Kapil the brightest in starry '83 reunion
Four of them are involved with the ICL; three others spent the better part of the IPL promoting the tournament on television and in their columns, in between going hoarse shouting about "DLF maximum sixes"; one of them is an active politician; a few others work as outspoken critics in different media outlets. Twenty-five years ago Kapil Dev knew little English and Roger Binny didn't know Hindi, yet for six years they played together and shared precious little; Sunil Gavaskar couldn't play an incorrect shot, Kris Srikkanth couldn't play one that conformed; Sandeep Patil could not go to sleep at night because of extra-curricular activities, his room-mate Gavaskar was the epitome of discipline.
They are as diverse now as they were then, perhaps more so now. But it was most ironic that on the same day the BCCI felicitated the winners of World Cup 1983, it struck a low blow to Kapil and the ICL by barring English counties playing in the Champions League due to the ECB's policy of letting ICL players play in their leagues. And this barely weeks after Kapil's mural was removed from the PCA Stadium in Mohali.
Thus, as the evening began, a distinct feeling of discomfort engulfed the outsider: Kapil, of the ICL, and Gavaskar, one of the most influential men in the BCCI, sat next to each other as Sharad Pawar began his speech.
Thankfully, the BCCI got it right this time. Pawar's speech finished in less than nine minutes and the stage was all Kapil's. Put together in one room, irrespective of their differences, this motley crew became world champions again. Being champions is a force that will always define their lives and the bond of unshakable success allowed them, middle-aged today, to bask in the sunlight of their youth. Like boys, they reminisced and rejoiced India's greatest achievement, and one that defined its cricket.
Their party had started half an hour before they even entered the function, in Kapil's room, and would continue for hours after the ceremony was over. An emotional Kapil took over the microphone, and went on to give every one of his team-mates unique introductions. Teary-eyed and lumpy-throated, he poured his heart out in broken English and when really emotional, in Hindi. Some of the most heart-felt descriptions for his Devils had every one in the crowd - which included such greats as Ajit Wadekar, Mohammad Azharuddin, Anil Kumble and Rahul Dravid - emoting, whether it was uproarious laughter or just goose-bumped awe.
The second man he called upon the stage was Dilip Vengsarkar, the "true Lord of Lord's," as Kapil referred to him. "When we were growing up he was Colonel, I don't know what to call him now. The only title we can give him now is Lord," said an emotional Kapil.
Syed Kirmani, who was the last of the '83 champions to reach the function, was in next. "He is a senior, but I have had the pleasure of laughing with the seniors, not at them," Kapil said. "And Syed Kirmani always comes late." The crowd roared in appreciation. "One thing I can till you," added Kapil, "is that he is never late on the catch."
Kirti Azad - "the son of the politician" - was the star guest. "In the dressing room he was never a politician," Kapil clarified. "I can't forget his getting Botham out in the semi-final. He is the only person to have got a shooter, the surli as we call it in Hindi, to turn big." The crowd lost control but Kapil, like a true comic, remained deadpan.
Patil was in next, the "true allrounder": cricketer, writer, filmstar, businessmen. "If everyone in the team is like Gavaskar, it will be very difficult to laugh. We needed people like Sandeep; he could make even Sunil laugh," was Kapil's summary of the dashing batsman.
By the end of the introductions, everyone from the 1983 team could be seen in a new perspective; the perspective of their leader and their friend. Yashpal Sharma's sense of humour "we still don't understand much"; Ravi Shastri "had 50% in cricketing ability, but 200% determination"; Sunil Valson "I can feel sorry for"; PR Man Singh was the "finest Public Relations Man"; Roger Binny "everyone loved"; Balwinder Sandhu was "a true sardarji; once he made up his mind to do something, you couldn't stop him"; and Maddi Pa [Madan Lal] "100 times earthier than me".
Srikkanth "couldn't understand half of what he said in Hindi, and even though I couldn't speak English we were the best buddies. Wherever he passes, people make way for him. Because he just can't walk straight; he tries to play straight - through the slips."
Story after story followed seamlessly: how Madan was fed up of the continuous credit given to Kapil for the legendary Viv Richards catch. "After listening to it again and again, he finally snapped, 'Bas karo yaar [Stop it mate], I bowled the damn ball.'"; how Mohinder Amarnath taught Kapil to manage money on tour - by washing his own clothes - "actually showing me the tub in the bathroom" - and damaging his knuckles enough in the process to render himself unfit for bowling the next day. "These are the things you learn from the seniors," said Kapil. "Ninety per cent of the world cricketers think he [Amarnath] is just going for a jog, and the ball takes their stumps."
As for Gavaskar, Kapil said that no-one in the 70s could say they didn't follow him. "The country couldn't produce fast bowlers to give him practice, but on his first tour to the West Indies he scored more than 700 runs. How he did that, only God knows. Only he can tell how he did it." Gavaskar, after Kapil said that without Gavaskar the function would not be possible, returned the favour. "The captain has spoken about the whole team, but who's to speak about the captain," he said. "Who's to speak about the man who showed us the way?"
One story from Gavaskar summed up Kapil's influence. "At Tunbridge Wells, we were down in the dumps at 17 for 5. I don't think people really understand what an innings Kapil played then. Your top order was not able to lay bat on ball, but here came a man who started hitting the same ball to all corners of the ground. Because of 60-over games, there used to be a lunch and a tea break - the lunch before the end of the first innings.
"When Kapil came for lunch, there was nobody in the dressing room, just a glass of orange juice on his seat. None of us was in the lunch room either; we were hiding our faces. Here was a man who had shown how we should have batted. It was from there the Indian team took off, and started to once again believe in themselves. He is the greatest cricketer India has ever produced."
The highlights of the semi-final and the final followed, with breaks for eyewitness accounts from the players available; more laughter, more awe. But the story of the day belonged to NKP Salve, the then board president, who said even 25 IPL victories would not be able to match the enthusiasm, the josh, the hysteria that World Cup '83 brought, for its sheer simplicity. In that day and age, the board had no money whatsoever, leave alone comparisons with the insane amounts involved today. In heavy-loaded Hindi he narrated how the same players had made his life difficult just after winning the World Cup. "Sunil Gavaskar asked, 'What do we get now that we have won the World Cup?'. I said, 'Neither I nor the board has money, we will try and give the team Rs 2 lakh'. Gavaskar said, 'We are not asking for tips, sir.'
"He looks a very straight, innocent character, but when he asked me for money, don't ask my plight. Kapil instigated from behind and the whole team joined. I relented and offered Rs 3 lakh, and he said, "Sir what is the difference between two and three? May as well don't give.' I reached five lakh, and then seven lakh but they wouldn't agree.
"Inderjit Bindra suggested to have a function in Delhi, and to use the proceeds to pay everybody a lakh each. But we soon realised we would get nothing from the function. Then Mr Bindra suggested a Lata Mangeshkar concert to raise money I went to Lata and told her how the players have been asking for so much money. No sooner had she suggested that they deserved it I jumped on the opportunity and persuaded her for the concert. 'Salve sahib bowled a googly, and I was clean bowled,' Lata later said."
Mangeshkar, though not present here because of ill health, sent a letter to congratulate the team. Salve continued on how she had saved his izzat [honour]. "Otherwise these very players would have beaten me up with their boots. They look dignified today, but they were young once upon a time. Only I was not young. I was old then, I am old now."
The evening ended on a light note, fittingly. Gavaskar said the party had not ended; it would continue for long in Kapil's room once the function was over. Having only read about it and seen the highlights, this evening brought one so close to understanding what the 1983 win meant then. May the party in Kapil's room continue.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo