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Lord’s, 1983: The summer we can’t forget

The unbelievable moment when ‘Kapil’s Devils’ lifted the World Cup. We won the Cup in 2011 too, but June 25, 1983 still holds our collective imagination in absolute thrall. As a new game unfolds in England, we relive that first victory

ht weekend Updated: Jun 22, 2019 18:53 IST
Dhiman Sarkar
Dhiman Sarkar
Hindustan Times
cricket,Indian cricket,world cup
. This was the victory that started India’s domination in the world of cricket. The game became bigger, as did the money invested in it. The next cricket World Cup, in 1987, was hosted in India, the first time that the international championship was held outside of England. (Getty Images)

It is a sign of how far India has come as a one-day team in particular, and a cricketing powerhouse in general that Virat Kohli’s men fetched up at this summer’s World Cup in England as one of the favourites.

The metamorphosis has taken decades, but by the time the 2011 World Cup had come along, we felt justified in thinking Sachin Tendulkar would be sixth-time lucky.

It all leads back to 1983, India’s Year Zero in one-day cricket.

Kapil Dev tosses the coin, as West Indies captain Clive Lloyd looks on. India lost the toss and were asked by West Indies to bat first. ( Getty Images )

That year was the first time I felt cricket had become weather-resistant. July was when football ruled Kolkata (then Calcutta); making muddles in a muddy park a favourite post-school activity.

That changed in 1983. You slipped and slid alright but to catch a rubber ball—usually red and bouncing wildly—or a tennis ball, and the game was cricket. If it landed in a puddle, the batsman would have to stoop to conquer, in the way Ian Botham couldn’t to a Kirti Azad delivery in a World Cup semi-final a few days prior. Kapil’s Devils had made cricket in half-pants kosher, and boys lugging cricket kits on the Kolkata Maidan all year round stopped being unusual.

The timing too had a lot to do with the spike in popularity.

“The dustbins! I went outside with the dustbin, and that was the moment I realised that my country had changed. For ever, as it turned out,” wrote Matthew Engel in ‘The Guardian’. He was narrating how England’s run in the 1990 World Cup really brought football home. Everyone, Engel wrote, was watching England beat Cameroon as he stepped out on a “London rat run street. And there was silence.” Engel was sure it would be the same in the semi-final. (England lost to Germany on penalties and it wasn’t till 2018 that they went that far).

“It may be hard for those who believe sporting history began in 1992 (“In the beginning God created the Premier League ... and he saw that it was good because everyone would make oodles of dosh”) to imagine the state of English football in the 1980s,” wrote Engels. Rocked by hooliganism and a series of stadium disasters, “sensible people” avoided football. Botham was the country’s most popular sportsman, according to Engels.

The difference between Engel’s England and India of seven years earlier was that India had little to offer in terms of world beaters. Less than two months before June 25, 1983, became a red letter day in India, Prakash Padukone bagged bronze in the world badminton championships. The former world No. 1 and winner of the prestigious All-England championships, Padukone added colour to our black-and-white days. At the time Padukone, billiards world champion Michael Ferreira and Vijay Amritraj, who lost a five-setter Wimbledon quarter-final to Jimmy Connors in 1981, were our only bright stars in the sporting firmament.

True, India were the Olympic champions in hockey, but half the world hadn’t turned up at the 1980 Games in Moscow. The 1982 Asian Games, which New Delhi hosted, did produce Indian champions, but it was really about China emerging as a sporting superpower.

So it fit that sport wasn’t front page stuff and films like ‘Gol Maal’, the 1979 Hindi laugh riot where a key scene involved a hockey match and there were references to Pele in Kolkata and Indian cricketers touring abroad, were rare. ‘Bhaag Milkha Bhaag’ (2013), ‘Paan Singh Tomar’ (2012), ‘Chak De! India’ (2007) were ideas whose time had not yet come.

Moreover, when it came to the cricket World Cup, India were as snug a fit as a guest in psychedelic pink at a black tie event.

Self Discovery
Talking about the time when he hadn’t added the extra ‘K’ to his surname, Krishnamachari Srikkanth has said the World Cup was to be merely a stopover on way to a vacation in the USA with his wife of two months.

