For long before he actually arrived on the scene, India had been yearning for a cricketer like him — a long and seemingly endless wait that began afresh the moment he stepped off the stage.
That itself should give anyone a fair idea about what Kapil Dev means to Indian cricket. A tall, strongly built man, he rose like a hurricane from Chandigarh and blew like a blizzard across the cricketing world, leaving records and notions shattered in his wake.
To begin with, his arrival convinced the world that India was capable of producing a genuinely quick bowler. His arrival and the youngsters he inspired to take up fast bowling ensured that India would never again endure the embarrassment of throwing the brand new ball to their spinners.
Then came 1983, when he led the team to India’s only World Cup triumph. The event saw the young Indian skipper at his best; he hardly put a foot wrong and emerged as one of the leading all-rounders of all time.
He hit another high when he overtook Sir Richard Hadlee to become the highest wicket-taker in Test cricket before being named the Indian Cricketer of the Century at the turn of the millennium.
In the midst of many sublime moments, the legendary cricketer also had his share of lows, the worst being seeing his name smeared in the mud of the match-fixing scandal.
This proved too much to handle for even the indomitable Kapil — he broke down completely and cried inconsolably in front of TV cameras, for all the world to see.
It made for shocking viewing — and those who watched moved between calling it a vindication of his innocence to one of the great staged dramas.
Well, despite that, the image that remains in the collective consciousness of fans across the globe is not the picture of that crestfallen Kapil, but that of the joyous, triumphant man lifting the world’s most coveted prize.
When one thinks of the most enduring and influential moments in the history of Indian cricket, the events of that momentous year, 1983, are foremost in the mind’s eye.
As is Kapil Dev, the creator of those magic moments — be it with his stunning unbeaten 175 against Zimbabwe, his superb catch to dismiss Viv Richards in the final, or just his enthusiastic command of his team.
Even though nearly 24 years have gone by, those feats and the memory of that charismatic young Kapil have withstood the savage ravages of time. It was a changing India then and led by a restless and fearless young leader in Kapil Dev, they rewrote the course that Indian cricket would chart from there on.
Kapil’s allround ability, his uninhibited approach and inspirational leadership combined to create a magic cocktail that also had cricketing pundits agreeing an Indian summer in England would have been impossible without his talismanic presence.
Obviously, his batting, bowling and fielding were vital in that triumph, but of equal importance was the self-belief he instilled in the side. “My philosophy is simple. Play to win. Get your runs and wickets. Never stop trying. Hit the ball over the slips, over the ropes, runs on the board count…,” wrote Kapil in his autobiography, By God’s Decree, giving an insight into his simple but highly effective approach to the game.
And like all great leaders, he walked his talk and led by example. Kapil remained unruffled facing even the biggest crises, as was evident in his unbeaten 175 against Zimbabwe after India were reeling at 17 for five.
His fighting spirit infused a sense of self-belief in the team, which, at best, was thinking of making it to the quarters. Members of that squad still talk about how their captain forced them to believe they had what it took, gave them the confidence to believe they had what it takes to become world-beaters.
Kapil’s contribution in scripting the golden chapter of Indian cricket goes far beyond the number of runs he scored or wickets he claimed, although his best ODI performances with bat and ball (175*, 5/43) came in this event.
He did lead India to the semis of the 1987 Reliance World Cup, but it wasn’t the Kapil one had seen four years earlier. No wonder India failed to conjure up the same magic.
Nonetheless, Kapil had shone brilliantly enough in 1983 to deserve pride of place amongst the best gladiators of the World Cup. And but for those magic Kapil moments, the story of the World Cup would certainly have not been the same.