“It is a lovely sight here with those rhododendrons in full bloom as Rawson comes in to Kapil Dev who has 99...this one is nudged into offside and they go through for the single. (cheers and applause) and he’s got it! There’s going to be applause from all the Zimbabwean players never mind all the Indian supporters.”

Those are the words of Bob Nixon. He was born in Tanganyika, modern-day Tanzania. He played league cricket in Johannesburg. He was a dentist. He was also a stage actor who won awards. And, due to circumstances that are part of the cricketing folklore, he was the man who gave voice to the most incredible One-Day International innings that only a few hundred saw.

Kapil Dev’s 175 not out at Nevill Ground, Tunbridge Wells on June 18, 1983: an innings that was watched only by those present at the ground on the day and never after, because it was not telecast. The BBC crew, as Indian fans have come to rue for decades now, had four matches to cover but only two channels to show them. They showed two (England v Pakistan and Australia v West Indies) but India vs Zimbabwe and New Zealand vs Sri Lanka didn’t strike anyone as being very important.

An epic innings

For lovers of symmetry, Kapil’s innings will forever be associated with two numbers: 17/5 (India’s score when Yashpal Sharma got out) and 175* (what the Indian captain scored to set a world record back then). After four matches in the tournament, India had won two and lost two, and were in need of two wins from their remaining two matches to reach the final four. Things, however, did not go to plan against Zimbabwe.

Fall of wickets in India’s innings:

0/1: Sunil Gavaskar

6/2: Kris Srikkanth

6/3: Mohinder Amarnath 

9/4: Sandeep Patil 

17/5: Yashpal Sharma 

77/6: Roger Binny 

78/7: Ravi Shastri 

140/8: Madan Lal

266/8: End of innings (Kapil Dev 175*, Syed Kirmani 24*)

Walking in to bat at 9/4, not long after winning the toss for his side, Kapil had a massive rebuilding job on his hands. Sunil Gavaskar, Kris Srikkanth, Mohinder Amarnath, Sandeep Patil were back in the hut. Soon after Kapil’s arrival, Yashpal Sharma was dismissed and out walked Roger Binny. The first part of the resurrection was on as the two allrounders put on a partnership of 60 runs for the sixth wicket. Then, two more wickets lost in quick succession, followed by another little partnership with Madan Lal.

And, when Syed Kirmani walked in at No 9, little did anyone could have known what was to follow.

Kapil went berserk in the final part of the innings as he scored more than 80% of the runs in an unbroken stand with the Indian wicketkeeper. India were staring at defeat against World Cup newcomers Zimbabwe. After beating Australia a few days earlier, the African team were looking to add another big team to their victim cabinet.

But, with some massive hits from his willow (16 fours, six sixes), Kapil took India to a safe total, kept his team alive in the competition, took a match-turning catch in the final to dismiss West Indies legend Viv Richards, and finally, lifted the trophy at the Lord’s balcony.

Highest ODI score: World record progression

Player Runs Balls 4s/6s Team Opposition Ground Match Date
JH Edrich 82 119 4/0 England v Australia Melbourne 5 Jan 1971
DL Amiss 103 134 9/0 England v Australia Manchester 24 Aug 1972
RC Fredericks 105 122 10/1 West Indies v England The Oval 7 Sep 1973
D Lloyd 116* 159 8/1 England v Pakistan Nottingham 31 Aug 1974
GM Turner 171* 201 16/2 New Zealand v East Africa Birmingham 7 Jun 1975
N Kapil Dev 175* 138 16/6 India v Zimbabwe Tunbridge Wells 18 Jun 1983
IVA Richards 189* 170 21/5 West Indies v England Manchester 31 May 1984
Saeed Anwar 194 146 22/5 Pakistan v India Chennai 21 May 1997
CK Coventry 194* 156 16/7 Zimbabwe v Bangladesh Bulawayo 16 Aug 2009
SR Tendulkar 200* 147 25/3 India v South Africa Gwalior 24 Feb 2010
V Sehwag 219 149 25/7 India v West Indies Indore 8 Dec 2011
RG Sharma 264 173 33/9 India v Sri Lanka Kolkata 13 Nov 2014

Records galore

“In comes Fletcher, loping in from the far end to bowl to Kapil Dev... bowls a full toss. Hoicks it to mid on, goes on to 172 and it is a record for the Prudential World Cup. And that is the difference between these two sides....”

