Kapil Dev, just before the explosion at Lord's © Getty Images
Kapil Dev, just before the explosion at Lord’s © Getty Images

July 30, 1990. India required 24 runs to save the follow-on, with 9 wickets down and Narendra Hirwani fumbling his rather inept bat at the other end. Kapil Dev took control of the situation in his inimitable style by clubbing Eddie Hemmings for four consecutive sixes to avoid the follow-on! Arunabha Sengupta recalls the calculated carnage.

It was murderous assault, calculated to perfection. A sequence of sixes, savage, soaring, spectacular and straight. Four times the bat struck the ball, the impact ringing out around the ground. Four times the ball traced magnificent arcs, searing across space, a streak of red against the blue backdrop. Four times the crowd erupted, each applause laden with heavier and heavier layers of disbelief. After every hit, the bowler and captain exchanged looks, the phenomenal pair of moustaches between them at first bristled with indignation and then drooped in helpless acceptance.

Monday dawned with India 277 runs in arrears. The 653 for 4 piled up by England, on the mammoth foundation of captain Graham Gooch’s 333, looming ahead far beyond an unfathomable distance. Just four wickets remained intact. Mohammad Azharuddin and Kapil Dev were at the wicket, the former already on 117 runs of delight and dazzle. Another 78 were needed to avoid follow-on. And Azhar was bowled by Eddie Hemmings in the third over of the morning for 121, beaten by the extravagant break obtained from the infamous Lord’s slope.

But, this match was made for the entertainment of cricketing deities. Following the departure of the Indian captain, 61 runs blazed forth, just eight of them off the bat of Kiran More, and not one from the two tail-enders who followed. Having watched the ethereal finesse of Azhar the previous afternoon, the spectators were now treated to brutal massacre by Kapil Dev.

By the time Angus Fraser was running in for the 14th over of the day, Kapil had pushed his score along at a fair clip from the overnight 14. He now stood on 53, made from 69 balls. And off the third ball of the over, he watched from the non-striker’s end as More was caught in the cordon. Two balls later, Sanjeev Sharma nicked one to Jack Russell behind the stumps.

Leg-spinner Narendra Hirwani walked out to bat — or whatever it was that he did with the willow. His Test batting record at that moment read 28 runs from 10 Tests at an average of 4.66, 17 of them scored in a single inspired innings against New Zealand. Now, with generous help of fortune, this quintessential batting rabbit somehow managed to survive the last ball of Fraser’s over. If Hirwani had been blessed with a bit more ability with the bat, the remarkable feat that followed might not have taken place.

Calculated carnage

Hemmings now got ready to start a new over. At 430 for 9, India needed 24 to save the follow-on. For Kapil, the tactics were convenient enough to calculate. The squat figure at the other end promised nothing in the most absolute terms. And 24 could be divided by 6 without leaving any irritating residual remainders.

The first two balls were duly blocked, not one ounce of needless energy expended. And the next four flew from strokes that rang out like reports from a rifle.

Each of the four sixes were hit high and straight over the bowler’s head. Three were gigantic, one was just huge, all equally grand. Three cleared the scaffolding. One did not get quite that far and rebounded off the top of the sightscreen. The follow-on was avoided by a single run, but it could not have been saved with more splendour. It required a Kapil Dev to do this. A man built with the all the ingredients of a legend.

At the other end, Hirwani proved himself to be a man with a supreme sense of occasion. He lent the finishing touches in making those great sixes immortal, forever part of the Indian cricketing folklore, an incredible chapter in the celebrated history of the ground. Having watched those four towering hits, he now promptly fell leg-before off the first Fraser delivery of the next over. His unwavering consistency starkly underlined the perils that would have befallen India if any one of those massive strokes had not been struck.

Kapil walked back unbeaten on 77 from 75 balls, with 8 fours and 4 sixes. England had to bat again. Not that it mattered in the end as India lost by a rather convincing margin. But, Kapil’s four sixes added yet another dimension to this sublime Test match, supplementing the marathon of Gooch and the magic of Azhar with his signature brand of murder and mayhem.

Brief scores:

England 653 for 4 decl. (Graham Gooch 333, David Gower 40, Allan Lamb 139, Robin Smith 100*) and 272 for 4 decl. (Graham Gooch 123, Michael Atherton 72) beat India 454 (Ravi Shastri 100, Dilip Vengsarkar 52, Mohammad Azharuddin 121, Kapil Dev 77*; Angus Fraser 5 for 104) and 224 by 247 runs.

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twiter.com/senantix)