Kapil Dev executed his drives, front foot close to the ball, the balance of the body perfect, the execution picturesque © Getty Images
On January 11, 1988, trailing 0-1 in the series, India needed to put up a decent total on the first day on a rank turner . Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at an aggressive hundred by Kapil Dev that decided the Test.
Things looked hopeless for India as they were about to take field on January 11 at Madras for the final Test. To begin with, they were one down in the series; their captain, Dilip Vengsarkar, who had scored two hundreds and had single-handedly saved the Bombay Test, had had his hand fractured by a lifter from Winston Davis and was out the match; the rest of the team had looked really circumspect throughout the series.
Under these circumstances, India went in with three debutants — WV Raman, Ajay Sharma and Narendra Hirwani. Ravi Shastri took over from Vengsarkar for his first Test as India captain.
The pitch looked dry, and would definitely have induced some turn early in the match. West Indies, however, went in with three specialist fast bowlers — Patrick Patterson, Courtney Walsh, Davis and a lone off-spinner in Clyde Butts. Even their occasional bowlers — Carl Hooper and Viv Richards — were off-break bowlers, which meant that their attack lacked variety and penetration on what seemed like a track tailor-made for the spinners. India, on the other hand, went in with a lone seamer in Kapil Dev, stacking their side with three regular and two part-time spinners.
Shastri won the all-important toss, and India began well, with Krishnamachari Srikkanth attacking the West Indians right from the word go. After he fell to Walsh attempting one shot too many for a quickfire 23, there was a mini-collapse when the experienced Mohinder Amarnath and the debutant Raman fell in quick succession, leaving India in a spot of bother at 64 for 3.
Arun Lal (69) — a replacement for Sunil Gavaskar — and Mohammad Azharuddin (47) put up a decent partnership. During the stand it was evident that the pitch was turning, and the bounce was even; however when both of them were caught at short leg off Hooper, India were 156 for 5, and seemed that they were headed for a moderate 250-ish total. That was when Kapil walked out to join the debutant Ajay Sharma.
He had earlier scored whirlwind forties at Delhi and Bombay. However, that one special performance that would change the course of a Test was still pending. When he walked out he was aware that India needed a special performance from him to square the series; and he delivered.
What followed next can only be classified as class. Kapil decided to settle down. He guided his young partner, and when he was confident that Ajay Sharma had settled down, he slowly began to blossom. There was no mindless slogging: most of them were driven within the ‘V’. The variable pace of the pitch, which did not allow the others to score freely, did not deter Kapil. He went on with his drives, front foot close to the ball, the balance of the body perfect, the execution picturesque. He ended up hitting 17 boundaries.
Then he opened up. There was a mighty hoick over long-on, a sliced square-drive and finally that trademark brutal square-cut off Richards, who was taken for 5 boundaries in 2 overs. He hit one back to Richards so hard that even a fielder of his calibre had to pull out of the line of attack. Later he tried to stop another Kapil drive and injured his foot, and had to leave the ground temporarily.
Ajay Sharma, meanwhile, acted as the perfect foil, hanging around, scoring just 10 as the partnership reached 50. Kapil reached his 50 off 46 balls, and proceeded along. Such was Kapil’s dominance in the partnership that when the batsmen had played 75 balls each, Kapil had reached 69 whereas Sharma stood on 29.
Despite Ajay Sharma’s slow batting, Kapil’s blinder ensured that the duo reached their 100-run partnership in 22 overs and 86 minutes. The partnership finally ended when Richards slid one in fast to trap Sharma leg before, the two of them had added 113 in just 109 minutes. Sharma had scored 30.
Kapil continued to flourish, though, in the company of Shastri, and reached hundred in the dying hours of the day. He ended the day on 104 off 119 deliveries, with Shastri hanging on grimly for a 45-ball five runs. India were 308 for 6 at stumps, and looked all set for posting a score that would be sufficient for the spinners to bowl out the West Indians.
The rest is history. After Kapil ended his 124-ball 109 on the second day, the Indian tail wagged enough to help reach 382 before Davis bowled them out. The Indian spinners then came into action after Kapil provided with the initial breakthrough: taking advantage of the inconceivable hara-kiri committed by the West Indians – all of whom seemed keen to step out and hit the Indians out of the ground – Hirwani took 8 for 61 and 8 for 75 to spin India to a 255-run victory, their best against West Indies till date. The third debutant, Raman, top-scored with a crucial 83 in India’s second innings and picked up a wicket in his first over in Test cricket.
Hirwani’s 16 for 136 remains the best figures for anyone on Test debut, going past Bob Massie’s 16 for 137. So baffling was the West Indian strategy of hitting everything out of the park that Kiran More effected six stumpings in the match, five of them in the fourth innings – both of which still stand as world records.
Despite winning the Test on his debut as captain against Viv Richards’ West Indians, Shastri never captained India in a Test again.
India 382 (Arun Lal 69, Mohammad Azharuddin 47, Kapil Dev 109; Winston Davis 4 for 76) and 217 for 8 declared (WV Raman 83, Mohammad Azharuddin 39; Courtney Walsh 4 for 55) bt West Indies 184 (Viv Richards 68; Narendra Hirwani 8 for 61) and 160 (Gus Logie 67; Narendra Hirwani 8 for 75) by 255 runs.
(A hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobiac by his own admission, Abhishek Mukherjee is a statistical analyst based in Kolkata, India. He typically looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – not necessarily as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the game with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a rather steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers the sport has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks and googlies in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in)