Kapil Dev finished with figures of one for 52 and nine for 83 in first and second innings against West Indies respectively © Getty Images
Kapil Dev finished with figures of 1 for 52 and 9 for 83 in the Test © Getty Images

November 16, 1983. Kapil Dev completed the best bowling performance of his career, capturing nine wickets in the second West Indian innings at Ahmedabad. However, India lost the match by a considerable margin. Arunabha Sengupta looks back at the Test which could have been a closer contest had the Indian selection and tactics been less quixotic.

Quixotic selection

At the end of each of the first three days of the Test match, one looked at the score and felt that advantage was with India.

That is, if one did not look down the Indian team list.

The home side’s way of approaching the Test match could be termed quixotic. And against the mighty West Indians, that was not the recommended way to go about your business. You can’t get away sacrificing batting strength for bits and pieces cricketers in a Test, especially if they are up against Malcolm Marshall, Michael Holding, Wayne Daniel and Winston Davis.

The Ahmedabad pitch had been prepared in tearing hurry. A fair amount of grass had been left on the surface with the vague hope that the track would manage to hold together till the last day.It looked ready to crumble and with time it did. Yet, when India won the toss, Kapil Dev thought long and hard, and opted to field.

When the Test match ended on the fourth afternoon, the many wise old past cricketers shook their heads, and of course turbans, and observed that “Kapil’s decision was wrong.”

It is of course easy to blame the captain’s call, but one needs to look at the finer details.

India had been humiliated at Kanpur by the mean, merciless West Indian pace machinery.  They had drawn the second Test on the flattest of wickets at Delhi, but their batting had almost collapsed in the second innings to gift the match away.

With the fearsome pace quartet charging at the home team, the batting looked increasingly shaky. To add to the woes, Dilip Vengsarkar, who had scored 159 and 63 at Delhi and played a lone hand of 65 in the ruins of the second innings at Kanpur, missed the Test due to injury.

Mohinder Amarnath, with one run and three ducks from four innings in the series, was omitted.

The reinforcements were less than ridiculous. With the four fast bowlers licking their lips to get at the Indians, there were only four frontline batsmen fielded by the home side.

After Sunil Gavaskar and Anshuman Gaekwad, there followed a debutant in the form of Navjot Sidhu, a man till then known as ‘The Strokeless Wonder’. Then there was the dodgy, inconsistent Sandeep Patil, whose highest Test score in the last 10 innings had been 26.

That was the end of established batting — as early as No. 4. After that walked in all-rounders more known for their bowling ability, some for no ability at all. At No. 5 came Ravi Shastri, by no means the batsman he developed into later in his career. He was followed by Roger Binny, Kapil in poor batting form and Kirti Azad.Then there were Syed Kirmani, Balvinder Sandhu and Maninder Singh.

[Trivia: It was the first time India included three Sikhs in a Test side. Just for the sake of it, Gursharan Singh, the 12th man, was also a Sikh.]

It was the selection of Azad that defied all possible logic. He batted below Shastri, Binny and Kapil Dev, scored 3 runs across the two innings, and bowled just 11 of the 165 overs sent down by India in the match. If he was the replacement for men like Vengsarkar and Amarnath, there was something irreparably wrong about the Indian think tank.People like Ashok Malhotra and Gursharan were waiting in the wings.

With this batting line up, was the captain to be blamed if he did not want the West Indian pacers to tear into the side on the first morning with grass on the wicket? Besides, it was a team decision. The entire team had been consulted and had agreed to the tactic of putting the West Indies in. Everyone, that is, other than Azad.

Hence India fielded.

So, in patches India looked on top. Especially at the end of the second day, the home team stood at 172 for 2 in response to the 281 put together by West Indies.

Needless to say, on the third morning down went the third wicket and in walked the first of the lower order. Soon, the Indian batting was exposed for what it was — brittle.

The early exchanges

At the start things looked bright enough for the home team. Within the first hour, West Indies were reduced to 27 for 3.

But, it did not really vindicate Kapil’s decision. The wicket was clearly underprepared as Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes and Viv Richards fell to the less than threatening Binny. But, to queer the pitch for India,Binny bowled 6 overs, picked up 3 for 18 and along with it he picked up a back injury. He did not bowl again in the match.

Yes, even after this injury to Binny, Azad managed to bowl just 7 overs in the first innings. His medium paced off-spinners were thrashed around for 34 vital runs. On the other hand, Gursharan, who would have been much more useful with the bat, spent most of the first innings and the entire second knock on the ground, fielding for Binny. Standing at short leg, he picked up 4 catches becoming the first substitute fielder to do so.

By the end of the first day, the score of 209 for 8 looked anything but impressive. Yes, West Indies had recovered from a faltering start, due mainly to the brilliance of skipper Clive Lloyd and the unflustered elegance of wicketkeeper Jeff Dujon. The very young Maninder Singh had been impressive, but the lack of experience had gradually told on the tale of the Test.

The next day, aided by stubborn resistance from Holding and Davis, Dujon took the West Indian score to 281 before falling to Shastri at 98. The visitors had been allowed to score much more than they had looked good for — 27 for 3, and then again 190 for 8. The last wicket had put on 51.

