Kapil Dev’s hat-trick that day at Eden Gardens went almost unnoticed © Getty Images
Kapil Dev’s hat-trick that day at Eden Gardens went almost unnoticed © Getty Images

January 4, 1991. India had to prove a point Asia Cup final following their league match defeat against Sri Lanka, and Kapil Dev rose to the occasion in style. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at a hat-trick that went unnoticed by Eden Gardens.

Asia Cup 1990-91 started on a sad note. The nephew of AAK Abbasi, Secretary of Pakistan Board of Control, had been killed shortly before the tournament. Pakistan requested the tournament in India to be postponed, for they feared for the players’ safety. When India declined, Pakistan withdrew from the tournament.

This left India, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh. In 1990-91 nobody expected Bangladesh to put a show against India or Sri Lanka. India duly thrashed them in the opening match at Chandigarh. To their credit Bangladesh batted for all 50 overs, finishing on 170 for 6 (they were 136 for 2 at one stage). Faruk Ahmed scored 57 (then the highest score by a Bangladeshi), but the Indians were too strong: Navjot Sidhu galumphed to a 109-ball 104 not out, and the hosts won by nine wickets.

At the second league match at Cuttack Sri Lanka were cruising at 159 for 3, and later 190 for 5, when Kapil Dev decided to step in. Arjuna Ranatunga stood alone while Kapil scythed through the lower middle-order. Sri Lanka did not last 50 overs, and were bowled out for 214.

India seemed to be on track at 81 for 2, but the middle-order did not click. Ranatunga bowled 10 tidy overs, conceded 36, and dismissed Sachin Tendulkar. Rumesh Ratnayake claimed three quick wickets at the end, and Indians were bowled out for 178 in the 46th over. All Sri Lanka had to do on New Year’s Eve was to beat Bangladesh.

This being the Eden Gardens of 1990-91, a 50,000-strong crowd turned up to watch them in action. Bangladesh had their highs, reducing Sri Lanka to 87 for 3 when Ranatunga joined Aravinda de Silva. Aravinda carved out a spectacular innings, exploding after reaching 50. The Eden Gardens crowd egged him, and he responded in style before he was run out for a 60-ball 89.

Set to chase 250 from 45 overs, Bangladesh became 49 for 3 in quick time. Minhajul Abedin, the captain, helped Athar Ali Khan add 47. Then Athar stood between the Sri Lankan bowlers and batting out the full 45 overs; they probably did not stand a chance, but at 123 for 7 Athar found support in gloveman Nasir Ahmed. Athar duly reached his fifty, and though Nasir fell, Bangladesh finished on 178 for 9, their highest score till then.

Athar’s dazzling 95-ball 78 not out was the new best for Bangladesh. His defiant strokeplay earned him the Man of the Match Award — another first for a Bangladeshi. India joined Sri Lanka in Calcutta for the final that followed.

A sedate start

A full-house Eden Gardens (approximately 90,000 people in 1990-91) greeted the teams. There was a chorused disappointment when Mohammad Azharuddin put the tourists in, more so after Charith Senanayake and Hashan Tillakaratne put on 48 for the opening stand. Then Atul Wassan broke through, and both openers were out in quick succession.

India had a young off-spinner, Saradindu Mukherjee, in their ranks. Having taken a hat-trick on Ranji Trophy debut, Mukherjee was probably expected to be someone special. The Asia Cup saw him bowling to flat trajectory and perform mostly a containing job. Nevertheless, he was India’s preferred spinner in the tournament, ahead of Venkatapathy Raju and Ravi Shastri.

This time Mukherjee removed the dangerous-looking Aravinda, who hit one back at him after a 28-ball 26. However, Ranatunga took over, and added 58 with Ashanka Gurusinha reach 150 for 3 before the latter was run out. Roshan Mahanama walked out, and the score reached 175 for 4. A couple of overs would decide the match either way.

The hat-trick nobody noticed

It had to be Kapil, in the end. He found Roshan Mahanama’s edge, and Kiran More did the rest. It was the last ball of an over. Ranatunga was run out next over. Sri Lanka were left with two newcomers at the crease — Sanath Jayasuriya and Ratnayake.

Let us digress for a moment here. The inclusion of Jayasuriya in the Sri Lankan side was somewhat mysterious: he had batted at No. 5 on ODI debut, and had never batted at anywhere above No. 6 again. Coming into the tournament, his nine ODIs had fetched him 76 runs at 10.85 and a strike rate of 49. Not that he bowled: he sent down a mere three overs. Along with many other ardent fans of the sport, I was confused over his selection. It was my first sighting of Sanath. Here, too, he scored a mere 5, but the runs were historically significant: he played a trademark short-arm cut before flicking one off his legs. Just over five years from the innings, bowlers across the world would be terrorised by Jayasuriya executing exactly the same two strokes.

