The day Kapil Dev conquered his final frontier to get past Richard Hadlee's world record

Kapil Dev… got to the finish line after an excruciating home stretch © Getty Images

On February 8, 1994, Kapil Dev surpassed Sir Richard Hadlee’s long-standing record of 431 Test wickets. In an era that was dominated by spinners in the subcontinent, Kapil broke the shackles and scaled peaks in both departments of the game. Karthik Parimal travels back in time to underline the feat’s significance.

The term ‘all-rounder’, like many other adjectives, has been loosely used for many in modern day cricket. A player who can do a bit of batting and bowling, irrespective of how effective he turns out to be over a considerable period of time, is seen as someone who can add ‘balance to the side’ with his ‘all-round’ abilities.

Unlike now, in the bygone era, seldom was someone bestowed with the term all-rounder, unless they put up noteworthy performances in both departments of the game on a consistent basis. As Javed Miandad wrote in his autobiography Cutting Edge, “Imran (Khan), (Ian) Botham, Kapil (Dev) and (Richard) Hadlee are in a separate class altogether. These four are genuine all-rounders, each of whom could have made it into their national Test side as either as a batsman or bowler.”

Their dexterity stood out, and their ability to break away from the norm made them a force to be reckoned with. This was true especially in the case of Kapil Dev. In an era that was monopolised by spin in Indian cricket, he was unorthodox and had the opposition hopping at the crease with his raw pace. Sunil Gavaskar’s thought, when he saw Kapil for the first time in action during the 1978 Wills Trophy, that after a long, long time, here was an Indian bowler who was promising and fast.

And Kapil lived up to the expectations placed on his shoulders by his peers. His batting and bowling graphs both indicated a steady rise. He was soon a part of the crème de la crème of the Indian team. His performances seldom dwindled and he was touted to break many a record with the velocity at which he was approaching each milestone.

In due course of time, he became India’s highest wicket-taker and only the second bowler after Sir Richard Hadlee to take over 400 Test wickets. He refrained from hanging his boots despite being well past his best as he wanted to surpass Hadlee’s record of 431 Test wickets. He toiled towards this final frontier, and it was on February 8, 1994, in his 130th Test match, after just over an hour of the third Test against Sri Lanka at Ahmedabad, that Kapil dismissed Hashan Tillakaratne caught at forward short-leg by Sanjay Manjrekar to reach wicket No 432.

India celebrated with zest, as one of their own had scaled the summit of bowling in Test cricket. To laud this achievement, 432 balloons were released and it was topped off by a minute’s standing ovation. Eventually, India registered its ninth home win in a row, as spinners Venkatapathy Raju and Rajesh Chauhan scalped 17 wickets between them.

After Kapil went past Hadlee, the latter, in his characteristically humble way, congratulated the former 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.”

In hindsight, Hadlee’s prediction was off by the slightest of margins. Although Courtney Walsh was the first bowler to get 500 – and the bowler to eventually beat Kapil Dev’s tally – Warne got there soon enough and stayed at the helm for a considerable amount of time.

After surpassing Hadlee, Kapil aimed to reach at least 450 Test wickets before calling it quits. Asked how long he would continue to play by The Independent, he said: “As long as I am fit and enjoy the game, and I can put 100 per cent into it.” However, he featured in just one more Test thereafter, against New Zealand at Hamilton, in the March of 1994. He retired from both forms of the game later that year in October.

Kapil’s bowling was by no means on the same page as Imran’s or Hadlee’s. The latter took 431 wickets in just 86 Tests, whereas it took Kapil 130 Tests to achieve that feat. Nevertheless, his achievements can in no way be discounted, and he is undoubtedly one of the legends of the game. During an era that was unidirectional in Indian cricket, Kapil broadened the horizons, and for that he deserves immense credit.

(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/karthik_parimal)