Which is the greatest innings played by an Indian in limited overs cricket? On the face of it this would be a difficult question to answer for in the last two decades in particular outstanding Indian batsmen like Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Virender Sehwag, MS Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh have come up with knocks that beggar description.
Sehwag in fact has hit the highest score – 219 – in ODIs and this is followed by Tendulkar’s 200 not out, the first time a double hundred was notched up in ODI history.
Yuvraj has played some magnificent innings and who can forget Ganguly’s murderous assault on the Sri Lankan bowling in the 1999 World Cup when he went on to hammer 183. Nor can one forget Dhoni’s 183 not out against Sri Lanka in 2005.
So is it that difficult to zero in down on just one knock and call it the greatest by an Indian in limited overs cricket? For me it is far from difficult.
As far as I am concerned there can be only one innings to fit the description and this was played exactly 30 years ago on June 18 1983.
Kapil Dev’s 175 not out against Zimbabwe at Tunbridge Wells during the third World Cup is of course part of cricketing folklore. Everyone knows about it, those old enough to recall the days of Merchant and Hazare and those young enough to have Dhoni and Kohli as their heroes. Over three decades it has lost none of the lustre that first surrounded it. There have been bigger knocks as I have pointed out but that one knock stands out like no other can.
Kapil’s knock was huge as far as numbers are concerned - so huge that even now after more than 3000 ODIs have been played since that memorable day it still figures in the top 20.
But size is not the only element in its greatness. It is unique for several other reasons. It earned a new respect for Indian cricket. From that moment on it was clear that India had arrived on the world stage in a big way and could not be treated lightly any more.
It revived a faltering campaign so vigorously that a week later India shocked West Indies to win the World Cup. It gave a new fillip to limited overs cricket which was still looked upon as a poor cousin of Test cricket in this country.
The background may be well known but it is always a pleasure to recount it as well as the events of that memorable afternoon. India had entered the World Cup as 66 to one outsiders not surprisingly because they had won only one of six matches in two such competitions so far – and that against East Africa.
But they started off with a sensational victory over two time champion West Indies handing the first ever defeat in the World Cup to the Caribbean side. Getting the better of Zimbabwe – who themselves had shocked Australia in their opening fixture – made it two out of two. So far so good but then the Indians faltered losing first to Australia and then to West Indies. The campaign seemed to have ground to a halt when India were nine for four in the 10th over against Zimbabwe. Kapil entered at this stage and soon it was 17 for five in the 13th over.
Far from being overawed by the grim situation the captain mixed caution with aggression, brought up his 50 but at lunch with the score 106 for seven there was still lot of work to be done if India were to post some sort of competitive, challenging target for Zimbabwe.
After the interval Kapil just let himself go and suddenly the crowd became aware that they were watching one of the very great innings. At 140 for eight Syed Kirmani joined Kapil and while the wicket keeper was content to play the supporting role to his captain on his great day Kapil blazed forth with scintillating strokes all round the wicket and played the lofted shots with ease.
By the time the 60th over was completed India were at 266 for eight with Kapil 175 not out – then the highest score ever in an ODI. He hit 16 fours and six sixes. It was incidentally the first hundred by an Indian in an ODI and remained Kapil’s only three figure score in limited overs internationals.
This kind of turnaround would have knocked the wind out of most opponents’ sails but to their credit Zimbabwe fought before being dismissed for 235 in 57 overs. That in itself puts Kapil’s knock in the proper perspective. Two days later India defeated Australia by 118 runs to qualify for the semifinals.
Here they pulled off a shock win over hot favourites England by seven wickets and as everyone even remotely connected with Indian cricket knows on June 25 1983 India were crowned world champions defeating West Indies by 43 runs.
Yes, there is little doubt that Sehwag and Tendulkar deserve full credit for their double hundreds. Tendulkar too has a 175 against Australia which was undoubtedly a great innings.
Equally great has been his twin hundreds against Australia at Sharjah during the victorious campaign in 1998. Many great knocks have been played by Ganguly, Yuvraj, Dhoni and whoever else you care to name. But for the accolade of the greatest there can be only one name, one venue and one innings.