Throughout the 1980s the fast bowling responsibility for India was on one man’s shoulder. He kept bowling tirelessly with all his heart in most unfavourable conditions to provide the best results for India. This man was Kapil Dev, India’s greatest all-rounder and also India’s first World Cup winning captain.
Like Sachin Tendulkar, Kapil also started his test career in Pakistan. The year was 1978, Kapil as a 19-year old made his debut in the 1st test of the series at Faisalabad. The test match ended in a draw but young Kapil got noticed for his pace, as in those days hardly any Indian bowler would come with good pace and bounce. He also found his first test wicket in Pakistani opener, Sadiq Mohammad.
Slowly, Kapil Dev became India’s biggest threat in both home and away. Although he was not part of 1979 World Cup, he played all of India’s test matches from 1978 to 1984 till he was dropped controversially from the Eden Test match against England for playing an irresponsible shot in the previous test. He returned in the next test match and kept playing for India. During which he broke many Indian records and became the first Indian bowler to take 300 test wickets. Then he went further to reach the 400 wicket milestone in the Perth test during the 1991-92 Australia tour. He was only the second person after New Zealand’s Sir Richard Hadlee to obtain this feat. Hadlee already retired with 431 wickets but Kapil kept playing. Although he was not as threatening but provided good support with his experience to youngsters like Javagal Srinath who made his debut during the Australia tour. Kapil kept picking up wickets and by the time Sri Lankan team came to India to play a 3-test series, Kapil were standing at 425 wickets.
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It was a disastrous tour for Sri Lanka where they lost all 3 test matches, each by an innings. Indian spinners were the main destroyer and the trio Kumble-Raju-Chauhan took most of the wickets. Kapil took only one wicket in the first test at Lucknow. In a slightly favourable condition in Bangalore, Kapil and Prabhakar bowled 41 overs out of the total 58 overs in Sri Lanka’s innings and shared 7 wickets between them. Kapil ended with 3 wickets and only two away from the world record. Although it was demolishing act for the spinners in the second innings, Kapil managed to get last two Sri Lankan wickets to touch the world record of 431. It was told that when only the last wicket was pending Anil Kumble tried to bowl slightly outside to make sure the Sri Lankan batsmen were not out. An incident which would reappear again in 5 years time when on 7th Feb 1999. This time Srinath was doing the same after the fall of 9th Pakistani wicket to get Kumble his 10th wicket of the match.
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Kapil touched 431 by getting Sri Lankan spinner Don Anurasiri caught by the Captain Mohammad Azharuddin. The whole nation was excited and held their breath until the next test match. The third test match was scheduled in the Motera stadium in Ahmedabad, a ground which incidentally was also the witness of Sunil Gavaskar becoming the first person to reach 10,000 run landmark in test cricket.
The third test started on 8th February 1994. Azhar on his 31st birthday lost the toss and Arjuna Ranatunga decided to bat first. For Sri Lanka, experienced Roshan Mahanama and Dulip Samaraweera came out to bat. With 34 runs on the board, Sri Lanka lost their first wicket. Mahanama was leg before wicket by Kumble. This brought left-handed Hashan Tillakaratne to the crease. Just after one hour of play, at 10:34 am the moment came. Tillakaratne played a ball tentatively in the front and the ball took an inside edge and went to Sanjay Manjarekar in the short leg who did not make a mistake. With this Kapil Dev grabbed the world record. All the Indian players and fans were ecstatic. There were 432 balloons and a minute’s standing ovation in the ground, a special song was played in the national television channel and people started congratulating his wife and other family members. India wrapped up the test match easily with Raju and Chauhan sharing 17 wickets between them.
The world record changed hand quite a few times since then. West India pace spearhead Courtney Walsh broke Kapil’s record, which was later broken by Shane Warne and finally Muralitharan. Murali is the current top of the list after retiring with exactly 800 test wickets by taking the last wicket of his last match.