The greatest ODI innings I have seen was by Kapil Dev against Zimbabwe at Tunbridge Wells in the 1983 World Cup. His 175 not out has since been bettered statistically several times over. Why, three Indians--Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and Rohit Sharma (twice)--have hit even double centuries. But the sheer derring-do with which Kapil hit India out of a deep crisis and won the match remains unsurpassed.
Consider the circumstances when he went in to bat. India were reeling at 9 for 4, having lost Gavaskar, Srikkanth, Amarnath and Sandeep Patil in quick succession. Yashpal Sharma was the fifth batsman to fall and the score was just 17. If there was even a soul at the quaint Tunbridge Wells ground who believed at that point in time that India could win the match, he was either a seer or a liar.
I recall entering the ground just when the fourth wicket fell. I had missed an earlier train from London, which didn't seem like a major issue then because Zimbabwe was a minnow side. Though they had beaten Australia earlier in the tournament, surely India would be too good for them.
Just as well perhaps I reached when I did. The collapse of the top order may have been too severe on the nerves. Now, suddenly, India looked to be in danger of not only losing the match, but also making an early exit from the tournament.
The dressing rooms were on the way to a tent that served as the 'press box' and I happened to meet Gundappa Vishwanath, the great stylist from Karnataka, unfortunately not part of the team for this tournament, standing just outside the Indian enclosure.
Not quite sure why there was such a buzz around the ground, I asked Vishy whether I had missed something important. "Everything's fine, it will be okay,'' he replied. When my eyes moved to the scoreboard, I realized that Vishy was either an incorrigible optimist or deserving of an Oscar for brilliant, understated acting.
Thinking that the Indian inning would not last much longer, I stood with Vishy to watch the proceedings. India had been caught on a drying pitch, Zimbabwe had some fine seam bowlers in Curren, Rawson and Fletcher (yes, the same Duncan who is now coach of the Indian team), and the result seemed foregone. It was only a matter of time.
Then began the transformation of the match. At first a little slowly, but after a while with such frenetic and brutal strokeplay from Kapil Dev that everybody was left nonplussed, not the least the Zimbabwe players.
By the time Roger Binny was dismissed at 77, having added 60 runs with Kapil, it was becoming clear that we were watching something special. Vishwanath returned to the dressing room and I quickly found myself a place in the press tent, notebook out, pen in hand, jotting down the highlights.
Two more wickets fell before Kapil found a stable partner in Syed Kirmani, the doughty wicket-keeper whose unorthodox technique frustrated the Zimbabwe bowlers who thought he was easy picking. By this time, Kapil had mastered the conditions and the attack.
For the next couple of hours, there was mayhem as he tore into the bowling, hitting fast, medium and slow stuff at will, and all over the park. The bat seemed to have no edges, was all middle and even the mishits were flying to the fence or beyond--such was the power and range of his strokes.
In Kirmani, Kapil found a solid and astute partner, somebody who was perfectly happy playing second fiddle, not trying to upstage his partner. Not that this was possible, considering the manner of the Indian captain's assault!
Kapil's counter-attack electrified the spectators. Tunbridge Wells was a small county ground seating barely a few thousand. But once they saw his never-say-die effort, even the fuddy-duddies in the stands became as raucous as teenagers on a night out on the tiles, guzzling down champagne, cheering on Kapil for another boundary or six.
Bald statistics make clear the brilliance and brutality of Kapil Dev's batting that day: His 175 came off just 138 deliveries and included 16 fours and six sixes. The partnership with Kirmani was unbeaten by the time the 60 overs had been completed. They had added 126, of which Kirmani's share was a mere 26. Astoundingly, Kapil alone had scored almost two-thirds of India's 262 score.
Astonishing as these numbers are, yet this is not the reason why I rate Kapil's 175 as the greatest ODI knock still. Rather, it has to do with the fact that he was not a top order batsman, and yet overcame a difficulty quotient that would have daunted even the best.
Moreover, Kapil's innings not only changed the fortune of this match and the tournament, but also the future of cricket as India's win in the 1983 World Cup redefined the power matrix of the sport.
The only tragic irony to this event was that there is no television footage of the innings, nor even radio commentary available because the BBC had gone on strike that day.
Which is why I consider myself eternally blessed. I was there.
Ayaz Memon will write an exclusive blog series for HuffPost India through the World Cup.