It happened one night
It is commonplace amongst Indian commentators to trace the beginning of a particular kind of cricket mania to June 25th, 1983. I tend to agree, but only partially. My preferred date is March 3rd, 1985, when India played Australia at the MCG in the final Group A match of the Benson & Hedges World Championship of Cricket, held to commemorate the Victorian Cricket Association's Centenary. For that was the day that Indian cricket viewers first watched the live telecast of a cricket game from Australia (and since my memory isn't perfect, the first by Channel 9). And that was the day that cricket presented itself as a perfectly packaged televised spectacle, with plenty of glitter and gloss, 100 overs long, with a definite result at the end of it.
Those of us settling down on that rather chilly morning (Delhi winters sometimes packed a late punch) had little inkling of what was in store. It began innocently enough as Kapil sprinted to bowl the first delivery to Graeme Wood. As he did so, a scraping, knocking sound issued from our television sets, followed by the unmistakable sound of bat on ball. What had happened? It took us a few seconds to figure out that this was the famous "stump microphone" that we had read about. A few minutes later Robbie Kerr was gone, bowled Kapil Dev, and the sound his stumps made as they rattled was a sweet one indeed. Cricket had gone from being a game played far away on the ground to one that had a sudden, dynamic, physical immediacy. We were at the ground, in the midst of the action.
We watched the endless replays, the clarity of the images, the varied and multiple angles that covered the dismissals, and the clever graphics (prompted by Geoff Lawson's duck). We had not realized that all of this could be possibly associated with a cricket game. When India had won the World Cup in 1983, it had made cricketing success in one form of the game possible. What this Australian telecast did was make cricket into a form of entertainment that could be enjoyed by a much wider demographic; it made the far away spectacle of a game played by men in whites into a living-room tamasha of brightly attired athletic performers, displaying a perfectly tuned entertainer's sensibility. And of course, all of this on the magnificent stage of the cavernous MCG.
There were purely cricketing reasons too that day. India's 'quicks' smashed through the Aussie top-order, leaving them tottering at 4-17. Was it really possible that Indian opening bowlers could do this, in such brilliant clarity, to an opposing side? Especially one like the Australians (never mind that the Australian team that year was not particularly strong, it still held a certain fascination for Indian fans). A partial recovery saw the Aussies to 160. But with a mixture of Srikkanth-freneticism and Shastri-phlegmatism India strolled to that target. They had beaten Australia in Australia, on Australian television. The telecast magnified all of this. Our cricketers, in slo-mo, in close-up, viewed from various angles, praised to the high heavens by all these seemingly knowledgeable international cricketers whose names we had only read about, turned into demigods.
A week later, India beat Pakistan by the same comfortable margin in the final. The razzle-dazzle of the awards ceremony, the victory lap on the Audi, put the final touches to the pictures drawn for us that week. From now on, the game would always be linked with the televised spectacle, and Indian fans knew what they wanted to see on the tube.
Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here