For most cricket fans, when they hear the name Madan Lal, the first thing that comes to their minds is the 1983 World Cup final. On 25 June 1983, Lal made a crucial 17 while batting at number nine and then proceeded to take the wickets of Desmond Haynes, Viv Richards and Larry Gomes with the ball – thereby playing a huge role in India’s win over favourites West Indies. Another well-known fact about him is that he bowled the first-ever delivery in the history of the men’s World Cup.
In Tests, he made his debut in June 1974 and proceeded to play 39 Tests over 12 years. While he was a regular member of the Indian team at the start of his career, he didn’t play any Tests between 1978-80. He then returned to the Test side in late 1981 and was a regular for the following two years. Hence, his Test career can be divided into two phases: (i) from June 1974 to December 1977, (ii) from November 1981 to November 1983.
One major difference between the two phases was the type of bowling attack India had. While in the mid-1970s, it was a spin-dominant attack, the early 1980s had fast bowler Kapil Dev who’d go on to become Test cricket’s highest wicket-taker before the end of his career.
From the Test against England in Manchester in June 1974 to the Test against Australia in Perth in December 1977, India played a total of 25 Tests out of which Lal featured in 16. This was the era when all four of the famed spin quartet - Erapalli Prasanna, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar, Bishan Singh Bedi and Srinivas Venkataraghavan - were part of the Indian Test team. Unsurprisingly, the four bowlers who bowled the most deliveries and took the most wickets for India during this period were all spinners.
Fast forward to the period between November 1981 to November 1983 when India’s most prolific bowler was Kapil with no other Indian bowler picking up even half of the number of wickets taken by the Haryana pacer (115) during this time. And in the 28 matches that India played then, Lal featured in 21 mostly as Kapil’s new ball partner. It wasn’t really a golden period for Indian cricket in the longest format of the game as they won just one Test out of 28. That win incidentally came in the match which saw the return of Lal - against England in 1981 - and it was the first time Kapil and him bowled together in Tests.
Both pacers starred in the match, especially in the fourth innings when they picked up five wickets apiece. With England needing 241 to win, Kapil and Lal bowled almost all of the 26.2 overs (with spinner Dilip Doshi bowling one over) that were needed to get the visitors all out for 102 in Mumbai.
Over the next two years, the duo opened the bowling most frequently in world cricket (in 19 matches) and, as a result, also took the most wickets (113) as a new-ball opening pair. Lal would then play two more Tests (one each in 1984 and 1986) and in his final Test against England in Leeds, he opened the bowling with Kapil and the duo’s opening spell in the home team’s first innings helped India get into an advantageous position in the match. India would go on to win the Test and the series.
In total, Kapil and Lal took 119 wickets in matches when they opened the bowling together – the joint-fifth highest among all new-ball bowlers for India in Tests.
Similarly, in ODIs too, Lal’s career can be broken down into two similar phases: one from his debut in 1974 to 1976 when he featured in seven ODIs and then from 25 November 1981 to his final international match on 20 March 1987. During the latter phase, out of the 90 ODIs India played, Lal featured in 60.
Unlike Tests, India had a very good record when Kapil and Lal played together in limited overs cricket. They played 55 ODIs together and India won 31 of those matches – a win percentage of 56.36. The most memorable ODI win when the duo played together was, of course, the 1983 World Cup final. While for most of their careers, they teamed up as a bowling pair, here it was as a bowler-fielder partnership that they made the biggest impact.
Richards, West Indies’ superstar batsman, was batting on 33 and the then defending world champions looked to be ahead in the game. That was when Richards was dismissed by Lal with Kapil taking a magnificent running catch on the leg-side. It was a defining moment in the final which India went on to win by 43 runs.
In the 1983 World Cup, Lal took 17 wickets at an amazing bowling average of 16.76. Among Indian bowlers who’ve taken 10+ wickets in a single World Cup campaign, only Mohammed Shami in 2019 (13.78) has recorded a better runs per wicket ratio.
In ODIs, Kapil and Lal shared the new ball on 12 occasions and they took 29 wickets in those matches at a very good bowling strike-rate of 42.17.
When Kapil led the Indian pace attack for over a decade, there were numerous bowlers who accompanied him and Lal was one of them who formed a very good partnership with the great all-rounder.