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From CK To VK. Indian Skippers In England- Part 10

As we inch closer towards the end of the series, we get to see names that are more popular to my generation. In Part 10 of the series- From CK To VK. Indian Skippers In England, we are talking none other than the Haryana Hurricane, the most complete Cricketer India has produced – Kapil Dev Nikhanj. It was as though, nature had created this specimen with the sole objective of making a cricketer.

Kapil Dev
Kapil Dev in his stride

During his playing days, Kapil was only second to Sir Garry Sobers in terms of excelling in all the departments of the game. I am sure that many would vociferously counter my claim, but there are solid reasons behind it. Kapil did play in the same era as Imran Khan, Sir Ian Botham, and Sir Richard Hadlee.

Imran was by far the best batsman of the three. Bowling prowess was nearly equal with all the four, but Imran and Botham were clumsy fielders, were unfit to play a good number of test matches in succession. Hadlee’s batting performances were extremely sporadic in nature. Besides, Hadlee chose to miss series in the subcontinent a lot too, where his bowling would not have been as effective. But Kapil was always a free-flowing batsman, a wicket-taking bowler, and one of the best fielders the game has ever seen. And this was throughout his career.

The 1986 squad Kapil led to England was in an upbeat mindset. India had lost badly to England in the home series in 1984-85. They had bounced back and recovered well enough to win the Benson and Hedges World championship in 1985. In the 1984-85 series, India had discovered an artist who could match Gundappa Vishwanath stroke for stroke and had a voracious appetite for runs, in Md. Azharuddin.
Besides, the team had the colossal Sunil Gavaskar. Also had the ever-reliable Lord of Lord’s Dilip Vengsarkar, the man for the crises in Mohinder Amarnath, and the medium pace attack spearheaded by the captain himself, along with Roger Binny, Chetan Sharma, and Manoj Prabhakar. Ravi Shastri, Shivlal Yadav, and Maninder Singh could be entrusted the job of spin bowling.

India had broken the Lords Jinx strongly by winning the 1983 Prudential World cup, and the man in charge then was the man in charge now. And he didn’t have any notions of doing anything different this time around too.

In the first test at Lord’s Kapil won the toss and put England in. Gooch and Robinson made a solid start adding 66 runs for the first wicket, but the fall of Robinson’s wicket triggered a mini-collapse, and England were suddenly 98 for 4. At this juncture, Gooch found an able ally in Derek Pringle, and by the time Gooch fell making a fine 114, the two had taken the score to 245. Pringle too fell for 63 24 runs later, and the rest didn’t contribute much. England All-out for 294. Chetan Sharma (5 for 64 and Binny Sr. 3 for 55) were the destroyers in chief.

The Indian reply was wobbly to start with, Krish Shrikkanth fell when the score was 31, but the two senior pros, Gavaskar and Mohinder Amarnath held the fort and saw the day off taking the score to 83 without any further damages. Gavaskar fell early on the third day with his individual score on 34 and Jimmy Amarnath was joined by the Lord of the Lord’s, Dilip Vengsarkar.

At that point in time, Vengsarkar was the best batsman in the world, and at the top of the PWH rankings. And he did bat like the best. He had crucial partnerships of 71 apiece with Mohinder Amarnath and Azharuddin, and 49 with debutante Kiran More. He also had a last wicket partnership of 38 with Maninder Singh in which Maninder’s share was only 6 runs. Vengsarkar remained unbeaten on a superlative 126, and India had taken a smallish, but crucial lead of 47 runs.

England did an India of the past tours and was skittled for 180 in the second innings, Kapil taking four wickets and Maninder bagging a superb return of three wickets for only 9 runs. India had to get 134 to win, and there was ample time to get them. Yet they floundered, Gavaskar and Shrikkanth both falling when the score had just passed 30. Yet again Vengsarkar and Mohinder Amarnath had to do the rescue act.

Vengsarkar made a crucial 33, and Amarnath 8 in one and a half hour, but more importantly not losing his wicket. But both departed in quick succession with the score on 76 and 78, and then it fell on young Shastri and Azhar to steady the ship with a patient partnership of 32 runs.

When Azhar departed with the score on 110, the captain walked in in a no-nonsense mood. He finished the match in a matter of ten balls, scoring 23 with 4 fours and a towering six over midwicket off Phil Edmunds to finish the match. At last, INDIA HAD WON A TEST MATCH AT LORDS.

More joy was to come.

With the star of the first test: Chetan Sharma unfit, India had to summon the services of the golden oldie Madan Lal, who was then playing in the Lancashire league. India won the toss, elected to bat first, and with all the batsmen getting starts and making small contributions in the fashion of the piggy bank of a middle-class family, amounted to 272. Vengsarkar top scored with 61.

England never settled in their first innings. They folded up for 102, Binny taking five wickets, and SOS help Madam Lal taking 3. Out of the English batsmen, only Bill Athey scratched around for two and a quarter hour to score 34.

India batted again, started in a complacent fashion, and promptly lost their first five wickets by the time they reached 70. Yet again, it fell on “Colonel” Vengsarkar to steer the company to a safe position. He batted with the tail, and took the Indian second innings score to 237, thereby securing a total lead of 407 runs. In the process, Vengsarkar had scored his second century on the tour, again unbeaten, 102. With a daunting target of 408 runs to win, England batting again tumbled like ninepins.

Maninder Singh took 4 for 26, and England innings folded up at 128, giving India their biggest win in England, a win by 279 runs! And of course, Their first series victory in England. Tide seemed to be turning now, and the Colonials had beaten the old masters in their own backyard.

The third test was a dead rubber, as the series had already been decided. England won the toss, batted first and made 390. Mike Gatting made a dandy 183, Gower and Pringle made useful 40s. India matched the England first innings score in their first innings and after the completion of the first two innings of the match, both the teams were literally even Stevens. All the Indian batsmen pulled their weights, with Amarnath top-scoring with 79 and Azhar making 64.

England made 235 in their second innings, setting India 236 to win in 78 overs remaining. For some godforsaken reason, they chose to bat slow and could score only 174 for the loss of 5 wickets. The match was drawn, but the series won. Deservingly, Dilip Vengsarkar was named the player of the Series. He certainly knew what to do with the champagne magnum he received as his prize! 😊

The effect Kapil had on this series was mind-boggling. No centuries, no five-fors, yet he would take the crucial one or two wickets, make vital 20s and 30s at crunch situations. With him showing complete confidence in close friend Vengsarkar, who could bat freely and score heavily (Avg. 90) in the series.

He also backed his bowlers well, and all of them responded with wickets and tight bowling spells. Kapil was a man who could infect the team with his vibrant vitality and immense energy to bring out the best in them. It was the hallmark of Kapil Dev. Having had to train himself on the docile Indian pitches, grounds devoid of grass, this big-hearted man didn’t give up. Instead, he always gave his best.

He played the game wholeheartedly, always stretching himself beyond limits, and inspiring his teammates to do the same. No wonder, he was as complete a captain as the cricketer he was. He may not have been a shrewd strategist, but the brave knight, for whom his army would move mountains to win. Kapil Dev is certainly an Icon of Indian cricket.

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