Over the years, Cricket has become a religion in India. Cricketers are becoming household names and are now richer than ever. The 1970’s saw the Indian public relate to the 3 C’s- Cricket, Cinema and Er… Congress. While Cinema was to witness the rise of an Angry young man who forever changed the dynamics of contemporary Indian cinema, Indian cricket went up a few notches as maverick captains such as the erstwhile Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi and the Mumbaikar Ajit Wadekar transformed Indian cricket.
After the twin triumphs of 1971, India were in an all time high. Players such as Sunil Gavaskar, Gundappa Vishwanath, Dilip Sardesai and Eknath Solkar along with the great spin quartet formed a formidable Indian line up. But we never had a fast bowler of repute and it wasn’t until a lad from Haryana known as the Haryana hurricane- Kapil Dev Nikhanj step foot on the international arena did India have some chance of winning outside the country. And who would’ve then predicted that he was to captain what is often felt as India’s greatest victory in cricket- The World Cup Triumph in 1983. No one would doubt the fact that 1983 was The Golden Year of Indian Cricket!
India faced the mighty West Indians just before the World Cup and they were mercilessly defeated in the hands of the great team. Although it was just a 2-0 victory for the Carriebean players, they knew that they were miles ahead of their counterparts. The person who carried the hopes of a billion- Not Sachin Tendulkar, Sunil Gavaskar had a rather poor outing considering he loved the West Indians.
Apart from the test at Guyana where he scored where he scored 147 not out and a valiant 91 in a spiteful track at Georgetown, Barbados, it was a bad series for the Little Master.
Considering the proclivity of the Indian public to kick a person if he was down, it was hardly surprising when there was so much talk of Gavaskar being dropped for the World Cup. Issue was, Who would replace him considering his exploits with the bat were till then unmatched by any Indian batsman?
Messrs Chandrakant Borde, Chandrakant Sarwate, Bishan Singh Bedi, Pankaj Roy and Hanumant Singh, members of the selection panel drafted a team which consisted of a mix of stroke makers, grafters and adapters, it was hard for the Indian public to see that Gavaskar was actually given the nod.
The squad consisted of:
Batsman: Sunil Gavaskar, Kris Srikanth, Dilip Vengsarkar, Yashpal Sharma, Sandeep Patil
All Rounders: Kapil Dev, Ravi Shastri, Balwinder Singh Sandhu, Roger Binny, Madan Lal, Kirti Azad, Mohinder Amarnath, Sunil Valson
Wicketkeeper: Syed Kirmani
Nobody, even the players didn’t expect anything of the tournament and what was soon to occur could only be a turn of events one could see in a Bollywood movie.
The Group Stages
The first match in the World Cup for India was against the West Indies- Two times and reigning World Champions and the team that had just drubbed them. India took heart from their win at one of the ODI’s at Berbice and Yashpal Sharma’s knock of 89 helped India reach a total of 262 for the loss of 5 wickets which at that point was quite good for any team. A spirited bowling performance saw India beat the reigning champions by 35 runs.
The Indians followed this up with a six wicket win against Zimbabwe which took them on top of the group. After a stellar start to the campaign, the Indian team derailed as they lost by a huge margin- 162 runs against the Australians and then lost against the West Indians by 66 runs. Once again, India were loosing steam after a great start.
With two defeats and two wins from four games, it was a just win situation for the team against Zimbabwe at the Neville Ground at Tunbridge Wells in Kent. A Dilip Vengsarkar injury had ensured that Gavaskar had to open but by some reason known to none, Gavaskar wasn’t informed of it. He needn’t worry of that as India were soon reeling on the jaws of defeat as a spell of venomous bowling by the Zimbabwean quickies, Peter Rawson and co. reduced India to 17-5. What happened after that was soon part of cricketing folklore.
A swashbuckling 175 by the captains gave Indian a famous win and some much needed confidence going into a potential quarter final against the Baggy Greens. Every player other than Gavaskar entered into double figures as India posted 247 and then Madan Lal Sharma and Roger Binny showed their love for the English conditions which offered them some assistance as they ran through the Aussie batting line up and wrapped them up for a meek 129 all out.
The Semi Final
England, the hosts and the runners up in the previous edition were the clear favourites for this match and they were on their way to the final until Binny dismissed the openers. The captain then played a master stroke as he handed the ball to Kirti Azad and Mohinder Amarnath-both fifth bowling options. Those two bowled 24 overs in tandem and leaked away just 55 runs and took three wickets also thereby shifting the momentum of the tie to India’s favour.
With only 213 on the board, the English bowlers went flat out. They were thwarted though by the Indian openers and later by Amarnarh and Yashpal Sharma. What those two initially started, Sandeep Patil completed it with an audacious 51 filled with flashy strokes as India were about to face the most important match for them till date.
Thousands of miles away, Indians were on the streets celebrating their heroes reaching the final. The BCCI had announced that each player would receive 25,000₹ whatever the outcome may be in the finals. The finals was on 25th June, on what was the fifty-first anniversary of India’s arrival on the international arena which incidentally happened on the same ground.
Clive Lloyd won the toss on a lively pitch. India were off to a disastrous start and were soon at 111 for the loss of 6 wickets. The British media were cursed it’s team for making this a one sided affair. Madan Lal, Kirmani and Balwinder Sandhu exhibited some enterprise and ensured that the West Indies would have to score at little over three runs per over.
The Indians were like cornered tigers. They weren’t afraid of loosing the match and soon a Sandhu classic went through Gordon Greenidge’s defence and crashed on to the stumps. In came Vivian Richards who with his trademark chewing set about as though he had a train to catch. He drove away Madan Lal, Sandhu and Kapil Dev on to the cover boundaries.
Amongst all this action, Haynes was caught off an up posh drive when the score was 50. Many were surprised to see Lloyd come ahead of Larry Gomes who was very good at the number four spot. Soon later, Madan Lal bowled a short ball that changed the course of the final. Richards pulled and Richie Benaud’s initial reaction was ‘Good Shot’. ‘Not so good’ he remarked a few seconds later as Kapil Dev Nikhanj had completed one of the greatest catches in the history of the game.
This turned the match on to India’s favour as successive wickets of Gomes and Lloyd and Gomes gave India more than just belief of lifting the cup. Favour Bacchus feel to a stupendous catch by Kirmani and scoreboard read 76-6 as the teams went for tea. Malcom Marshall and Jeff Dujon fought back and the score was 119-7 as Kapil handed the ball to his knight in shining armour- Amarnath. His first ball was innocuous as innocuous could be but Dujon somehow inside edged it on to the stumps.
Amarnath then got the better of Marshall as he nicked one into the hands of Gavaskar at slip and Kapil Dev soon caught Roberts plumb leg before. Joel Garner and Michael Holding pushed and plodded until Amarnath rapped the latter on his pads and it was not long before Harold ‘Dickie’ Bird raised his index finger pointing upwards towards the sky and celebrations began in London. Mumbai and everywhere where Indians resided.
The players were honoured everywhere they went. That though was not what they had achieved in reality. They achieved something that no Indian would’ve previously dreamt before- winning the World Cup. Their winning led to a generation of Indians thinking of cricket as not only a sport but something where they could excel in. They left behind a lasting legacy and they certainly are the reason why India are such a dominant force today.