Kapil Dev is arguably India’s greatest-ever fast bowler. He is also the best all-rounder the country has ever produced and ranks among the finest captains to have led the Indian cricket team.
It would not be wrong to say Kapil Dev was one of India’s greatest-ever cricketers. If Sunil Gavaskar is to be believed, it’s certainly true.
“Kapil was the first real athlete in Indian cricket. He plays good squash, snooker and golf. He is the first athlete who would have been good in any field. From there, the Indian team also started to look at all-rounders,” Sunil Gavaskar had told India Today.
“Kapil changed the whole outlook. That is the reason I call him the greatest Indian cricketer ever. He could change matches India with bat or ball,” Gavaskar said at Salaam Cricket 2019.
When one goes listing down Dev’s finest achievements, the 1983 World Cup win and his knock of 175 against Zimbabwe would be mentioned right at the top.
The first cricketer to complete the double of 5000 runs and 400 wickets in international cricket, Dev was India’s match-winner on several occasions.
And his devastating 5/28 spell against Australia in 1980-’81 that helped India draw a Test series Down Under for the first time, can be considered to be one of the greatest performances of his career for various reasons.
How Sports Inspires
When sportsmen overcame great barriers to achieve success against all odds
After losing the first Test by an innings and four runs and just about managing to save the second Test India, captained by Gavaskar at the time, faced a must-win situation against an Australian side with the likes of Greg Chappell, Allan Border and Denis Lillee.
India managed just 237 runs in the first innings before Australia, thanks to a century from Border, posted 419 runs on the board to take a 182-run lead in the first innings. Dev, who injured his hamstring, could only bowl 19 overs in the innings.
Despite a 165-run opening stand between Gavaskar and Chetan Chauhan, India collapsed after the captain was adjudged out LBW. The manner of dismissal enraged Gavaskar (who felt he had edged it and was given a talking to by Dennis Lillee as well) and also led to a threat of walk-out from the Indian captain before the Indians decided to continue with the game.
Being bowled out for 324, Australia needed just 143 runs for victory. Even on a pitch that was not best for batting, it was expected to be a cakewalk for the hosts.
India were in trouble. Dev was injured and so was Dilip Doshi. Without their talismanic bowler, India’s chances were slim. But Karsan Ghavri who opened the bowling for India along with Sandeep Patil sent John Dyson and Greg Chappell back in the hut in two consecutive deliveries.
Australia ended the day struggling at 24/3 as India sensed an opportunity.
Pain-killing injections helped Dev recover sufficiently to take to the field the next day and he straightaway took matters in his own hand. After Doshi picked up Kim Hughes to leave Australia reeling at 40/4, Dev dismissed Bruce Yardley to begin the clean-up act.
Australia’s hopes were pinned on Border who had scored a century in the first innings. But Dev had him caught behind with a delivery that strayed down the leg side. Syed Kirmani made no mistake in pouching the catch. Many believe that the wicket of Border was the turning point in the game.
“Kapil and Doshi bowled a good line. When the bowlers get the upper hand, the confidence levels boost up. We put pressure on them and they couldn’t come out of it,” Kirmani had told Cricket Country recalling the historic triumph at the MCG.
“That catch of Allan Border which I took down the leg-side off Kapil’s bowling is one of the best catches of my cricketing career. Channel Nine used to start with my catch on their Classic Catches,” he added.
Dev who still had not completely recovered from the injury, continued to torment the Australians. The injury seemed to have no impact on his bowling.
He then castled Rod Marsh and Lillee as India closed in on a historic victory. It was to be Dev who finished things off for India as he trapped Jim Higgs LBW to bag a five-wicket haul. India bowled Australia out for just 83 to seal a 59-run victory.
Dev’s heroics despite suffering an injury gave India a famous victory in Australia. India had to wait for 22 more years to register another victory in a Test match in Australia, further highlighting the spirit and match-winning abilities of Kapil Dev.
The victory in the 1981 Test at Melbourne may be remembered for a lot of things like Gundappa Viswanath’s brilliant century in the first innings to Gavaskar’s famous walk-out, but Kapil Dev’s five-for with a strained hamstring was what got India over the line.