But, the Indian approach when they started was refreshing. It looked that for once they would seize the initiative. Gavaskar was in his new attacking avatar. He was fresh from his famed 121-run massacre at Delhi. That had been his world-record-equalling 29th hundred. However, his other scores in the series read 0, 7 and 15.

This was to be a stop-start series for him. But one thing was certain by the time he had tennis smashed Holding over point for four. He had decided that attack was the best option.

It is somewhat strange in retrospect. The man who was known to curb his attacking game because he batted for a weak side, now started the innings for what was perhaps the most dismal line-up in his career with all guns blazing. By the ninth over, India had crossed 50, Gavaskar was on 40.

Gaekwad looked solid, sometimes creaming deliveries through the off-side. Gavaskar threw his bat with abandon. The crowd was ecstatic. The legend went past Boycott’s tally of 8,114 runs to take over the world record for highest aggregate. The landmark 30th century was just a few hits away. Within two-and-a-half hours, the score was 127 without loss. India were winning.

And then Holding sent Gaekwad’s stump tumbling. Half an hour later, his delivery reared up from short of a good length, took the edge of Gavaskar’s bat and went to Lloyd at first slip.

The great man walked back for 90, made in just over 3 hours and studded with 13 fours. He was not at all happy with his dismissal. On returning to the dressing room he fumed. According to him, a spectator had moved behind Holding’s arm as the ball had been delivered, and Gavaskar had played the ball even as a part of him wanted to draw away.

According to Gavaskar’s biography SMG, penned by Devendra Prabhudesai, it was only after watching the television replays was he convinced that the ball would have got his edge even if there had been no movement over the sightscreen.

Sidhu and Patil batted out the remaining overs till stumps. At the end of the day, at least on paper, India were on top.

And then there were none

Then came the disaster. That was the last time Indian willow would see any sort of success in the game.

Sidhu was run out early on the morrow. Patil found Marshall too hot to handle and was caught at the wicket. And with a big nasty patch developing on the wicket at the pavilion end, the rest of the batting — if one may call it that —  struggled against the experienced  Daniel.

Only Kapil battled to a respectable 31 as the rest fizzled away and the innings folded at 241. The West Indians led by 40.

But the Indians struck back. Haynes flashed at Sandhu and was held at slip. After that was witnessed one of the greatest displays of pace bowling in the history of Indian cricket.

Kapil bowled into that distressing patch at the pavilion end. He kept coming in, unchanged, for 30.3 overs.

Sometimes the ball bounced, sometimes it stopped. It was almost impossible to play. Greenidge was castled, Richards and Dujon taken at short-leg, Larry Gomes and Gus Logie were leg before. Lloyd pushed one to the leg to be picked up brilliantly by Gavaskar, one handed at mid-wicket and inches from the ground. By the end of the day West Indies were 152 for 7, and Kapil had taken 6.

If only… if only he had support from the other end. Sandhu was taken for runs, Binny was unable to bowl. The spinners were plain unimpressive.
Yet, with the lead under 200, there was plenty of hope among the fans. Only, the Indian camp was not so optimistic. They had seen how the wicket had played on the third day. Facing the West Indians on the fourth, after the day of rest, would be a monstrous task.

There was a glimpse of hope as the visitors resumed on the fourth morning. The ball continued to rise to uncomfortable heights, but the wicket had slowed down and batsmen had more time to adjust.

However, the caveat was that the West Indian tail wagged. Holding in particular wielded the long handle with aplomb and the last 3 wickets added some crucial runs. The West Indian paceman was the last out for 58, and it was Kapil who accounted for all 3 wickets that remained to be taken.

The champion Indian all-rounder’s figures read 9 for 83 from 30.3 overs — a splendid spell of sustained pace bowling. But, at the other end Sandhu gave away 45 from 10. West Indies totalled 201, which left India 242 to win on a wicket which had miserably failed to last the duration.

In the commentary box, the Indian broadcasters remained upbeat. Ravi Chaturvedi in particular harped on the presence of Gavaskar in the line-up, indicating that the total was eminently gettable. But, the optimism was misplaced.Neither the man himself nor the team showed much confidence in themselves.

In the second over of the innings, Holding brought one back and the Indian mainstay was trapped plumb.

Gaekwad batted over 2 hours for 29, Kirmani another 2 for 24. Surprisingly the only other man to offer some resistance was the No. 11 Maninder, who stood there for an hour and 20 minutes for 15. It was the pluck shown by Maninder and Kirmani that ensured the use of the tea break after the West Indians had opted to extend the second session of the fourth day.

The rest of the batting just fell away. None of the others crossed 4! Even with the gallant extras amounting to 22, the Indians fell away to pace and uneven bounce and the total amounted to just 103. Given the quixotic selection, little else could have been expected.

They had lasted just 204 minutes, of which 81 had been consumed by the last wicket partnership between Kirmani and Maninder. This collaboration also hauled India up from 63 for 9 to 103.

The loss was huge — by 138 runs. The match surrendered to the great West Indian team, but not without a little help from curious selection.

Brief Scores:

West Indies 281 (Clive Lloyd 68, Jeff Dujon 98; Maninder Singh 4 for 85) & 201 (Michael Holding 58; Kapil Dev 9 for 83) beat India 241 (Sunil Gavaskar 90; Wayne Daniel 5 for 39) & 103 (Michael Holding 4 for 30) by 138 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://twitter.com/senantix)