Kapil Dev took his first Test wicket on the last day of his debut match © Getty Images
Kapil Dev took his first Test wicket on the last day of his debut match © Getty Images

Kapil Dev made his Test debut on October 16, 1978. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at the day when India’s greatest all-rounder announced himself.

We all know the story.

Keki Tarapore was the coach at the national camp. When a youngster, after a hard day’s toil, asked for an extra roti, he was denied. The youngster told his coach that he was a fast bowler. Tarapore’s reply will perhaps remain etched in the annals of Indian cricket forever: “There are no fast bowlers in India.”

The youngster later said: “I have no anger but gratitude for the late Tarapore because he told me, which direction I had to go. I had to become a fast bowler to prove him wrong. That was my motivation. I played for India within two years.”

The series, held after a 17-year hiatus, was promoted as a goodwill series. The tense days of 1971 were left behind; both countries were looking forward to a peaceful series; and the pitches were generally flat and barren, aimed at high-scoring draws.

Both sides had their superstars: some of them were among the greatest cricketers in the history of their respective nations. It was an ensemble cast, featuring the who’s who of Asian cricket. Among them was the same youngster, now 19, lacking in experience but as confident as any other that took field that day.

Mushtaq Mohammad won the toss at Faisalabad, and the Pakistani openers — the belligerent Majid Khan and the gutsy Sadiq Mohammad — strode out to the middle on a barren pitch. They knew what was in store for them: two all-rounders (or even specialist batsmen) to take the shine off the ball before the spin trinity of Bishan Bedi, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar, and EAS Prasanna would take over.

The bowler from Haryana did not look like the usual Indian teenager. His broad shoulders, his positive stride, the fire in his eyes, his prominent moustache — everything about him seemed to be different. He was not the usual Indian new-ball bowler. He meant business.

The helmet

Kapil Dev ran in. It was an action every household in India would become familiar with over the next decade-and-a-half. The lively, nippy, inimitable run-up; the sudden outward diversion moments before the ball was released; the unconventional ascent of both fists towards the throat (perhaps the most common poster in Indian homes till Sachin Tendulkar’s arrival); and the perfect release that resulted in the most accurate landing; and the best out-swinger India has ever seen.

His futurenew-ball partner Balwinder Sandhu had later told me: “He could actually bowl very fast in short bursts if needed, often reaching 140-145 kmph with swing. For a long time, however, he was India’s only strike bowler, and had to bowl long spells. He bowled quite fast in the nets but had to cut down his pace in order to bowl longer spells and to ensure that he lasted at the top level. He had incredible stamina and a great heart to bowl.”

In his second over, Kapil unleashed something that India has not seen in decades. Ramachandra Guha later mentioned that “very likely the fastest delivery from an Indian bowler since Independence.” The ball ascended steeply, and missed Sadiq’s cap by inches.

It is difficult to say whether Sadiq was more confused or intimidated. Whatever was the case, he signalled towards the dressing-room. He had requested for a helmet.

One must remember that this was the same Sadiq that later told in an interview to The Deccan Herald: “In those days, there were no helmets at all. And because there were no helmets, we never bothered about it, and never got injured. We watched the ball harder.”

Take a moment out to let this sink in. Sunil Gavaskar had opened the bowling for India on more occasions than one; Abid Ali and Eknath Solkar, both competent batsmen, sometimes took the shine off the ball; and Mohinder Amarnath was Kapil’s bowling partner in the Test in question.

Helmets were supposed to worn by Indians: it was one of their captains that was felled by Charlie Griffith; they were blown away by Wes Hall and Roy Gilchrist in the late 1950s, and by Michael Holding and gang a couple of years back at Sabina Park. They were routed by Fred Trueman, by the Australians, by fast bowlers of nearly every Test country.

Decades back there used to be the celebrated pair of the burly Mohammad Nissar and the prodigious Amar Singh. They had managed to leave an impact in world cricket — but due to the schedule of international fixture in the 1930s, they had played only 13 Tests between them.

With Kapil’s arrival things were likely to change. It was, as the Hollywood scripts often say, payback time.

“Sadiq’s summon of a helmet was so unforeseen that it took some overs to arrive,” wrote Gideon Haigh. Guha expressed his doubts in Spin and Other Turns regarding whether there was one in the ground.

