When we think of all-rounders in cricket today, the names of Ben Stokes or Hardik Pandya might come to the mind. Typically because India have been playing England for some time now and also due to the fact that these are the particular limited overs specialists that come to the mind.
In a different time and age, the name of the legendary Kapil Dev from a not too distant past might have shone out brighter than the rest.
In a country that can hardly boast of producing quality fast bowlers, Kapil Dev is a name that stands out. Not only was he an exceptional bowler, he strove hard and beat the odds to go on to become better than the best in his era.
Add to it the fact that he was a more than handy batsman lower down the order and an impressive captain who lifted India’s maiden World Cup trophy back in 1983 – you surely know for a fact why he is remembered as an all-time legend of the game.
Dev had entered the 1983 World Cup with an ordinary record but played an innings of his lifetime when he scored 175 off 138 balls against Zimbabwe in a match where the Indian top order had been reduced to rubbles.
And he put in valuable contributions en route to lifting the maiden World Cup trophy including the famous catch at square-leg to dismiss the legendary Vivian Richards in the final.
And it was back in 1994, at the fag end of his career, that this legend of the game added yet another feather to his cap when he became the then-highest wicket-taker in Test cricket.
The moment the record was broken
Going into the third Test of the series against Sri Lanka at Ahmedabad, expectations were high as Kapil Dev was just one wicket away from becoming the highest wicket-taker in Test matches. He had 431 scalps to his credit then which was the same as Sir Richard Hadlee.
It had been a hard toil for Dev and many had started saying that though well past his prime, he was just elongating his career to break Hadlee’s record. Dev was the second bowler after Hadlee to cross the 400-wicket mark but he kept playing with the record in sight.
Though his powers had distinctly and visibly waned, Dev had gone on playing, mentoring the younger bowlers in the team like Manoj Prabhakar and Javagal Srinath. Hadlee's record seemed reachable ever since he crossed the 400-wicket mark and he could not resist the temptation of trying to be the highest wicket-taker in Tests.
The record came on February 8, 1994, in the third Test against Sri Lanka when Dev was playing the 130th Test match of his career. When the Indian captain, Mohammad Azharuddin, who was celebrating his 31st birthday, lost the toss to his Sri Lankan counterpart, Arjuna Ranatunga who opted to bat first, it was only a matter of time before the record was achieved.
The record came at 10.34 am in the 8th over on the first day when Dev dismissed the Sri Lankan batsman Hasan Tillakaratne out caught by Sanjay Manjarekar at forward short-leg.
Time came to a standstill as the players and spectators momentary stood in awe of Dev’s achievement before breaking into jubilant celebrations.
Preparations had already been to celebrate Kapil Dev’s feat in a grand way. As soon as Dev took his 432nd wicket, 432 balloons were released in the air and everyone at the ground gave him a standing ovation.
Doordarshan then momentarily stopped its live telecast of the match and started playing a song in a tribute to Kapil Dev: “Haqeeqat hai ye khwab nahin / Kapil Dev ka jawab nahin.”
Later Hadlee congratulated Dev for his feat by saying, “It’s a marvellous performance, although in some ways it’s sad. It’s a very special moment for Kapil Dev and for world cricket and we should enjoy the moment for Kapil as well. Probably in 10 years, someone will go beyond Kapil and the way that Shane Warne is going at the moment, he could be the first to get 500.”
Dev’s record was surpassed by Courtney Walsh who was the first bowler to get to the 500-wicket mark in Tests. India eventually went on to win the match thanks to great performances from their spinners Venkapathy Raju and Rajesh Chauhan.
When asked how long he wanted to go on playing, Kapil Dev told Independent, “As long as I am fit and enjoy the game, and I can put 100 percent into it.”
However, he played in one more Test against New Zealand at Hamilton in March, 1994 before retiring from both forms of the game in October that year.
In the late 1990s, Dev was appointed as the coach of the Indian team. His tenure as a coach was, however, an unhappy one as India suffered heavy defeats and match-fixing allegations were levelled at him by Manoj Prabhakar.
Dev resigned from his post amidst the allegations which were later proven untrue but which threw a dark cloud over his legacy. Yet his innumerable achievements as a player and the fact that he was the first Indian captain to lift the World Cup can never be forgotten.