Guyana. It did not seem like a big deal at the time, but for a side whose one-day record was so dismal – their only win during the first two World Cups had come against East Africa – victory against the two-time defending champions was a massive boost.

Kapil bowled tidily, but others stole the headlines as India won their first two games – a 34-run upset of the West Indies and a five-wicket victory over Zimbabwe. When he did produce his best, with five for 43 and 40 runs at Trent Bridge, Nottingham, Australia cruelly exposed the limitations of India's medium-pace attack.

Then the West Indies thrashed them at The Oval in London, with Viv Richards scoring a century and India's campaign was on the ropes. They went to Tunbridge Wells in Kent needing nothing less than a victory to keep semi-final hopes alive.

When Kapil walked out to bat on June 18, 1983 – 29 years ago to the day – the scoreboard showed nine for four. Minutes later, it was 17 for five. By the time he walked off at the end of the 60th over, India had 266 on the board. His contribution was 175, from just 138 balls.

A BBC strike that day meant that no footage remains of one of the most remarkable innings played in one-day cricket. But even if we can't see the strokes, the numbers tell a story. He struck 16 fours and six sixes. The entire Zimbabwe team, and bear in mind that they had beaten Australia earlier, managed just 17 fours.

A few days later, India thumped Australia at Chelmsford to make the last four. There, Kapil took three for 35, mopping up the tail, as England were overwhelmed. In the final, he contributed a 10-ball 15 and the wicket of Andy Roberts, but it was that marvellous running catch to send back the imperious Richards that turned the tide.

He made 303 runs at 60.6 during the tournament and his 12 wickets cost just 20.41 apiece. Perhaps only Traianos Dellas, whose defending and decisive goal against the Czechs earned him comparisons to the Colossus of Rhodes during Greece's Cinderella run to the Euro 2004 title, has influenced a major sporting event to quite the same extent in recent times.

Kapil's captaincy and skill did not just win India a world title though. It changed the way the game was viewed in the country. Each member of India's golden generation, whether that be Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid or Anil Kumble, has spoken at length about how it was the summer of 1983 that fuelled their dreams of playing for India.

Tendulkar's generation may have completed cricket's journey from sporting pastime to national obsession, but it was Kapil's Devils – as they came to be called – that provided the keys to the corridors of power and the unprecedented riches that Indian cricket now enjoys.

The board's reward last month was to ignore him when they handed out generous one-time payments to former stalwarts. Until Kapil apologises for his involvement in the "rebel" Indian Cricket League, he will continue to be persona non grata for an organisation that owes so much to him.

For his part, Kapil says with justification that he did nothing wrong, that he was only trying to promote the sport. Outcast or not, the common fan has not forgotten him, or the role that he played in Indian cricket's coming of age.

If anyone unearths a tape of that Zimbabwe innings, they would make millions.

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