“You have to understand one thing: In the two World Cups before this, we had beaten only one team—a team called East Africa, which was a bunch of ‘Gujjus’ (Gujaratis) put together, nothing else. In 1979, we lost to Sri Lanka which was not even a qualified Test nation then. So 1983 started like a vacation for us,” Srikkanth said at a function in Mumbai that coupled a champions’ reunion with the launch of the film ‘83’, based on India’s first World Cup win, and slated for release next year.

According to the book ‘Miracle Men’ by Nikhil Naz, which released this month and details India’s journey at that fateful World Cup, Raj Singh Dungarpur (a former first-class cricketer who also became the board president) was asked to interview the captain by the national broadcaster Doordarshan. ‘So, young man, looking forward to your next assignment?’ he asked. “No’, came the reply from Kapil, “I don’t want to look forward. I like to stay in the present.”

After that, the interview continued in Hindi, writes Naz.

This was Team India back then, leaving for the World Cup with no fuss, and promptly getting stopped at the airport for excess baggage.

India manager PR Man Singh tried to explain to the airline staff why an exception should be made; the airline refused to play ball. Man Singh billed BCCI. Days later, India, with vegetarians in their ranks, found lunch in a practice game against New Zealand comprised roast chicken, shepherd’s pie and jacket potatoes. It was only after Man Singh located an Indian fan with a restaurant in Southall that the butter chicken and kadhai paneer arrived.

Yashpal Sharma and Roger Binny grab stumps as souvenirs, and Mohinder Amarnath runs off the field as Michael Holding is out lbw.) ( Getty Images )

India needed a little luck at the start and got it when the opener against West Indies spilled into the reserve day. “When we went back to Old Trafford (in Manchester) the next day, there was a massive cloud cover, and the ball was swinging a lot!” according to Roger Binny who was the most successful bowler in that World Cup with 18 wickets. Binny dismissed Viv Richards and Clive Lloyd, Balwinder Singh Sandhu got Gordon Greenidge, and India began with a 34-run win against the defending champions.

Kapil Dev running the show with an unbeaten innings of 175 against Zimbabwe is an enduring part of the 1983 lore but a lesser known story is that after being reduced to 17/5 in that match, the players hid from their captain at lunch, leaving a glass of orange juice on his seat. But Kapil’s match-winning knock re-energised the team. “He was a daredevil and a die-hard optimist, and that rubbed off on the entire team. We were all pumped up with confidence because of him,” said Srikkanth.

On way to the final, it also had fun. “I like talking and cracking jokes, and doing silly things to make a fool of myself,” said Srikkanth.

“He (Srikkanth) always thought that he spoke good Hindi,” said Binny, “and he felt he was a great singer. He would go around singing Hindi songs seriously in a ridiculous accent and completely wrong lyrics, and everyone would be in fits of laughter.”

Fans swarm the ground and invade the pitch as India defeat the West Indies. ( Patrick Eagar via Getty Images )

1983: A Love Story

Naz calls it the greatest underdog story in cricket—India lost to a team comprising plumbers, farmers and salesmen in a warm-up match. India were 66-1 outsiders who had breached the holiest of holy cricket cathedrals and bested the twice champions. It was like the Washington Generals beating the Harlem Globetrotters, only this wasn’t exhibition basketball.

1983 is more than a timeless love story because it gave India another sporting identity. As a country, one-day cricket became to us what Don Bradman meant to the Australian writer Thomas Keneally, who wrote: “While no Australian had written Paradise Lost, Don Bradman had made a hundred before lunch at Lord’s.”

Yes, India had won a Test series in the West Indies and England earlier; yes, over the years, many Indian cricketers had wowed the world, but champions in a multi-team competition had a totally different zing to it. If you still need a reason, here’s another: 1983 made Sachin Tendulkar to get serious about cricket. “Had it not happened things could have been different for me,” he has said.

Vignettes of the final burn bright in our minds as we age: that Srikkanth cover-drive off Andy Roberts, Greenidge shouldering arms to Sandhu, that catch by Kapil to send Richards back.

At the Lord’s balcony with the trophy, Kapil, nonchalance personified, had spoken of wanting India to do this again. Will his words ring true this year too?

First Published: Jun 22, 2019 18:53 IST