The blow

Asking for the helmet was probably one of the wisest decisions in Sadiq’s Test career. Shortly afterwards, Kapil unleashed another furious bouncer. Like the previous occasion, Sadiq did not have the time to bring his bat, glove, or anything else to protect himself; neither could he duck.

Unlike the previous occasion, however, the ball was on target. It hit his helmet, and as Gavaskar had recalled later in Idols, evaded the gloves of the acrobatic Syed Kirmani and sped to the fence for four leg-byes. Kapil Dev had arrived.

Three quick wickets, and then nothing

On that day Kapil was wild, and often wayward. The discipline was acquired much later. Bedi removed both openers after an 84-run stand; when Chandra had Mushtaq caught by Gavaskar at first-slip Pakistan’s score read 110 for 3. Then Javed Miandad joined Zaheer Abbas, and that was it.

The two could not be tamed. They saw through the initial overs of the spin trio, and began to dominate. By the time stumps were drawn Pakistan had reached 283 with Zaheer on 128 and Miandad on 53. Given the usual pace of scoring in India-Pakistan till then, they had as good as batted India out of the Test.

The rest of the Test

Zaheer and Miandad eventually added 255 for the fourth wicket before the former was claimed by Prasanna for 176. Miandad, however, remained unbeaten on 154. He received considerable support from Imran Khan, and towards the end, from Sarfraz Nawaz; Mushtaq eventually declared at a safe 503 for 8: Chandra finished with 4 wickets and Bedi with 3.

India began well, with Gavaskar adding 97 with Chetan Chauhan, 50 with Surinder Amarnath, and 101 with Gundappa Viswanath before eventually falling for 89. Viswanath and Dilip Vengsarkar then added 156 more. Once Viswanath fell, the Indians went out on an all-out attack as the wickets fell in a heap.

Vengsarkar scored a gallant 83, and by the time Bedi eventually declared at 462 for 9 (41 behind) it was almost stumps on Day Four. Mushtaq finished with 4 wickets.

The match did not go on dispute-free. Shakoor Rana warned Mohinder for running on the ‘dangerous area of the pitch’. What followed was not the most common occurrence in the history of sport. As Wisden wrote, “Gavaskar, the Indian vice-captain, used insulting language against the umpire concerned.” Play was held up for 11 minutes; Rana and Khalid Aziz took field only after there was an apology.

Day Five saw Kapil pick up his first Test wicket as Sadiq edged one to Gavaskar; Majid followed soon, but Zaheer and Asif Iqbal hung on, adding 166; Mushtaq was in no mood to declare, and the match seemed to be petering to a draw.

Just when it seemed that Zaheer was close to reaching his second hundred of the Test he was dismissed by — of all people — Gavaskar. He had scored 96. Mushtaq declared soon afterwards after Asif fell for 104 to, rather surprisingly, Surinder. Pakistan had scored 264 for 4. Set to chase an unrealistic 306, India finished at 43 without loss in 19 overs.

What followed?

- India were beaten in the next Test at Lahore by 8 wickets. Zaheer’s 235 not out and Imran’s bowling proved to be more than a handful for them. Set to chase 126 in just over 100 minutes Pakistan went for it; Bedi, intent on picking up wickets, kept flighting the ball, and Pakistan chased down the target in 20.4 overs.

- The third Test at Karachi met with a similar result despite Gavaskar’s twin tons. This time the target was 164 from 100 minutes, and once again Bedi tried to attack. This time Imran, sent up the order, hit 2 sixes off him, and the target was reached in 24.5 overs.

- The series marked the end of Prasanna’s career; Bedi and Chandra, too, did not play for much longer.

- Kapil eventually finished with a then world-record haul of 434 Test wickets.

- Neither Gavaskar nor Surinder took another Test wicket.

Brief scores:

Pakistan 503 for 8 decl. (Zaheer Abbas 176, Javed Miandad 154*; Bhagwat Chandrasekhar 4 for 130, Bishan Bedi 3 for 124) and 264 for 4 decl. (Zaheer Abbas 96, Asif Iqbal 104) drew with India 462 for 9 decl. (Sunil Gavaskar 89, Gundappa Viswanath 145, Dilip Vengsarkar 83; Mushtaq Mohammad 4 for 55) and 43 for no loss.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)