June 25, 1983: Indian cricket's greatest moment has also been a giant shadow looming over every Indian World Cup campaign since. Every four years when the World Cup comes by, nostalgia takes over. Images of Kapil Dev sprinting to take the catch that changed the course of cricketing history are replayed again and again. We rewind to stories of how a team of no-hopers conquered the summit of the game. The truth is, wondrous though the '83 triumph was, it's time to shake off the past. Indian cricket, and India, have changed remarkably over the last 28 years and only by focusing on the present can we once again land cricket's biggest prize.
Let's start with the cricket first. In 1983, Indian cricket was still short of self-belief. Yes, we'd registered the occasional triumph in England and West Indies, most notably in 1971, but for the main part we were a country that preferred to play for the ‘honourable' draw rather than push for victory. One-day cricket, with the premium on big hitting, fitness and fielding, was even more alien to our cricket culture. Gavaskar's 36 not out in 60 overs in the inaugural World Cup was symbolic of a team uneasy with the idea of limited overs cricket.
Kapil Dev, in a sense, came to represent the new world. We won in 1983 because Kapil Dev unshackled cricket from the timidity of the past. His enthusiasm and attacking style were infectious: suddenly, Indian cricket was possessed of a number of players who were ready to play the game in the fast lane, including Krish Srikkanth who opened the batting like a Chennai auto driver in peak traffic.
Twenty-eight years later, that aggressive spirit infuses every member of this Indian squad. What was a sparkle in 1983 is now a raging inferno that spreads from Sachin and Sehwag at the top through the team. In '83, defeating the mighty West Indians was a major surprise. Within six months, the bruised Windies crushed us in home conditions. Today, Dhoni's team are the number one Test team in the world, have won a 20-20 World Cup, are possessed of India's finest ever batsman and have shown the ability to win in all conditions.
In 1983, we didn't expect to win, now we are favourites. Much of that has to do with the changing economics and social demography of the sport. A Yusuf Pathan will earn in one season of the IPL what the '83 team would have struggled to make collectively in an entire career. Big money can quickly turn the head, but in a strange way it can also build self-esteem. In the 1980s, Indian cricketers needed to go and play in English county cricket to earn a decent wage. Now, overseas players are desperate for a slice of the IPL action to make a quick buck. India is the capital of global cricket and that elevated status has brought a measure of self-confidence noticeable in the new young Indian cricketer.
The demographic transition is even more interesting. In 1983, the Indian team had only two players — Kapil and Yashpal — who came from non-traditional cricket centres. In Dhoni's team, there are as many as nine players, including the captain, who perhaps could be called ‘small town' boys. Places like Ranchi, Jalandhar, Shrirampur, Ikhar, breed a certain fire in the belly. Jalandhar-born Harbhajan, who perhaps best exemplifies the never-say die spirit, was once quoted as saying: "If you've dodged the traffic in my town, then handling a McGrath bouncer is no problem!"
It's not just the cricket which has been transformed, so has the country. In 1983, we were a country struggling to grow at a 3.5% 'Hindu' rate of growth. Slow growth rate and few employment opportunities instilled a certain inferiority complex in the minds of the average Indian. Today, an 8% growth rate has created the basis for an aspirational society where managing rising expectations is the biggest challenge.
In 1983, the idea of India was under strain. The north-east was in foment, Punjab was facing a separatist threat, communal riots were undermining social peace. In 2011, despite fresh challenges posed by Maoist violence and terrorism, the fact is that the Indian state has shown the resilience to hold together and rise above divisive tendencies.
What does this have to do with sporting success? In a strange way, it does. Sport often mirrors society. For a long time, when we were a slow growth, protectionist, inward-looking society, it reflected in the way we played our sport. We never measured up to world standards because we were not expected to. As we became more market-friendly, stable and dynamic, we began to throw up sporting icons who could compete with the best in the world.
Just contrast our cricketing fortunes with neighbouring Pakistan. While we have climbed to the top, Pakistani cricket, despite brimming with talent, has slid into chaos and controversy. When you cannot play an international cricket match in your country for fear of a terrorist strike, then it is bound to affect the team's performance. A nation needs internal stability to move ahead, so does a world class cricket team.
Post-script: My World Cup dream remains of an India-Pakistan final in Mumbai with Sachin Tendulkar scoring a hundred to take India to victory. Can't think of a better way to celebrate a rising India.
Rajdeep Sardesai is Editor-in-Chief, IBN 18 Network. The views expressed by the author are personal.