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I had the best seat in the house to watch him bat:

Kapil Dev. (Getty Images)

NAGPUR: Narendra Hirwani hardly carried his kit bag during his international career. Unlike today, where the bowlers spend enough time in the nets, bowlers in the 1980s and early ’90s would hardly get to do batting practice.
“I never carried a kit bag as I knew that I wouldn’t get batting in the nets. I would borrow equipment from Azzu Bhai (Mohd Azharuddin), Sachin (Tendulkar), (Dilip) Vengsarkar or other batsmen during the match. I have never faced Kapil Paaji, Manoj (Prabhakar), Ravi (Shastri) Bhai or Sanjeev Sharma in the nets. Even the likes of Kiran More (former Indian wicketkeeper) would do knocking more often than not instead of batting in the nets,” Hirwani told TOI.
Exactly 30 year ago, when Hirwani walked through the long room of Lord’s, India needed 24 runs to save the follow on in the first Test of their England tour. Not many would have given India any chance. By his own admission, even Hirwani didn’t think India would reach 454, the follow-on mark.
What followed stunned the cricketing world. Legendary allrounder Kapil Dev hit four successive sixes off Eddie Hemmings to save the follow-on on July 30, 1990. England had scored a mammoth 653 in their first innings, thanks to Graham Gooch’s 333.
When India lost their ninth wicket at 430, the first task for Hirwani was to avoid that last ball of pacer Angus Fraser. “Khade Rehna (stay there)!” were the only two words Kapil spoke to Hirwani. The leg-spinner successfully negotiated the last ball and it was over to Kapil to take centre-stage.
“I knew Kapil paaji would take the chance but I never thought he would finish it off in just one over. I had the best seat in the house to watch him bat. To score 24 runs in one over isn’t easy even today. He did that in those days and that too in a pressure situation,” the former India leg-spinner said.
“Had it been six or seven down, Paaji wouldn’t have taken his chances. He got mentally relaxed when I came to bat knowing he had nothing to lose. He knew if India were to score 24 runs, I would have to face some balls and there was more chance of me getting out. Luckily, Hemmings came to bowl. Paaji always loved facing off-spinners as he had an amazing bat swing,” Hirwani said.
Hirwani said it was natural for Hemmings to lure Kapil to go after him with a hope of getting him out. “The kind of action he had, Hemmings would often provide some air. So, if somebody would want to go after him, he could do that. Hemmings took his chances and tossed up the ball after all he had 24 runs to play with,” Hirwani said.
“I remember, Paaji had blocked the first two balls of the over. Hemmings tossed up the next two balls with a hope that Paaji would mis-hit at least one of them. He thought how many would Paaji hit? However, after being hit for two sixes, Hemmings got under pressure and fed Paaji right in his area. Paaji then hit the next two sixes standing at the crease. There was a fielder in the deep but all four balls landed way beyond the boundary,” he said.
In the next over, Fraser trapped Hirwani in front off the very first ball. However, by then, the job had been done. In those tough moments even with a deficit of 199, Kapil gave his teammates something to cherish.
“It suddenly charged all of us. Though we lost that Test, Paaji gave us that winning feeling even if it had lasted for a brief period. Remember, it requires fearlessness and large-heartedness to play that kind of innings. Paaji was like that only…it came naturally to him and that’s why he could do those things under pressure,” said Hirwani.
As Kapil’s former captain Sunil Gavaskar rightly said in the commentary after the fourth six, “Only Kapil could have done that.”

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