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Kapil Dev - greatest Indian all-rounder there ever will be

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Last updated on 06 Jan 2024 | 08:45 AM
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Kapil Dev - greatest Indian all-rounder there ever will be

While Kapil Dev’s rustic charm and unsophisticated background did make him the odd one among the four elite all-rounders of the 1980s, it was his ambition that made him the first Indian cricket captain ever to win the coveted ICC World Cup

Very few players in cricket history were blessed with a body that could match their ambition and willpower; perhaps, it may have separated Kapil Dev from all his contemporaries and numerous fast-bowling lot that came after him to play cricket.

Born on January 6, 1959, in Chandigarh, Kapil Dev the athlete was pretty much a freak of nature who never missed a Test match owing to fitness issues in his 16-year-long career. And one had to be unusual to become a premier fast bowler from India, the nation that only produced world-class batters and spinners.

It is also widely believed that had Kapil Dev played in an era that didn’t have Imran Khan, Richard Hadlee, and Ian Botham, he would have been a far bigger superstar than how he turned out to be. Interestingly, he was still voted India’s Cricketer of the Century by Wisden in 2002, a time when the world had already witnessed the greatness of Sachin Tendulkar, Sunil Gavaskar, Mohinder Amarnath, and more.

While Kapil Dev’s rustic charm and unsophisticated background did make him the odd one among the four elite all-rounders of the 1980s, it was his ambition that made him the first Indian cricket captain ever to win the coveted ICC World Cup before the likes of Australia, England, New Zealand, Pakistan and more.

Kapildev Ramlal Nikhanj’s single, biggest moment in cricket history, could easily be summed up in India’s must-win match against Zimbabwe during the ‘83 World Cup. Enduring a rough patch, the unpopular captain was thrown into the crease with his team struggling at 17/5 at Tunbridge Wells. But, what was widely expected to be a repeat of India’s underwhelming outings at the 1975 and 1970 World Cup campaigns, soon became a glorious occasion.

Hitting 16 boundaries and six sixes, Kapil Dev would exhibit counter-attacking cricket at its finest to remain unbeaten on 175, a then World Cup record. India would win the match by 31 runs, but more importantly, get the momentum to beat England once and West Indies twice before going on to lift the trophy.

While Kapil Dev was never known for his consistency, he was definitely the man who could single-handedly win games on his day. There were early signs of the same as he would score India’s fastest Test fifty in just his third game against Pakistan before taking 32 scalps and tallying 278 runs in a home series against the same opponent a year later. 

After he had announced himself as India’s first proper all-rounder against Pakistan in 1980, he would make his emerging reputation concrete a year later against Australia, where his 5/28 in Melbourne won India the match from the throes of defeat. Kapil Dev’s never-give-up attitude enchanted an entire nation years before Virat Kohli made it a norm, which was on full display at the Lord’s in 1990 as the all-rounder whacked England’s Eddie Hemmings for four consecutive sixes in a losing cause.  

While cricket purists wouldn’t agree with Kapil Dev’s unorthodox methods on the field, the man never had an ounce of doubt in his ability and this inspired an entire generation. Despite not being the most lethal of bowlers of his era, he still managed to end his career with a whopping 434 Test wickets and 253 ODI wickets. He also tallied 5248 Test runs and 3783 ODI runs, which made him the only, and inarguably the greatest, all-rounder in cricket history to take 400 wickets and score over 5000 runs.

Not known for mincing his words and moreover, expressing opinions in an unabashed manner, Kapil Dev has never been popular with the BCCI. His poor coaching stints, match-fixing allegations - that were later dropped - and joining the unauthorized Indian Cricket League in 2007 all resulted in his fall from grace at the later stage of his career.

However, he still rules the masses for his ability to both criticize and take criticism in equal measures. This trait could be perfectly summed up by his statement while receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014 at the House of Lords from the Indo-European Business Forum.

Kapil Dev said, “I am happy they [England] gave us [India] the game of cricket, which they can't play very well, and the English language, which I can't speak very well.”

Happy Birthday, Kapil Dev!

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