When bhangra took over Lord’s
Covering the 1983 World Cup was a journey of discovery and self-discovery. I was 27, recently turned father, and still dithering whether to make my law degree the fulcrum of existence, or my passion for cricket at the then measly salary of Rs 500 per month.
The tour was going to be one of hardships. Tour allowances in newspapers – except the few mainline ones – were meagre. In fact, there were only six journalists from India on that trip (compared to the 80-odd this time!), if I remember correctly, of whom four had partially funded their own way.
But England and the World Cup was a once-in-four-years event, which I may not get to ever report on again. You live only once, I told myself. The plunge had to be taken, whatever the stresses.
The tour unraveled like a dream and the first week was spent in total awe. This was my first visit out of the sub-continent, and being in a First World country threw up plentiful surprises and delights, not to mention some pitfalls too.
Like the time I inserted a one pound coin for a call back home, talked hurriedly so as not to squander money, and didn’t get the change back though the dial reflected I had only spoken worth 20 pence. Lesson learnt, I would keep several 20p coins handy thereafter.
London’s underground railway rapidly became my favourite mode of travel: it was relatively cheap, and despite obvious complexities involved, wonderfully structured for commuters -- the easy-to-read master map with colour codings being the superb feature - taking you to virtually every part of the big city without hassle.
I spent many hours on the different lines and routes, and within a week, had mastered my way about the city. Not just me, even the Indian team members (remember, those were the days of paltry fees and poor allowances for them too) took to the tube to get around.
Where reporting was concerned, however, there was a stiff obstacle. Newsrooms in England had moved on to fax machines by then. But journalists from the sub-continent were still dependent on primitive portable typewriters to bang out their stories to send back via telex.
While the organisers had ensured telex machines at match venues, on days in between, there was trouble. None of the places where we stayed – usually functional bed and breakfast joints – had telex.
This meant trudging to the local telegraph office for assistance, which often came grudgingly because the staff had `evolved’ into facsimile transfer of copy. The entire process could take hours.
The biggest joy of the tour for me was going to cricket grounds – with their rich legacy and tradition – that I had been weaned on in my growing up years. Each had a charm and history of its own.
This was one of three reasons why I skipped India’s first match at Manchester against West Indies and went to see England play New Zealand at the Oval, the main ground for Surrey country.
Surrey had been a favourite because of two players: Jack Hobbs, the master of orthodox batting technique of whom I had read so much, and Ken Barrington, who had become a great favourite when he toured India because he seemed to be the only English cricketer who didn’t complain about the food, weather and hotel rooms, and was always seen smiling.
The second reason was to see a young batsman Martin Crowe who had already earned rave notices from pundits and experts. Third, and biggest reason, was I honestly didn’t think India stood a chance against West Indies, who had won the title in 1975 and 1979.
It turned out to be a blunder as India prevailed over the defending champions, in turn handing a lifelong lesson in professionalism: when on assignment, stick to it.
That victory had in it the seeds of India’s ultimate, sensational victory which was to change the course of cricket, make India the home and El Dorado of cricket subsequently.
I won’t go into details of India’s matches as these are only too well known. But the one at Tunbridge Wells, where Kapil Dev scored 175 not out and turned the World cup on its head, as well as the final had some fascinating off-field moments which I must relate.
I was late reaching Tunbridge Wells from London. When I got to the venue, India were already reeling at 9-4 when Kapil Dev walked out to bat.
The Indian dressing room was close to the entrance to the ground. I made a pit stop there to come to catch up on the play and found Gundappa Viswanath in the porch outside the players’ room.
``Nothing to worry about,’’ Vishy told me. When I glanced at the scoreboard, I wondered what he had smoked that morning. ``We’ve got ample batting, and Kapil’s just come in,’’ he said, smiling.
I still ask myself whether this was foolhardy optimism or prescience. What makes it even more unbelievable 36 years later is that I watched a few overs of the match from the players’s enclosure: unthinkable in today’s highly sanitized environment!
As it happened, I was a little late for the final too. Scrambling past the stewards at Lord’s Grace Gates, I heard a loud roar, distinctly Caribbean in tone and flavour. Rushing inside, I heard somebody yell ``Gavaskar’s gone!’’
Running up the stairs to the press box, I bumped into the late former Australian captain and broadcaster Richie Benaud. ``I’ll still give you 66-1 on an India win,’’ he said with a twinkle. Those were the odds at the start of the tournament. In a two-horse race, this was outrageously generous.
I am not a betting man. And even if I was, India did not have a hope in hell beating West Indies. This would be good money down the drain. ``No thanks,’’ I told Benaud. As it happened, India made a paltry 183, which reassured me that I had done the commonsensical thing.
Then the West Indies came out to chase an easy total. Then soon after Balwinder Sandhu bowled Gordon Greenidge with a beautiful late in-dipper. Then Kapil Dev came up with an astonishing catch to dismiss a rampaging Viv Richards. Then the West Indies imploded.
When the last wicket fell, the Caribbean rhapsody that had Lord’s swaying to its beat, surrendered to dhols, conch shells and bhangra. India had turned the cricket world upside down.
In the process, I had found my calling too. Writing on cricket had hit law practice out of the park!
The writer is a senior sports analyst.
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