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‘We shut up those who said our World Cup win was a fluke...’
- A TELEGRAPH SPECIAL

Ravi Shastri was in his teens when he made his India debut (Wellington Test, early 1981). He went on to play 79 more Tests and appeared in 150 ODIs, too. His finest moment, though, came when he was crowned the Champion of Champions on conclusion of the World Championsip of Cricket (WCC), on March 10, 1985. The tournament was, of course, won by India, then captained by Sunil Gavaskar. Shastri, now 47, spoke to The Telegraph for close to an hour on the eve of a very special day.

The following are excerpts

Q A good 25 years on, what’s uppermost in your mind?

A The WCC win was one of Indian cricket’s greatest moments. We’d won the World Cup before that, in 1983, and by winning the WCC, showed everybody that the World Cup wasn’t a fluke... Because the WCC win came within two years, it catapulted Indian cricket into a different league altogether... The interest in all quarters, thereafter, was simply unbelievable.

It was almost on a par with the World Cup...

The World Cup was the first big one and, so, it has to be the greatest achievement... No less outstanding, though, was the WCC win... The tournament, you’ll recall, only had Test teams.

Actually, the WCC catapulted you, too, into a different league, isn’t it?

As an all-rounder, I was then at my peak... I’d got runs in Pakistan earlier that season... Got runs in the home series against England... I’d been batting well, I’d been bowling well... I knew I was part of a very good team and was confident that I could make a difference.

Was the 1984-85 season your finest?

It had been brilliant... Hundreds in Tests, hundreds in ODIs... Being crowned the Champion of Champions.

What made the difference for you that season?

I was at my peak and I didn’t have injuries... We played tough cricket and I did well in all departments... I’d been hungry to do well.

India’s first match in the WCC was against Pakistan. Your memories of that game?

We’d bowled really well to start off (restricting Pakistan to 183) and, then, lost a couple of wickets early... I think Sunny (Gavaskar) and Azhar (Mohammed Azharuddin) bailed us out with a very good partnership... So, as in the 1983 World Cup, we started with a convincing win (six wickets)... Indeed, in 1983, the first moment of self-belief came when we beat the West Indies (by 34 runs), the champions, in our opening match. It sure makes a big difference if you beat top teams.

'I knew, in my mind, that if we could go through a spell where we didn’t give Imran wickets early on, then we’d be there more than halfway... I remember playing more than 80 per cent of his deliveries... I knew Imran would bowl five overs in his first spell and would go flat out... The important thing is that we didn’t give Imran a wicket early on. That turned out to be decisive'
ON SEEING OFF IMRAN’S SPELL IN THE FINAL

The second match was against England. Your recollections of that game?

I remember waking up roommate (Laxman) Sivaramakrishnan in the morning and getting him to read an article by an English journalist which said the England spinners were better than the Indian spinners... I probably had to throw water on him to wake him up... What happened later that day is now history... Siva took three for 39 and I took three for 30... We thrashed England by 86 runs.

What had been Siva’s first reaction to the article?

He just read it, made a note... We went about our jobs and, by 10 ’clock at night, the beer went down well!

Do you recall any other article which made you prove a point?

Look, I would use criticism constructively. I’ve always maintained that everyone is entitled to an opinion, otherwise everyone would be the same... You have to be open to reason. I’d get upset if the criticism was personal... I have my own ways of dealing with people who indulge in that... I never had an issue with constructive criticism... I’d use it to my advantage.

After the third match, against Australia, what were your thoughts...

Oh, that was another very fine performance. We restricted Australia to 163... Roger (Binny) bowled brilliantly upfront... Kapil Dev, too, was good... When it came to the chase, we hit form... Chika (Krishnamachari Srikkanth) and I put on 124 for the first wicket... We eventually won big, by eight wickets.

India hadn’t done well in the last ODI series, against England, at home. Did you, then, actually expect the team to do so well?

Not really, because of precisely what you’ve said... But, then, a good start and the team gelling well helped... Each one pulled up his socks... We weren’t a team depending on just one person, six-seven players contributed in every game.

The all-rounders made a big difference...

Yeah... In the big tournaments, you don’t depend on one man, you need six-seven players performing all the time... Then, the fielding has to be high-class and, in my view, the WCC saw one of the best fielding efforts by an Indian team... I don’t think we put a catch down... There were plenty of run outs from the circle and we had an outstanding wicket-keeper (Sadanand Viswanath). He’d been brilliant in the tournament. What else do you need?

New Zealand had a high rating then. How did the team approach the semi-final?

We knew it would be a very tough game. New Zealand had a very good side, you know... They had the likes of (Richard) Hadlee and Martin Crowe... John Wright... There was experience in that side... In fact, it was probably one of New Zealand’s strongest on a park in recent memory... We knew we were up against it and, when it came to the chase (target 207), I remember getting out to a slower one from Hadlee after reaching a half-century... The game was still tight, but Kapil and Dilip (Vengsarkar) got involved in a terrific partnership... That put us through.

Celebrations?

