It’s been a long time since we won the World Cup, over 23 years. But till date, people I meet ask me about 1983, about how it felt and tell me their own memories of that time. Someone was seven years old, someone was 17, someone was 37… everyone has a memory. This is my memory of then, a time when life was made and in a sense, when life began.
Let me take you back to the time when the squad was first named. I thought it a good allround one, compared to those of the first two Cups. We had a new young captain who had hardly been around for four months. Kapil had been first appointed captain for the earlier tour of the Windies and had a lot of enthusiasm.
Yet, to be very honest, when it was announced, I thought we would just be making another appearance at the Cup, registering our presence. No one really believed that we could win, much less that we would win.
The turning point was probably when we beat the West Indies during the league phase in Manchester. It was then that we non-believers started believing.
There are so many never-to-be-forgotten moments and Tunbridge Wells, June 18, was definitely one. We were 17 for five and in the dressing room, there was an atmosphere of disbelief, we were all wondering how we could perform so badly against Zimbabwe. The wicket had something in it, there was some moisture, the ball was really seaming. Still, we were shell-shocked, very disappointed with ourselves. We had beaten the West Indies, beaten Zimbabwe in an earlier game and though we had lost to Australia, we were still playing well.
And then Kapil went out to bat. And batted in a way I have seldom seen anyone bat and we started breathing again.
I think being captain, it was important for him to do well but I don’t think he thought of being captain or anything once he went out to the middle. He just played as he always played, freely, hitting the ball to all ends of the ground, along it and over. When he hit it, it either cleared the fielders or fell in the gaps.
He was in no trouble against pace or spin. Then, the time came when we thought we would cross 200 and then, we became a little greedier, said 250 was on the cards. Finally, well supported by Madan Lal, Kirmani and Roger Binny, Kapil took us to 266, a winning total. I have never seen anything quite like that innings, possibly one of the best in one-day cricket, maybe only Viv Richards’s 189* against England at Old Trafford later.
This game was very important. There were very few Indian supporters, mostly doctors from the USA, carrying cameras and recording the moment for posterity. But after we won this, we had huge support right through, especially at the next game at Chelmsford, a must-win one against Australia in order to make the semis.
I must tell you something else that made a difference, the atmosphere within the team. It was stress-free, on and off the field. On it, we played as a team, off it, we relaxed as a group. We would fool around, hang out at a bar, eat together, some had families over. You switched off absolutely. Nobody had the time or inclination to really think about failures or achievements.
It might sound unbelievable now but we had no support staff at all, so we also used to do our own things. I had my own regime because I always believed that whatever sport you were in, you had to be 100 per cent fit. I credit my own comeback to my fitness. I always believed that if you were physically fit, you concentrated better, you excelled more, you achieved more and were hungrier for success.
I had my own set of exercises and was asked if I could get the guys together for some training. I knew there were some guys who weren’t too keen, so I made a package that could be done easily by everyone. I’m told it helped!
Coming back to the semifinals, well, the atmosphere at Old Trafford was electric and it felt like were playing in India. The wicket, brown, slow and low, suited us. Lots of people had travelled from London and Scotland, while Lancashire itself had a big Indian population, so it was quite something to see the Indian flags all over.
But once the game began and England got off to a flyer with Fowler and Tavare, I thought 300 was a given. Our magic man was Binny. Roger had been bowling brilliantly right through and that time, he gave us a vital breakthrough and then, the wickets kept tumbling.
I think that 24-over spell where Kirti and I bowled was crucial too, we picked up three wickets and there was that vital run out of Allan Lamb. The English batsmen panicked and finally, when we bowled them out for 212, we knew we could get it.
Eventually, Yashpal batted very well, I got 46 and Sandeep got a half-century too, he was very severe on Bob Willis and that made a difference. In a previous Test, he had hit six fours in an over against Willis and that was quite something.
It was a tremendous line-up, one that clicked at the right time. It wasn’t about getting big numbers, it was about just getting there together. And we did that. I still remember when Sandeep hit a shot and went for two, we had only equalled England. A few thousand people ran onto the field and it took a while before the public announcer managed to get through and tell people India hadn’t yet won.
When play resumed, Willis knew we had more or less won and didn’t want to be caught in the stampede, so he asked all the fielders to come onto the offside. The moment he bowled, he started running. Watching from the dressing room balcony, it was quite a sight. All 11 English players running, followed by the two batsmen and thousands of cheering fans!
Ahead was the final. We weren’t in the least bit worried, just very happy that we were there. In any case, we were the underdogs, 1000-1 odds with the bookies, we’d beaten England in England and we were just proud to be part of this team.
Frankly, there was no planning about how we would go against the Windies. They were so unpredictable that it made no sense to plan. When bowled out for 183, we honestly thought it was over. But then, we’d beaten them earlier and conditions were ideal for seam bowling.
We thought that if we could get a couple of quick wickets, we would see how it goes. Suddenly, despite their being 50-1 with Richards leading the chase, it all fell in place. Sandhu provided the breakthrough and Madan bowled really well to get crucial wickets. People always talk about Kapil’s catch to get rid of Richards and poor Madan doesn’t get the credit but while I think that catch was special, a lot of credit goes to the bowler!
Still, even after that, they could have got there. I remember getting Dujon — honestly, I don’t think it was a ball to get a batsman. It was a loosener and he got confused. The moment I got Holding, my first thought was not that we had won the World Cup, just that I had to run back as fast as I could to beat the thousands at the ropes. Trust me, Carl Lewis couldn’t have run faster than I did on June 25, 1983.
And after that, the celebrations, in England and on our return to India. We were treated royally, people showered us with love and affection and we were touched.
For me personally, it was satisfying on more than one count. I had been out for three years and returned only the year before, in November, when we travelled to Pakistan. Nobody expected a comeback and I had proved a lot of people wrong. In six or seven months, I had gone from being “finished” to being the man of the match in the World Cup semifinals and finals, it was a dream come true. I went from pauper to prince overnight but overall, I don’t think life changed completely. But maybe, like I said, it had begun.