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The end, not the beginning?

It won?t happen again because the world has changed. The age of the cricketing ambush is over. Modern Cup campaigns study the terrain so thoroughly, there?s nowhere to hide.

india Updated: Jan 28, 2003 12:34 IST

Why is the ‘83 World Cup like an old Hindi movie? Because most Indians watched it in black-and-white. The World Cup happened in England and was televised by the BBC in full colour, but Doordarshan had just graduated to colour the year before in 1982, in time for the Delhi Asiad, so only the rich (and a foreign-returned sliver of the middle class) had colour television sets.

At home we had a Dyanora on which we watched the Indian innings in the final against the West Indies at Lord’s in black-and-white, all 183 runs of it. In despair we left home to visit a friend to avoid the spectacle of the Windies waltzing past this pathetic total, only to find him watching the match on his new colour TV.

Balwinder Sandhu bowled Greenidge and at once we were transported to a greener, pleasanter land and when Kapil, with godlike confidence, caught a rampaging Richards over his shoulder with the ball dropping in front of him, off the hapless Madan Lal, we hurried home.

I like to think that we wanted to watch India win in black-and-white. We knew as we watched that if we pulled it off, this would be a historic victory and to a generation brought up on the strident monochrome of the Indian News Review, history properly happened in black-and-white.

We won and we shouted so hard our throats hurt. We had won with Kapil at the helm, a young man with a talent for nicely-timed heroism and it wasn’t hard to believe that this was the start of a new age of Indian cricket.

When we won the World Championship of Cricket in Australia in 1985 and then beat England in England in 1986, that era seemed to have arrived. But we know now, that it was a false dawn.

The truth is that 1983 marked the end of an epoch. We won the World Cup because cricket in 1983 was loosely organised and unsystematic, because the nature of limited overs cricket and its difference from Test cricket was poorly understood, and this allowed (for the last time) an inspired bunch of lightweights to kayo the champions of the world.

It won’t happen again because cricket’s world has turned and changed. We won the Cup without a bowling attack. That certainly won’t happen again because the age of the cricketing ambush is over. It is over because modern Cup campaigns study the terrain so thoroughly, there is nowhere to hide.

Before speculating on how Kapil’s Devils fought and won their guerrilla campaign we need to acknowledge that patriotism apart, it was a terrible match for a Cup final. Take a look at the scores.

While we had nearly six overs left to play when we were bowled out, it had still taken us more than the 50 overs teams get today to compile this miserable total because cricket wasn’t a standardised game in 1983. One-dayers in England were played over 60 overs a side simply because the light there lasted forever on a summer day.

Then the West Indies managed to collapse for 140 and they still used up 50 overs to get to that paltry figure. This lack of standardisation wasn’t confined to one-day cricket: for years, Tests in Australia were measured in eight-ball overs, pitches in England were left uncovered overnight (which made Derek Underwood twice the bowler he was) and when I was growing up, the post-tea session in Indian Tests was played over an hour-and-a-half either because the twilight came on too quickly or because the morning session didn’t start early enough.

Despite Packer, cricket in 1983 (even its modern, limited-overs variant) was a cottage industry: loosely confederated, as bilateral as barter, where local custom prevailed over standardised rules.

There was still very little money in the game. Of the stars who played that memorable Lord’s final, Kapil played the game long enough to get on the commercial gravy train when it arrived but Gavaskar, seen by contemporaries as Midas because of the magazine adverts he did for Dinesh Suitings, probably made more money out of the recent Coke commercial with Sehwag than he did in his whole Test career.

Touring teams had managers: coaches, physios, fitness trainers, and laptops hadn’t yet taken centre-stage. The TV camera only reported the game: it hadn’t begun to regulate it and video tapes hadn’t yet become a coaching aid. Packer, Channel Nine, Richie Benaud had shown cricket its commercial future but in 1983 the game hadn’t yet embraced its modern destiny.

This state of shamateur innocence didn’t last: the next edition of the World Cup, re-christened the Reliance Cup, saw the sponsor and the advertiser come into their own and the money they brought to the game, made cricket a modern career, where once it had been a precarious trade. Once that happened, guerrilla strikes, like our victory in ‘83, became improbable.

Kapil’s real achievement in ‘83 was not that magnificent match-winning 100 that he hit against Zimbabwe; it was his coup in winning a tournament without a bowling attack. He was the only wicket-taking bowler of the lot.

There was Madan Lal who ran up faster than he bowled; Balwinder Sandhu, who swung the ball at Bishen Bedi’s pace; Roger Binny, the only bowler in the world who, in his delivery stride had his left foot pointing at the sight screen behind the wicketkeeper and his right foot pointing at the sight screen behind the bowler’s arm; Mohinder Amarnath who had taken a couple of wickets against the Australians in Madras 13 years ago and Kirti Azad, who bowled off-cutters with a curious action.

This was the bowling attack that India lined up against Joel Garner, Andy Roberts, Malcolm Marshall and Michael Holding, four of the greatest fast bowlers of all time and the astonishing thing is that they bested them twice, once in the round robin league match and once, of course, in the final to win the tournament.

They also beat England in the semi-finals by six wickets after rolling them over for 213. How did they do it? I think they won it by doing to their opponents what Arthur Ashe did to Jimmy Connors in the Wimbledon final of 1975, which he won in four sets.

Playing one of the hardest counter-hitters in tennis, Ashe took the pace off the ball and served up a diet of soft, slow junk shots that threw Connors off his game. He beat him 6-1, 6-1, 5-7, 6-4.

Kapil did the same thing. In the semis, when Gower seemed to be gathering momentum, he tossed the ball to Amarnath, who tottered up to the bowling mark in his narcoleptic way and got rid of both Gower and Gatting by bowling slow, seam-up junk at the stumps. Again, in the finals, when Dujon and Marshall were taking the game away, Kapil called up Amarnath, who got rid of both and finished with three for the match.

Throughout the tournament, Binny, Amarnath, Madan Lal, Azad and Sandhu chipped in with wickets, helped by soft pitches, a heavy atmosphere and batsmen baffled by ultra-slow seam and swing bowling. But it won’t work again because cricketers today rehearse past matches like Kasparov trawls chess archives. 1983 was a landmark in the sense that up to then, teams assumed that the better team would prevail. After ‘83 we all realised that it wasn’t the better team but better tactics that won limited-overs games.

So teams developed a larger repertoire of responses, in other words, became more sophisticated in their methods. In today’s one-day game, you will still find practitioners of the dead slow, seam up style, like New Zealand’s Chris Harrris, but he is there to bring down the scoring rate, not run through a side.

The one permanent achievement of Kapil’s campaign was the hex it put on the West Indies as far as the World Cup was concerned. They had won the first two World Cup tournaments and, really, they should have won this one.

They dominated Test cricket for years afterwards but they never again came close to winning the World Cup. Twenty years later, bees saal baad, we should savour that triumph — because it wasn’t a beginning; it was a one-off thing.

(The writer is an eminent historian and novelist)

First Published: Jan 17, 2003 23:37 IST