Twenty-five years ago, where was I on June 25? With six of my friends, huddled around a television set at P 74 Lake Road. Television coverage had begun in Calcutta a few years back. The pictures were still in black and white. Not very distinct perhaps, but still enough to make out the details. The occasion was the final of the 1983 World Cup at Lord’s. India was billed to play the world champions, West Indies .
India, against all predictions, had reached the ultimate stage. No one had given them any hope before the tournament began. History and current form were highly discouraging. In both the previous editions, India had lost disastrously to all and sundry. The lone victory in the two campaigns was in 1975, against a group of club cricketers representing East Africa. India had hardly prepared for the one-day variety of the game in the intervening period. In the just concluded tour of the West Indies, they lost the one-day series, just as they had lost earlier to Pakistan. Our players had not quite come to grips with the tactics and technicalities of one-day cricket.
Even the Indian board did not give much credence to this shorter version. So much so that one national selector did not even bother to attend the meeting to choose the team for the 1983 World Cup. But one other, namely Bishan Singh Bedi, was very enthusiastic. He consulted Hanumant Singh, the former Test cricketer who had gone to the West Indies with Kapil Dev’s team as the manager. Then, along with the selection committee chairman, Chandu Borde, Bedi took the initiative to select a team with the one-day formula in mind. Kapil Dev, who had shown his exemplary attacking game against the formidable Caribbeans in their own lair, was named the leader.
The emphasis was primarily on players who would put the team ahead of themselves; fielders who were willing and able to chase, dive and throw hard; pacers who could use the atmosphere to swing and the turf to seam; and batsmen who had a positive intent of going for strokes and energy to rotate the strike. In the previous world cups, the Indian team, in spite of having S. Venkataraghavan, Farokh Engineer and Bedi — all English county cricketers with experience in one-dayers — had done little by way of planning. The performance, naturally, was dismal. Borde, Bedi & Co. were desperate to change this negative approach.
When skipper Kapil Dev boarded the flight to England, he had with him batsmen of the calibre of Sunil Gavaskar, Krishnamachari Srikkanth, Dilip Vengsarkar, Yashpal Sharma, Sandeep Patil and the cucumber-cool Mohinder Amarnath. The wicketkeeper was the one and only Syed Kirmani and the spin department was restricted to two young all-rounders, Kirti Azad and Ravi Shastri. Kapil’s medium-paced companions were Madan Lal , Roger Binny, Balwinder Singh Sandhu and Sunil Walson, with Amarnath to assist whenever required. All of them were gentle in pace but had terrific control over length and line.
The manager was the former first-class cricketer from Hyderabad, Maan Singh. An able administrator, Maan was sincere and unbiased, tactful yet firm, knowledgeable and tireless — in short, the ideal person to inject into the team a sense of purpose and a nationalistic feeling. This appointment was a distinct improvement from the past when either egoistic Test stars or thoroughly inefficient officials would accompany the team as managers. Regionalism and communalism were apparent at every step.
The BBC television coverage brought to India by Doordarshan began at around 3 in the afternoon. We were nervous: the West Indies line-up was imposing. Haynes and Greenidge would be followed by Viv Richards and the skipper, Clive Lloyd. The bowling was from the Rolls Royce garage: Andy Roberts and Michael Holding, Malcolm Marshall and Joel Garner. It is doubtful if any team in the history of cricket had more fire-power. Yes, India had taken the measure of the West Indies in the recent tour and had also beaten Lloyd’s men at Manchester in the opening match of this competition. But the Windies, with a resounding victory at the Oval the previous fortnight, had avenged those insults. And everyone knew that Lloyd, eyeing a hat-trick of world cups, would show no mercy.
But all the same, with prayers on our lips we sat down to watch the match on the telly. The atmosphere at the Lord’s must have been electric. Even in front of the screen, we could feel the vibrations of the cheering crowd thousands of miles away. West Indian supporters outnumbered ours. In a sea of black faces, the browns and the whites had only an insular presence. As the Indians took the first strike on a fresh pitch, whatever little cheer there was disappeared from our drawing room. Batsmen emerged, only to fall. No one spoke; no one cleared his throat; everyone sat in a deathly stupor. Only a glorious square-drive by Srikkanth elicited a murmur or two, before the backward march started again.
India ’s total of 183 shattered all our hopes. A slight cheer went about as Gordon Greenidge left Sandhu’s in-dipper to see his stumps disturbed. But we quickly went mum again — Richards had walked in and begun to decimate our bowlers. It appeared that he would finish off the match in half the allotted time. This was too much to have to sit through. Someone walked up and switched off the set. No one seemed to mind. None of us wanted to witness India’s impending loss.
We sat back as if we had witnessed a murder and failed to move a finger to stop it. Suddenly a cracker went off somewhere and then there were a few more. I rushed to switch on the television set. A replay was being shown: Madan Lal’s slow bouncer was being mis-hooked by — of all people — Richards and the skier was being accepted by Kapil Dev at deep mid-wicket after running back almost 30 yards! An improbable catch. Only Kapil could have made it look easy.
Suddenly everyone in the room got back to life. Every delivery began to be cheered and commented on. Madan Lal and Amarnath with their slow wobbles had the hot-blooded Caribbeans in total disarray. It was a stunning performance: fit to be ranked among the most thrilling of contests. Mike Brearley adjudged Amarnath as the man of the tournament as well as the man of the final. I can still see Amarnath grabbing a stump and rushing towards the pavilion; thousands of Indian fans converging on the players; skipper Kapil proudly smiling holding the trophy aloft. The time in Calcutta was around 10 in the evening, as the BBC commentator, Peter West, went into ecstasies in praise of India. We had neither crackers nor champagne at home to celebrate. We had decided on ilish bhaja and khichuri, come what may. But that evening’s ilish had a special taste. We, like every other Indian, were walking ten feet tall.