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By Partab Ramchand
The news that Kapil Dev has been inducted into the ICC Hall of Fame is a most welcome one. The honour is indeed long overdue for a cricketer of his manifold achievements for, after all, it is exactly 16 years since he played his last Test. He took the last of his 434 wickets in this match against New Zealand at Hamilton and, of course, that was the world record at the time. These days, with bowlers taking over 700 wickets – albeit playing in more Tests – the figure 400 may seem insignificant. Nothing could be farther from the truth. For any Indian bowler to hold the world record was a notable achievement but for an Indian opening bowler to do so was quite unthinkable. As one who grew up in the sixties, when the Indian new ball attack was a farce, I could never imagine that one day an Indian fast bowler would head the list of wicket takers in Test matches.
Let cricket fans hail Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar as the greatest Indian cricketers of all time. Kapil Dev will always get my vote and that is why I was doubly happy when he was voted the Wisden Indian cricketer of the century in 2002. I have always believed that while it is possible that Indian cricket can produce another Gavaskar or Tendulkar it will never produce another Kapil Dev. It’s not just a matter of scoring over 5000 runs and taking more than 400 wickets though, of course, this all round record is of the mind-boggling and eye-rubbing variety. In fact, he is the only one to perform this stupendous feat in Test cricket and even with the proliferation of matches no one has come even close to that unique double. More importantly he has proved to be the inspiration for a whole generation of young fast bowlers.
How pathetic was the Indian fast bowling scenario before Kapil Dev and what a metamorphosis has been seen in the last couple of decades? An Indian team that was struggling with one Ramakant Desai or one Rusi Surti or one Vasant Ranjane and had Ajit Wadekar, Salim Durrani, ML Jaisimha, V Subramanyam, Sunil Gavaskar and Budhi Kunderan opening the bowling now has half a dozen contenders vying for two places. Indian pace bowlers are almost as feared as the spinners. They have won matches on their own and troubled the best of batsmen at home and abroad. Ten-wicket hauls which were the prerogatives of spin bowlers have been notched up by pacemen with Javagal Srinath taking as many 13 in a match. Zaheer Khan is today recognized as the leading exponent of seam and swing bowling in the world.
All this can be traced to the emergence of Kapil Dev who made his Test debut as a 19-year-old in Pakistan in 1978 and over the years transformed Indian cricket into a world power with his amazing ubiquitous skills, his dynamic leadership qualities and his charismatic personality. If Gavaskar was the pioneer in proving that fast bowlers could be faced squarely and even scored off fluently it was Kapil who proved that the Indian new ball attack was one to be respected and even feared. It was Kapil who proved that a cricketer could score 5000 runs and take 400 wickets. It was Kapil who proved that limited overs cricket was not alien to the Indians. With each passing tournament the 1983 World Cup triumph shaped largely by Kapil’s leadership qualities and all round skills glows brighter. Again it was this shock victory that gave the impetus to the one day game in India and the team since then has registered numerous significant triumphs.
One can really go on and on about Kapil Dev singing his praises in never ending vein. What Indian cricket and so many players owe him is immeasurable. He always had only the good of the game and the cricketers at heart and his humble reaction at being given the latest honour is very much in keeping with a man who has always been down to earth. Has India produced a more dedicated, selfless and fitter cricketer I wonder. On this happy occasion of his being honoured by the ICC we wish that he is around for many more years to serve the cause of Indian cricket off the field as keenly and unselfishly as he served it on the field.