17 for 5? No, you read that wrong. It's 175
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20 Greatest ODIs: No. 13

The World Cup classic no one saw

Few witnessed Kapil Dev's demolition of Zimbabwe in 1983, but that only added to the magic of the now storied innings

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan  |  

India vs Zimbabwe, World Cup, Tunbridge Wells 1983

India won by 31 runs

Kapil Dev played not one but two astonishing innings inside three months in 1983: the first in Berbice, Guyana, against arguably the greatest team; the second in Tunbridge Wells, England, against arguably the greatest odds.

In March of that year, he smoked a 38-ball 72 against West Indies on their home patch - in an era when batters were content taking 38 in 72 balls against that side. About 13,000 saw this act of controlled violence, "the majority of East Indian descent and strongly favoring the visitors," as per the West Indies Cricket Annual. The top order had galloped to 93 in 20 overs. Kapil promoted himself to No. 4 and took apart the part-time offspin of Viv Richards and Larry Gomes. His three sixes and seven fours propelled India to 282, the highest total against West Indies in a one-dayer then. It helped set up their first one-day win against West Indies - the first of three remarkable victories against that great team in a span of three months.

This Kapil innings is largely forgotten. There are no vivid photographs from the bludgeoning in Berbice, no lengthy testimony from spectators and opponents, no detailed anecdotes from team-mates. 83, a movie chronicling India's World Cup win, ignores this match altogether. Indians don't make a pilgrimage to Albion Sports Complex, seeking out the magic of 1983. And no footage from this match has made its way onto the interwebs, nothing to give us a glimpse of India's line-up smashing Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Malcolm Marshall, Winston Davies and the spinners to the tune of six runs an over.

Three months on, in a pivotal game against Zimbabwe at the World Cup, Kapil walked into the rubble of 9 for 4, soon to be 17 for 5, and concocted 175 not out. An estimated 10,000 were present, and thanks to some of them, and a handful of reporters, we have details of what on earth transpired that day. No video exists from this game; the BBC chose to cover Australia vs West Indies at Lord's instead.

Eyewitnesses remember the ball thudding into the hoardings and some aerial hits scattering spectators in the marquees. "Even the fuddy-duddies in the stands became as raucous as teenagers on a night out," journalist Ayaz Memon wrote

This Kapil innings will never be forgotten. The lack of footage has only enhanced its aura - for the sight of Kapil blasting errant Zimbabwe bowling to various parts of a small ground might ruin a perfect fantasy. Every team-mate has a story about this innings - where they sat, what they were doing, how K Srikkanth was barred from getting up to relieve his bladder, how team-mates, fearing Kapil's wrath, emptied the dressing room at the break, when India were 106 for 7. Spectators have recalled sixes raining on the hospitality marquees, and one that cleared the clubhouse to land in the garden of a nearby house. The chief cricket correspondent of the Times of India, KN Prabhu, chose to stay in London for the West Indies game. He conveyed his shock to his readers with an opening that compared Kapil's innings to seeing the Light Brigade in action during the Crimean War in Balaclava.

The preeminent cricket photographer Patrick Eagar also picked London over Tunbridge Wells. He passed on a tip to his assistant, Jan Traylen who rode his Honda 404, with camera and gear strapped to the side, to Tunbridge Wells. "Patrick told me, 'It's quite pretty down there. The rhododendrons will possibly be out.' And what a sight they made!" The shocking-pink thickets outlining parts of the ground lent an ethereal quality to Traylen's stills. "I don't think I changed my position much that day," he said. "The background is so important for photographers. And those rhododendrons were so attractive."

Kapil's innings ran on three gears: watchful against seam, a flurry in the middle, and a rampage to finish. Roger Binny says Kapil didn't hit a single boundary in their 60-run stand for the seventh wicket, instead nudging singles and twos to the long boundary. Kapil's half-century came off in 72 balls. After the lunch break, he raised the tempo, racing to his hundred off an even 100 balls. Eyewitnesses remember the ball thudding into the hoardings and some aerial hits scattering spectators in the marquees. "Even the fuddy-duddies in the stands became as raucous as teenagers on a night out," wrote veteran journalist Ayaz Memon in a piece recalling the game.

A handful of fans mob Kapil Dev after his blitzkrieg

A handful of fans mob Kapil Dev after his blitzkrieg Trevor Jones / © Allsport/Getty Images

His final 38 balls raised 75. This was after Kapil had swapped his Slazenger V12 for the Slazenger WG: a shoulderless bat that some big hitters brandished in the early 1980s. Lance Cairns used one to ransack a 21-ball fifty against Australia at the MCG four months earlier in an innings that, like Kapil's, was dotted with six towering sixes. When Kapil passed 171, umpire Barry Meyer told him it was the highest score made in a one-dayer. No other batter crossed 25 in India's total of 266 for 8. It would be 27 years before a ninth-wicket stand added more than 126, as Kapil did with Syed Kirmani; 16 years before an Indian made more than 175.

India's bowlers and fielders resisted Zimbabwe's spirited chase. Madan Lal hit the stumps from the square boundary, Kapil grabbed a one-hander at gully to dismiss Duncan Fletcher, and despite Kevin Curran's 73, India prevailed by 31 runs. Two days later they trounced Australia, then outplayed the hosts England in the semi-final, and, after crumbling for 183 against the great West Indies at Lord's, against odds of 100-1 at the innings break, they won the World Cup. Many considered it cricket's greatest upset. Forty years on, we await a worthy challenger.

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is a writer and editor based in Seattle. He hosts the 81allout podcast and is the co-founder of 81allout Publishing