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Kapil Dev took up Gavaskar's challenge: Memories from the 1979 India-Pakistan series

Swarup Dutta
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483   //    Timeless

Kapil Dev - one of India's most legendary figures
Kapil Dev - one of India's most legendary figures

The third match of the 1979 India vs Pakistan Test series was played on a rank turner in Mumbai and Sunny Gavaskar won a huge toss. He had no hesitation to bat first. Pakistan decided to go with a not yet fully fit Imran Khan, which was more of a psychological factor. However, he and Sikander Bakht removed the Indian openers with very few runs on the board.

The rest of the day was a struggle and crawl for India. On a helpful track, Iqbal Qasim took four wickets to reduce India to 154 for 6. This was when Kapil Dev walked in to join Syed Kirmani.

There is a delightful story in Sunil Gavaskar’s biography, written by Devendra Prabhudesai. Prior to this Test, Kapil was playing a lot of cameo knocks and was getting out, playing some "devil-may-care" shots. Sunny was not happy about it. As a person who had never given his wicket away, this was a complete waste of talent. He was so disgruntled that, just before this test, Sunny wrote in his column that unless Kapil changed his cavalier approach, he would never score even a fifty in Test match cricket.

It was time for Kapil to respond with his bat. On a pitch where other batsmen struggled to put bat on the ball, he batted with amazing fluency to score 69 from 79 balls to put India into the driving seat. He came back to pavilion grinning and said, “Captain, I got a 50”. Sunny responded, “Yes, that’s what the team and I wanted, even if it meant you shoving my words down my throat. Well played.”


Kapil Dev scored a fluent half century to tilt the match in India's favor
Kapil Dev scored a fluent half century to tilt the match in India's favor

Sikander Bakht again bowled superbly on the second day morning to take 5 for 55. But, he lacked support from another side. Imran could bowl only 15 overs and was obviously not fit enough. Strangely, young Abdul Qadir, playing his 6th test match, only bowled 3 overs and Majid Khan delivered 23 overs. In the process, Ghavri and Shivlal Yadav had a crucial partnership of 60 runs. India finished with 334. On that wicket, it was already looking a formidable score.

Roger Binny was the first Anglo-Indian player to ever represent India in Test match cricket. Playing his only 3rd test match, he delivered huge blows when Pakistan started their innings, by removing Majid, Zaheer and Miandad in quick succession. The spinners took over from there. Dilip Doshi and Shivlal Yadav took 3 wickets each to restrict Pakistan to 173.

161 was a huge lead in that wicket and India had to just patiently build on that in their second Innings. Gavaskar and Vengsarkar did just that and scored vital 40s. Once they departed, rest of the batting fell away quickly to Iqbal Qasim (6 for 40), who opened the bowling for Pakistan. India was bowled out for 160 and Pakistan needed 322 runs to win the match.

It was never going to be easy on a pitch which was already turning square. But, as in the first innings by Binny, the critical strikes came from Karshan Ghavri early on. He removed Majid, Mudassar and Wasim Raja. At 48 for 4, Pakistan was already staring at defeat. Javed Miandad did not give up though. He batted with lot of grit for 64, before being given out LBW to Doshi. Pakistan was finally bowled out for 190, with Doshi and Ghavri claiming 4 wickets each.

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The end of the Test match was not very pleasant though. Pakistan team management claimed that pitch was altered during the course of the match. Javed Miandad, who was given LBW twice in the match, went straight to the nets after the match and started practicing without a pad. On being asked about the reason, he mentioned that he had to make sure that any balls should not be hitting his leg to avoid LBW decisions from the Indian umpires.

The series which started with lot of good will was now filled with acrimony. In the next Test (Kanpur), umpiring decisions again became a bone of contention. Sikander Bakht kicked the stump in disgust, Asif Iqbal threatened to pull his team out of the series and things really started going downhill.

There were exceptions though. In the Kanpur test, Wasim Raja played an absolute blinder (94 not out), but he ran out of partners. After dismissing the last batsman Ehteshamuddin, Roger Binny went straight to Raja and offered consolation. As both of them were returning to the pavilion together with hands on each other’s shoulder, the moment remained an endearing memory in mind.

Cricket had been and will always be a gentleman’s game, and not without reason.

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