— Bob Nixon (via BBC's podcast)

  • As Nixon recounted when Kapil crossed 171, he became the world record holder for the highest score in cricket at that time. His record was broken in 1984 by Viv Richards, another epic innings.
  • It was only the second instance of the a batsman batting six or lower in the order scoring a century. It is the highest score till date by a batsman batting at six or lower in an ODI.
  • In World Cup history, it is the only instance of a batsman scoring 150-plus after coming in to bat at No 6.
  • Kapil’s unbroken partnership of 126* with Kirmani is the only instance of a 100-plus stand for the ninth wicket in World Cup history. It’s currently the second highest of all-time in ODI cricket for the ninth wicket.
  • To this date, it remains the highest percentage of runs scored by an Indian batsman in a completed ODI innings and second highest ever, behind only Richards’ all-time classic in 1984.

Highest % of runs scored in a complete ODI inns

Player Runs Total % Team Opposition Ground Match Date
IVA Richards 189* 272/9 69.48 West Indies v England Manchester 31 May 1984
N Kapil Dev 175* 266/8 65.78 India v Zimbabwe Tunbridge Wells 18 Jun 1983
RG Sharma 264 404/5 65.34 India v Sri Lanka Kolkata 13 Nov 2014
TP Ura 151 235 64.25 P.N.G. v Ireland Harare 6 Mar 2018
AH Jones 47 74 63.51 New Zealand v Pakistan Sharjah 1 May 1990
(Innings only where a team is all-out or where the full allocation of scheduled overs was used)

As great as those numbers are, the fact remains that we are left to depend on those lucky few who watched that innings to truly understand how incredible it was.

Sunil Gavaskar:

“Kapil was just that kind of a captain. He had that positiveness about him that, you know, nothing was impossible. And that innings of 175... what a pity that it’s not been recorded. It was batting of the highest class. It’s the best ODI hundred I have seen and I have seen a few. I know it’s taken mythical proportions, and it deserves to. It was really a game-transforming moment, not just match-transforming. It completely transformed the game as far as Indian cricket is concerned.”

— via Oaktree Sports Youtube channel
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Here’s Gavaskar recounting how the players were hiding from Kapil during the mid-innings break:

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Roger Binny:

“Before we could even finish our coffees, we lost five wickets for 17 runs. I walked in next, I didn’t know what to think. You are nervous, your mind is clouded up. And Kapil met me halfway, and he says, “We have plenty of overs to go, let’s just take our time, play a few balls, take singles, no boundaries.” And then we took the score to 77 and I got out.

“True to his word, Kapil didn’t hit any boundaries till then. Then, Madan had a partnership [with Kapil] and then he got out. Kapil had still not taken off, just like he told me. Then, finally, Kirmani came along and they put on a 126-run partnership [for the ninth wicket] and 90% of the runs were scored by Kapil.

“That scorecard tells you how Kapil dominated that day. In the last few overs, we saw Kapil hit some of the biggest sixes we have ever seen in cricket. The ball was flying out of the stadium. Without that innings, our tournament was over. That knock made the World Cup for us.” 

— At launch event of movie '1983'

According to a report in the Guardian, Kapil sent spectators ducking for cover.

“The restrained nature of the innings in the initial phase is highlighted by the fact that it took to the 26th over for Kapil to reach his first 50. Gradually, he went through the gears, his next 50 coming in 13 overs, and the third in just 10, extremely rapid by the standard of the day.