Jayasuriya skied one off the first ball of Kapil’s next over, and Sanjay Manjrekar held it. He had not justified his selection yet, but it was an indication of what was to follow; it also showed why Ranatunga had backed his selection. The talent was evident: he simply needed to be persisted with.

The batsmen had crossed, and Ratnayake was trapped leg-before next ball. The Indian fielders engulfed Kapil, but the crowd remained oblivious. The fact that Kapil had snared Mahanama off the last ball of the previous over had slipped their mind. They waited eagerly for what they thought was the hat-trick ball, and were disappointed when Champaka Ramanayake survived.

He scored only 5 runs, but two strokes Sanath Jayasuriya played would turn out to be iconic over the decade to come © Getty Images
He scored only 5, but two strokes Sanath Jayasuriya played would turn out to be iconic over the decade to come © Getty Images

Kapil’s burst had reduced Sri Lanka to 181 for 8. With overs running out, Graeme Labrooy and Ramanayake ran frantically to take Sri Lanka past the 200-mark. Kapil removed Labrooy in the last over of the innings, and Sri Lanka finished with 204 for 9. Kapil finished with figures of 9-0-31-4.

The players walked back. The luchi-alur dom was being unwrapped in the gallery. There were a few customary claps from the ones who did not make a dash for the overcrowded toilets. Then Eden Gardens broke into a deafening applause, for the giant electronic scoreboard put up the telltale display: CONGRATULATIONS KAPIL DEV FOR THE HAT-TRICK.

The crowd, suddenly at their feet, clapped in ecstasy and confusion. They kept on asking each other who the three batsmen were before reaching the (correct) consensus that he “got Jayasuriya and Ratnayake off consecutive balls, so it must have been the man he had got off the last ball of the previous over”. Those with transistor sets confirmed that it was indeed Mahanama, Jayasuriya, and Ratnayake.

Thus Kapil became only the fifth bowler and second Indian (after Chetan Sharma) to take a One-Day International (ODI) hat-trick. Kapil also became the second cricketer (after Chetan) to score an ODI hundred and take an ODI hat-trick.

Hephaestus, Ares, and Dionysus

It was a competitive target. After all, they had bowled out India for 178 in the league match. Sri Lanka had a good start when Labrooy had Shastri caught-behind. Ranatunga brought himself on early, and Sidhu hit one back to him. India were 30 for 2. Sri Lanka were certainly on top when Tendulkar walked out to join Manjrekar.

Tendulkar began in outrageous fashion, lofting one over mid-off for four. With Manjrekar looking solid at the other end, Tendulkar grew in confidence. He did not get the big shots on the huge arena, but the breakneck pace at which he ran with his Bombay captain was sufficient to put pressure on the Sri Lankans.

Labrooy, Ramanayake, and Ratnayake bowled well, but Jayananda Warnaweera — the sole specialist spinner — was taken for runs, as were Gurusinha and Jayasuriya. Tendulkar was eventually trapped leg-before by Ratnayake for 53, but not before the pair has added 91.

There were 84 runs to be scored, and from the moment he reached the centre, Azhar launched a no-holds-barred attack. Manjrekar had stonewalled and Tendulkar counterattacked to set up the chase. Azhar knew he had the buffer of Kapil and Prabhakar batting down the order and the support of Manjrekar at the other end, so there was no inhibition.

The crowning stroke had to be the shot that cleared the fence over mid-wicket. There were four fours as well, but he also ran hard; singles accounted for 32 of his runs from 34 balls. Manjrekar (75 not out) remained calm and focused at the other end, and Azhar, with a 39-ball unbeaten 54, finished things off with 17 balls to spare.

What followed?

  -       It took seven years for Athar’s score to be overhauled — by Athar himself. He scored 82 against Pakistan in Asia Cup 1997.

-       Mukherjee conceded 3.37 runs an over in the tournament from 29 overs. Despite being the most miserly of the Indian bowlers, he never played for India again. Of all Indian bowlers who have bowled 75 balls since 1990, Mukherjee has been the most economic.

-        Nobody has taken an ODI hat-trick for India since Kapil, though Harbhajan Singh and Irfan Pathan have taken Test hat-tricks.

-       Since Chetan and Kapil, only two men have scored hundreds and taken hat-tricks in ODIs: Andrew Flintoff and JP Duminy.

Brief scores: Sri Lanka 204 for 9 in 45 overs (Arjuna Ranatunga 49; Kapil Dev 4 for 31) lost to India 205 for 3 in 42.1 overs (Sanjay Manjrekar 75*, Sachin Tendulkar 53, Mohammad Azharuddin 54*) by 7 wickets with 17 balls to spare. Man of the Match: Mohammad Azharuddin.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)