June 25, 2000

An icon 17 years ago, a marked man now

S Jagadish

Exactly 17 years to the date, at around midnight I was rudely woken up by excited relatives screaming 'We have won the World Cup'. As a sleepy eight year old, I was not really in any sort of position to truly appreciate their joy. But as the years went by, it became obvious how much the 1983 World Cup win mattered for Indian cricket.

The smiling faces of the Indian cricketers (and indeed the supporters) after the victory will be forever etched in our minds thanks to the umpteen number of times replays of the tournament are shown on television. Jimmy Amarnath's aborted attempt at capturing a stump and instead running all the way to the pavilion, Srikkanth smoking away to glory from the balcony and a beaming Kapil Dev lifting the World Cup. The last named's reputation lies in tatters and it is indeed painful to see an icon humiliated.

As a lot of cricket commentators would point out, India's win over the West Indies at Berbice on 29th March, 1983 proved to the Indians that they too could compete against the best in the business and beat them in a one-day game. The man of the match was Kapil Dev with a blitzkrieg 72 in just 38 balls with 7 fours and 3 sixes overshadowing Gavaskar's 90 in India's huge total of 282. However, huge was never a word to be used when the opposition had Greenidge, Haynes, Richards, Lloyd and Gomes. The West Indians were unable to step up the pace even though Viv Richards and Bacchus put together a threatening partnership. Dujon's heroics went in vain too as Kapil capped his batting performance with the wickets of Greenidge and Roberts in a wonderful bowling performance of 2/33 in 10 overs.

When the World Cup finally came around, West Indies were expected to be the winners by a long mile. They had won the first two World Cups and under Clive Lloyd, they were just about invincible. A formidable array of attacking batsmen and the most feared bowling attack in the world was the formula. But as if an indicator of things to come, at Manchester, India handed West Indies another defeat in the very first game of the World Cup. On the same day Australia lost to Zimbabwe, which was playing its first one-day international!

After an easy win against Zimbabwe, India played Australia at Nottingham. But Trevor Chappell's century ensured that India were left a huge score to chase, which they failed to do by 162 runs. However Kapil had made his first mark on the tournament by then. He captured 5/43 which was the first ever five wicket haul by an Indian in a one-day international. He wasn't quite done yet and scored 40 runs in India's futile chase. But it was obvious that Kapil was just getting into his groove.

In the return game against the West Indies, Viv Richards blasted his way to a century and partially avenged the earlier defeat. Amarnath's 80 & Kapil's 36 were in a lost cause. It was then crunch time and the Indians had to win the game against Zimbabwe if they had to have any chance of qualifying for the semi-finals, an unthinkable happening when the World Cup got underway.

The second highest score in the Indian innings was Kirmani's 24 not out. Such was Kapil's performance at Tunbridge Wells on June 18. When he walked in to bat, India's top order had been blown away by Peter Rawson and Kevin Curran. Gavaskar and Srikkanth did not score. Amarnath, Patil and Yashpal managed to do marginally better with 5,1 and 9 respectively. A score of 9/4 became 17/5. Roger Binny, the vastly underrated utility man of Indian cricket, joined Kapil. The two salvaged the innings with some careful batting. The organizers were worried that the game would be over by lunchtime!

Kapil was still content taking the singles and eliminating all possible risky shots. After Binny and Shastri got out within a run of each other, Madan Lal joined Kapil. But there weren't many wickets left at 78/7. Kapil realised the need for more runs and started going berserk. Of their partnership of 62, Madan Lal made but 12.

When Madan Lal was dismissed, India had only made 140. It certainly was nowhere near the score India would need to make to win the game. But Kirmani and Kapil then put together an unbroken 126 run partnership. Kapil, by now, was in a murderous mood as is evident by the fact that Kirmani made but 24 out of those runs. The Zimbabweans were pummelled into submission by India's one-man army, who made 175 runs out of India's score of 266 with sixteen fours and six sixers.

It was to be the highest individual score in one-day internationals until Richards blasted England around at Old Trafford a year later. Richards overtook Kapil's World Cup record against Sri Lanka in 1987 and finally last year Sourav Ganguly's 183 ensured that the mantle of 'Highest individual score by an Indian in one-day internationals' was removed from Kapil. That is the stuff legends are made of and Kapil, in 1983 was well on his way to becoming one.

As if tormenting the Zimbabwean bowlers was not enough, he captured 1/32 from his 11 overs to ensure that India still had a chance of making the semi-final. Roger Binny's excellent bowling helped India win the crucial game against Australia and reach the semi-final. England was to be the opponent at Manchester.

'Cometh the hour, cometh the man' is the saying and that is precisely what Kapil did again. It was not just his batting or bowling. He was also the captain and his extremely efficient handling of the part-time bowlers like Amarnath and Kirti Azad ensured that the opposition never really could pick up easy runs off the non-regulars. In the semi-final, after Binny removed the openers, Azad and Amarnath bowled 24 overs between them for 55 runs and the crucial wickets of Gower, Gatting and Botham. Kapil came back to clean up the tail and finished with 3/35. Yashpal Sharma, Mohinder Amarnath and Sandeep Patil ensured a historic win. Kapil was there at the finish and rightly so.

Now it was D-Day. The final against the might of the West Indies. However, as was to be expected, India were not really under any sort of pressure. They were the underdogs. The fact that they had indeed advanced all the way to the final was an achievement in itself and no one seriously thought much about their chances. The West Indian bowlers ensured that India's batting failed with only Amarnath, Patil and Srikkanth managing to get decent scores. Kapil was unable to do much with the bat, slogging Gomes straight to long-on. A target of 184 was hardly something the West Indians would have been too concerned about and everyone was already talking about a third consecutive title.

At the innings break, Kapil told his boys to 'Go out there and enjoy. Give it 100%'. And that is precisely what India did. The skipper led from the front, bowling extremely tightly and was backed up by some excellent fielding. For a while though the Indians did not know what hit them as Richards smashed the bowling around making 33. It seemed like he wanted to finish the game well before the scheduled close. Then Madan Lal dropped one short and Richards pulled. It went high up in the air above squareleg. Would it land over the ropes? Or would it go for a boundary? Kapil had other ideas. He ran backwards for a long while, never losing sight of the ball and pouched it a few yards in front of the boundary. It was truly a breathtaking catch, the kind of which proves the adage that 'catches win matches'.

After Richards' dismissal, Dujon put up some resistance but Amarnath wrapped it all up trapping Holding lbw. And then began that famous run to the pavilion of Mohinder, the carefree attitude of Srikkanth as he held aloft his cigarrette and indeed the million dollar smile of Kapil as he held aloft his, and India's trophy. At that time, and indeed for the next 10 years or so, Kapil Dev was what every schoolboy in India wanted to be. He and Sunil Gavaskar were India's two-man army. And the legend grew even greater when he passed Sir Richard Hadlee's world record.

Cut to the present day Kapil. A man accused of attempting to fix a colleague's performance for money. A man hounded by everyone. Calls going out for him to resign every other day from various people in power. A man who broke down on television. A man under tremendous pressure. A marked man. Even two months ago, Kapil was India's coach apart from being one of its greatest players. Now he still makes the headlines, but for the wrong reasons. Is he telling the truth? Or is he being unfairly marked out? Kapil's fall from the dizzy heights of 1983 is definitely one of the saddest phases of Indian cricket.