The celebrations, we knew, would be after five days — if we won the final. As it happened, Pakistan beat the West Indies in the other semi-final and what bigger game can you have? A world championship final between India and Pakistan... Night cricket being beamed into India... The viewership for that final, around the subcontinent, was unprecedented.

What about the nerves on the eve of the final?

The nerves were more because it was Pakistan... May not have been that much had the West Indies been our opponents... Against Pakistan, you knew every Tom, Dick, Harry and Smith, if there was one, would watch.

How did you personally cope with the butterflies in the stomach?

Actually, I just wanted to get on to the park as quickly as possible. After all, the longer you stayed out, the more the anxiety and the more people told you ‘good luck today, good luck today’...

By then, you’d been in the running for the Audi, to be presented to the man of the tournament — the Champion of Champions. Mudassar Nazar and Srikkanth were also in the running... Were you, therefore, more anxious?

I wasn’t... Our main job was to win the final... Good luck to whoever got the car... But, yes, I knew I was a frontrunner as I’d won the last two MoM awards (against Australia, New Zealand)... Mudassar had an outstanding semi-final, against the West Indies, so he came right into it as well. Had Pakistan won the final, then that Audi 100 CD would probably have gone to Mudassar.

Memories of the March 10, 1985, final...

It was so intense... We had a big crowd, one of the biggest in Australia for a game where the home team wasn’t playing and, you know, we just went with the flow. We couldn’t be bothered about an Imran (Khan) or a Javed (Miandad) at that time... If anything, we were bothered about our own work ethic, of doing our job in the best possible manner.

Restricting Pakistan to 176 for nine must have been like a dream come true. Was the team itself surprised?

It was great... One knew that Pakistan had such a potent attack, that if they got anything more than 200, it would be a real test for us. Being a final and with Imran hitting the straps, one had to start well... We didn’t need a three down for 25 start...

Was there, say, a brief team meeting at the break?

Nothing... Good teams don’t have meetings as the players know their job... Know their role... Of course, stuff like ‘make sure we get a good start’ or ‘don’t take many undue risks because we aren’t chasing 250’ could have been said. I knew, in my mind, that if we could go through a spell where we didn’t give Imran wickets early on, then we’d be there more than halfway... I remember playing more than 80 per cent of his deliveries... I knew Imran would bowl five overs in his first spell and would go flat out... Srikkanth was in tremendous form and he was smacking it at the other end... The important thing is that we didn’t give Imran a wicket early on. That turned out to be decisive.

Thoughts when the winning run was scored...

I was the non-striker and Dilip played to mid-wicket... It was only after about half-an-hour or an hour that the penny dropped... The realisation came then... To win a world championship is probably the greatest moment in one’s career... The World Cup in 1983, the WCC in 1985... We shut up everybody in the world who’d said the World Cup win had been a fluke... We shut up a lot of Indians, too, who’d believed it was a fluke... That used to irritate me the most... You don’t do anything in your lifetime and, then, have the audacity to criticise or poke fingers at someone who has achieved the ultimate... It was, indeed, a good slap on the face for many.

How did you react when Gavaskar took the podium and announced he was stepping down as captain?

Came as a shock... Sunny had captained magnificently and the team had responded so well... I guess he had a gut feeling that the time had come to just enjoy his cricket.

Being declared the Champion of Champions...

Everything happened so spontaneously... I remember speaking to Ian Chappell (at the presentation) and, in the middle of the interview, I said hang on and he asked ‘does the key fit’... I replied I’ll just check and come back... When I went to the Audi, most of the team seemed inside, some were sitting on the bonnet... There was enough fuel and the rest is history... Those are sights I don’t think any Indian who watched the TV that day has forgotten. My hair still stands when I see Kapil and Sadanand on top of the car... Jimmy (Mohinder Amarnath) sitting on it as well... Sunny was next to me... The crowd gave a standing ovation... It was a once-in-a-lifetime moment.

Where’s that Audi now?

Very much in Mumbai. In fact, it’s at the Audi workshop because they’re doing up the body... In the future, they can probably preserve it in one of their showrooms.

You drove a Fiat before the Audi. What was the change like?

Fiat to Audi was Fiat to Audi!

Looking back, what was the WCC experience all about?

Everyone enjoyed his cricket... There was a feeling that each one knew his role... There was humour in the dressing room, because there was a blend of youth and experience... As you know, nothing succeeds like success and, with the wins, self-belief just got stronger and stronger. Made us believe that we could go the distance and pull it off...

What was the one defining moment for the team?

Very difficult to say what would be the defining moment... The toughest match on the way to the final definitely was against New Zealand, the semi-final... When we pulled that off, we said ‘yes, this is now a very good team’.

The last one... Your most memorable performance in the WCC?

(Grins) Seeing off Imran’s first spell in the final... For me, it’s all about big games... When you reach a final, you’ve got to win it. I was always built that way (mentally), that there is no use finishing second-best... You have to seize the big moments... For me, nothing was more important than Imran’s opening spell that evening... He was a true champion and if he smelt blood, he’d be all over you... Especially in a final... I’m glad I denied him an early breakthrough.

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