August 21, 2007

Two triumphs and a royal assault

Looking back to two legendary Indian ODI wins in England, and a 1984 classic

The NatWest win in 2002 marked the coming of age of a generation of Indian cricketers © Getty Images

Whenever a list of the great sporting upsets is compiled, India's 1983 World Cup triumph will come right near the top, if nothing else for the sheer lack of pedigree on one side and the all-conquering nature of the other. As the years go by, it becomes ever more difficult to comprehend that a team of thoroughbreds was defeated by one comprising dibbly-dobblers like Mohinder Amarnath, Balwinder Singh Sandhu and Madan Lal.

Whenever India play a one-day series in England, it brings back happy memories of that more innocent time, a time before Match Ke Mujrim [The Accused], inane sound-bites and stomach-churning ads about the so-called Blue Billion. By the time India clinched a three-nation tournament almost exactly 19 years later, cricket in India had long since taken off in a hype balloon; you could even get commemorative DVDs of the win against England - no West Indies by any stretch of the imagination.

Despite the opposition, though, that Lord's success was an important step for Indian cricket in the run-up to a World Cup in South Africa. Virender Sehwag and Sourav Ganguly did the damage at the top of the order, with Sachin Tendulkar piling on the runs from No. 4. Rahul Dravid provided the solidity and the finishing touches, but it was the freshness of youth that imbued the win with such significance.

Half a decade on, Yuvraj Singh is still around. In Greg Chappell's first season as coach, he threatened to take the step up to world-class, but after a poor start to 2006-07, a knee injury and a rotten World Cup, he's a man who still has much to prove.

At least Yuvraj gets that opportunity. Sehwag and Kaif are not so lucky, axed after dips in form that coincided with India's one-day cricket going into a tailspin last season. Others from 2002, like Ashish Nehra - who would go on to wreck English World Cup hopes in Durban a few months later - are also gone, while Zaheer Khan may have to be nursed through after his exertions in the Test series win.

One-day cricket in England still hasn't changed much since the day Sandhu uprooted Gordon Greenidge's off stump with an inswinger that Imran Khan would have been proud of. Unlike on the subcontinent, where you can start the flaying from ball one, in England the first half hour usually belongs to the bowler. The innings needs gradual acceleration rather than a rocket launch.

Most of the pyrotechnics are saved for the death, when the soft ball and quick outfields tilt the scales away from the bowler. With wickets in hand, anything's possible, as Mohammad Ashraful and Aftab Ahmed so thrillingly demonstrated at Cardiff against Australia two seasons ago.

English fans will look back fondly at the golden years of Robin Smith, and the all-too-brief summer when the brothers Hollioake helped rout Australia, but for most people born before Nadia Comaneci was perfect, late surges will always equate to the King at Old Trafford.

The King rocks Old Trafford in 1984 © Getty Images

You can twist the figures any way you like, but there'll never be a greater one-day batsman than Vivian Richards, nor will there be an innings as effortlessly paced and spine-chillingly destructive as the one he produced in the opening one-day match of the 1984 Texaco Trophy.

Till then, the mighty West Indians had been faces on cards we collected. And when Ian Botham and friends reduced them to 166 for 9, they didn't seem so mighty either. But Richards remained at one end, the epitome of cool with his maroon cap, wrist bands and chewing gum, and he was joined by perhaps the most athletic figure to take a cricket field - Michael Anthony Holding.

"I didn't have to do anything," said Holding with a laugh years later when asked about that remarkable 106-run partnership. That was being excessively modest, though. He stayed steadfast at one end, managing the odd single, even as Richards freed his arms and unveiled a repertoire of strokes that we've rarely seen since. The disdainful flicks over the leg side were awesome enough, but nothing approaches the huge sixes over mid-off, shots he made room for by stepping away to the leg side.

Ricky Ponting and Adam Gilchrist came closest to matching that magnificence, in the World Cup finals of 2003 and '07, while Tendulkar was eerily good in his 1998 pomp. But for all the emotions associated with Indian wins at Lord's in '83 and '02, the main memory - the tricks of childhood adoration, perhaps - of one-day cricket in England will always be of the day when a proud man reminded us just why it was worthwhile to collect those beautifully drawn picture cards.

Dileep Premachandran is associate editor of Cricinfo