By Yajurvindra Singh

Born in a timber merchant’s family on January 6, 1959, little in his early life would have prepared Kapil Dev for the path he chose. But the larger question was whether India was ready for him

Kapil Dev Nikhanj was a cricketer par excellence. His achievements on the field led to two distinct and significant legacies in Indian cricket. The first was that an Indian could be one of the best pace bowlers in the world. The second was that an Indian cricketer could have both the mental resolve and physical strength to compete at the highest level. On top of that, Kapil’s carefree attitude and his immense and varied skills made him one of the all-time greats of the game.

The world is aware of Kapil’s achievements and accomplishments. But the road towards his success and the legacy he left behind is what makes his accomplishments truly admirable.

For me, my destiny of playing with and against Kapil Dev has been unforgettable. He was a teammate with a “bindaas” attitude, and one without any nerves or worries. He was fitness personified — tall, lean, agile — always ready to bowl long spells on the field and even during practice.

His run-up to the wicket, and his body twist-jumping before he released the ball, had that mighty spring of a warrior ready to pierce his opponent. Kapil made the ball at the last yard dart and weave in and out at a scorching pace, very much like an unpredictable weather phenomenon — which is what earned him the sobriquet of Haryana Hurricane.

Kapil Dev’s rhythmic bowling run-up was a sight to behold.

Kapil was also an accomplished batsman whose instinct was to attack. Before an opposing captain realised it, Kapil had notched up valuable runs with some mighty hits. This is what made him lethal. When one looks back at his batting performances — not just from the lens of numbers and averages but through sheer quality and importance of his innings — Kapil, as Sunil Gavaskar has rightly said, could have played for India purely as a batter.

For cricket connoisseurs, critics, fans and followers, the real superstars have always been fast bowling all-rounders. This breed is looked upon as cricket’s special heroes. Legends such as Garry Sobers, Imran Khan, Ian Botham, Richard Hadlee, Keith Miller, Mike Proctor and Clive Rice were all admired.

They were all the poster boys of world cricket, and India finally got one as well — in Kapil Dev. His arrival to the scene in 1978 set the ball rolling, and his feats soon became the milestones that every budding cricketer in India wanted to achieve or emulate. He broke the myth that Indians cannot bowl fast, cannot be fiery and fearsome, and, most importantly, be at the very top in batting, bowling, and fielding.

India till then were basking in batting in the conventional style, which proved to be successful with the likes of Vijay Merchant, Vijay Hazare and particularly Sunil Gavaskar. The bowling revolved around the famous spin quartet of Bishan Bedi, Erapalli Prasanna, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar and S Venkataraghavan.

But the bowling attack was on the ebb in the mid-1970s. The spin quartet was ageing, and with the lack of pace-bowling options, India were not a potent threat to most sides. Still, the thought of a genuine fast bowling all-rounder had never crossed the mind till Kapil burst onto the scene.

The 1983 World Cup win in England was the epitomic moment for Indian cricket. It led to a cultural change in the way young cricketers from India started to imagine their futures. Kapil became the hero, and kids everywhere wanted to bowl as fast as and bat as fluently as him. It was no surprise then that India would soon get a small arsenal of pace-bowling options, and notch up victories in the World Series in Australia in 1985, and beat England in England in 1986.

On February 8, 1994, Kapil created history. He broke Sir Richard Hadlee’s record to become the highest wicket-taker in Test cricket by taking his 432nd wicket. That an Indian fast bowler had done this —playing a majority of his cricket on slow wickets in hot weather at home — was an incredible feat.

Today, India boasts of the best pace bowling attack in the world, with a cupboard full of fast bowlers to choose from. It may be 44 years after Kapil made his debut, but the seeds of this phenomenon can be attributed to the Haryana giant. He would go on to be chosen by Wisden as the Indian Cricketer of the Century. It was the right call — for a truly gritty, passionate, never-say-die cricketer like no other.

(Yajurvindra Singh is a former Indian cricketer who played four Tests from 1977 to 1979)

1971 - 1988