“Madan Lal assisted his skipper in taking the score to 140/8, but the fun and games kicked off when wicketkeeper Syed Kirmani arrived in the middle. The partnership yielded 126 runs in the final 16 overs, Kirmani’s 24 not out the second highest score of the innings. But Dev really got tongues wagging – and spectators diving for cover.”

A man whose house was damaged:

One of the aspects of the mythical nature of this Kapil innings was recounted during the World Cup last year when a 60-something gentleman who lives close to the stadium where this innings was played, spoke to PTI:

“One of those sixes hit the roof of our building. He was a strong lad that Kapil Dev fellow, wasn’t he. We bought this house after 1983. When the original owner was selling it off, one of his calling card was Kapil Dev’s six hit the roof of this house. He was proud of it. 

“Every summer, we do get a lot of Indian fans coming here. Kapil made this ground famous. When Indians come, they would ask us about that innings. There is a certain degree of interest among Indians.”

— Jeffrey Richards, who has a house outside the Tunbridge Wells ground, told PTI in June 2019

Dave Houghton:

In the BBC podcast series ‘Stumped’, the man with the best seat possible for the entire Kapil innings recounted what it felt like. The Zimbabwe wicketkeeper, who thought that the fact that there was no telecast added to the mythology of Kapil’s sensational knock. was left dumbstruck by what a chanceless display of clean striking it was from Kapil:

“He had to bat through a difficult period, he was looking for a partner. Kirmani was the one who stuck around the longest. In those days, the matches were 60-overs-a-side and we took lunch at the 40-over mark. India were around 90-100 for 7. We were in control. 

“Kapil just changed gears after that. He changed his bat, I remember that. He got a bigger one and he decided it was time to play a few shots. He was severe on our off-spinner John Traicos. 

“The one thing that really sticks in my mind about that innings is that he didn’t miscue one ball. Everything he went for he hit like a tracer bullet along the ground or like a missile out of the ground. It wasn’t like we dropped him or he had a close shave, he didn’t give a chance.

“Didn’t really seem to (when asked if Kapil took advantage of one side of the ground having shorter boundaries). He hit them just as far on the long side as he did on the short side. 

“Make no mistake, we still wanted to win and we look back at it with disappointment. You had to be lucky to be one of the people there. I had the best seat in the house. It was a real good seat. No matter how much he hurt us on the field, it was worth watching.”

— Dave Houghton, ZIM wicketkeeper during the match (via BBC 'Stumped')

The part about the India-Zimbabwe match starts at 3:41 in the video below, including some part of the radio commentary from the day:

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Mohinder Amarnath:

(That innings) definitely was the turnaround, all thanks to Kapil for the way he handled pressure in that game. We were all very disappointed (at 17/5 in 13 overs), we just stayed back in the basement of dressing room. Once we got the news that Kapil was batting beautifully, we started coming up and watching the game. There was no stopping us after that innings.

Kapil Dev:

And finally, the protagonist himself, who admitted it was one of those days destined to be his:

“In every cricketer’s career, some days when you come out... it’s just your day, manufactured by god and given to you. Whatever you do, nothing can go wrong. Perhaps, that innings was like that for me.” 

— via Documentary titled '1983: India’s World Cup'

The part about the India-Zimbabwe match starts at the 10-minute mark in the video below:

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“I just said to myself: ‘come on mate, I want to play for 60 overs’. Not to go for runs. I think, I only got 50 odd in the first 30 overs. I just got a lot of runs in the last 10 overs.” 

— via BBC's stumped

Here’s the legendary Indian captain, back at the venue of his all-time great knock, recalling that day in June 1983:

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As Gavaskar rued, it is a pity that innings was not recorded. Despite that – or possibly even because of that – this incredible effort by Kapil Dev will remain a cult classic that will be talked about as long as cricket continues to exist.

(Statistics courtesy ESPNCricinfo Statsguru)

(The article incorrectly stated that the BBC was on strike on June 18, 1983. It was not. The error is regretted and has been rectified)