He slithered across the ground in preparation of his final leap that helped him to a perfect side-on position. Once in the air, his back arched like a bow and the body went through a cartwheel motion that culminated in the release of the ball from his right hand.
The ball swung in the air, caught the batsman unawares and forced him to commit an error. The crowds screamed full-throated, appealing in unison with the bowler. The umpire raised his finger. Kapil Dev had taken yet another wicket.
India, the land of snake charmers and of tricky, crafty spinners, had won one more Test match on the strength of pace.
Kapil, a strapping, lithe young man from the land of the Five Rivers (Punjab) had arrived unannounced in the late Seventies and by the time he was just one-year old in international cricket, the face of Indian cricket had been transformed.
The great spin era — marked by the guiles of Bedi, Chandrashekhar, Prasanna and Venkat — was on the wane and there was a vacuum in Indian cricket.
Kapil was to fill the void with great verve, strength and skill and in altogether contrasting manner. Unlike the slow, teasing stuff that the spinners were masters of, Kapil bowled quick, moved the ball and became a match-winner.
Indian cricket had seen nothing like this before and they had to go back in decades, to 1936, to find an example of an Indian fast bowler making waves in international cricket.
One had heard stories of how Mohammed Nissar and Amar Singh had rattled the Englishmen in India’s Test debut in England in 1936. But they were mere stories for people like us, whose heroes were magicians like Subhash Gupte, VV Kumar, Salim Durrani, Bapu Nadkarni and then Bedi, Pras, Chandra and Venki.
Before Kapil’s advent, Indian cricket was a story of how the fielders would slide the new ball on the ground instead of throwing it to the bowlers at their run-up, so that it would lose its shine quickly.
That would allow skipper Tiger Pataudi — who realised that in absence of quality pace if India had to survive in world cricket with dignity — get his spinners quickly into action.
This practice continued for almost two decades before Kapil came and changed it all.
No one still is sure how the phenomenon of Kapil happened. He surely was not the product of a system. His own hard work, a natural athletic frame and one-dimensional focus made Kapil what he was.
And with Kapil’s coming, the Indian mind-set changed.
The land of spinners suddenly saw spinners disappear from the scene and many a budding fast bowlers started making their presence felt.
The Kapil effect started showing results when the man himself was in the twilight of his career. Ironically, a young man for whom the master of swing was once an idol was challenging Kapil’s very presence in the team.
Javagal Srinath lacked the litheness and fluidity of Kapil but the strong man from Bangalore had the strength and the height to bowl faster than the Master, and also the ability to produce disconcerting bounce even on lifeless tracks.
The steep bounce combined with his sharp incutters to make Srinath a worthy replacement for Kapil.
Srinath was soon joined by his statemate Venkatesh Prasad and for a few years the two became India’s best-known pair of fast bowlers after Nissar and Amar Singh.
The revolution started by Kapil is now churning out fast bowlers by the dozen and now the time has come that India has more youngsters trying to become quick bowlers and less trying to emulate a Bedi or a Prasanna.
So much so that at the moment it does seem that India is plagued with an embarrassment of riches, though none of the present crop of bowlers has shown the potential of a Kapil or a Srinath. One man who did show the promise to carry the baton forward was Zaheer Khan.
But sadly, the man got caught in between the glamorous, commercial world of cricket stardom and the political intrigue of the men in power.
Khan’s performance in English county cricket is heartening and if he can shed some kilos and make himself match-fit again, he won’t be lost to Indian cricket yet.
The story of Indian fast bowling is now the story of how young, committed, focussed men from small towns and villages are striving to play for India, as is evident from the history of all those who are now part of the Indian team.
The Pathans, the Munafs, the Sreesanths and the RP Singhs are not the product of the main urban cricket centres and that is a story in itself. It shouldn’t be long before India finds itself having in their midst someone of the pace of a Dennis Lillee, a Jeff Thomson or a Michael Holding.
The day that happens, India could realistically dream of becoming the Number One team in the world.