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World Cup 1983: 25 years on

The year everything changed

The win that transformed Indian cricket sending it on an upswing that lasts to this day

Suresh Menon

June 25, 2008

Comments: 29 | Text size: A | A



The catch that changed cricket: Kapil is mobbed by happy spectators after the dismissal of Richards in the final © PA Photos
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Nineteen hundred and eighty-three might have been just another unmemorable year for India. The monsoons were good and the Congress government, in the time-tested manner, took credit for it. There was communal violence in Punjab and Assam. The former would lead to the assassination of Indira Gandhi, who was prime minister then. She was head of the Non Aligned Movement and host of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meet - talking shops invested with great prestige in a country whose influence in world politics was negligible. The year was unmemorable, but for one event that changed sport, changed cricket, and changed the way middle-class Indians saw themselves.

In the half-century since India had made their Test debut - on June 25, 1932, on the same date and at the same venue where they would lift the World Cup in 1983 - the maharajahs and the nawabs had gone, to be replaced by college-educated Brahmins, the backbone of the middle class. But already the next phase was beginning to reveal itself. The inspirational captain of the World Cup-winning team, Kapil Dev, was neither college-educated nor Brahmin. A generation or so later, Mahatma Gandhi's India, the one that lives in the villages, would push into the background Nehru's India of the cities, and international players would emerge from Najafgarh, Rae Bareilly, Bharuch, Palarivattom, Aligarh, Jalandhar and Ranchi.

Before the World Cup, India had played only 40 one-day internationals in the decade or so that the format had been around. "We didn't take the game seriously," said India's first ODI captain, Ajit Wadekar, "We had no idea of field placings or tactics." India refused to see the shorter game as a legitimate version of cricket. Brijesh Patel, top scorer in India's debut match against England at Leeds in 1974 said later, "I thought this was the future." But his colleagues behaved as if one-day cricket was a pimple on the face of real cricket, one that would disappear quickly.

This attitude was exemplified by India's best batsman, Sunil Gavaskar. In the 1975 World Cup (60 overs a side), after England had made 334 for 4, he batted through the innings to remain not out on 36. Had he been dropped from the team then, or had he voluntarily pulled out, India's approach in the early years might have been different. His attitude affected the team, the officials, the media. Supporting the one-day game was seen as a sell-out.

Yet, ironically, it was Gavaskar who played the most significant innings in the pre-1983 era; one that was to fill the team with self-belief, and lead to India's most important victory before the World Cup.

In the previous season, the Indian selectors had made one of those inspired moves for which they were criticised at the time but which shone like a beacon of common sense in hindsight. They named Kapil Dev captain of the one-day side. Under Kapil, India beat Sri Lanka 3-0, and lost to Pakistan 1-3, but the nucleus of a team took shape. It was a team built on the dual skills of the allrounder, and a team that understood the importance of the medium-pacer. In the 1970s, spinners like Bishan Bedi and Srinivas Venkatraghavan had focused on claiming wickets; now the medium-pacers borrowed from England's strategy and concentrated on keeping the runs down. In those two series Kapil was assisted by Madan Lal, Mohinder Amarnath, Balwinder Sandhu, Roger Binny and Sandip Patil. It was the attack that won them the World Cup.

 
 
Colour TV had come to India the previous year with the Asian Games in Delhi. Suddenly it all came together - television and live telecast from distant fields, an audience hungry for action, a significant victory, and the awareness of the marketing possibilities - and the first steps towards India's domination of world cricket were taken
 

On March 29, with the World Cup 72 days away, India beat twice champions West Indies in Berbice, Guyana. Gavaskar made his first 50 in 52 balls before falling for 90. Kapil Dev made 72 off 38 balls and India 282 for 5 in 47 overs. Madan Lal dismissed Viv Richards for 64, and Ravi Shastri had three wickets as the West Indies finished with 255 to lose by 27 runs. But the statistics of that win were not as important as the impact it had on a team that thought the essence of one-day cricket was simply to turn up and go through the motions.

When Kapil Dev led against West Indies in India's opening match of the 1983 World Cup, bookmakers' odds on India were 66-1. But this was a different team psychologically. It was a team that was confident under a 24-year-old captain who was almost un-Indian in his self-assurance. Seven of the players in the final were in their twenties. There had been no conscious call to youth, but just over a year after that win, India's youngest prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, took office. This was a new awakening, a reappraisal of long-held beliefs.

Only two people believed India could beat the odds. Former Australian captain Kim Hughes, who thought India were "dark horses", and the late Sunder Rajan, who writing in the Times of India predicted an Indian win. Neither had much to go by. India had lost a match at the previous World Cup to Sri Lanka, then not yet a Test-playing country, and their only victory had been against East Africa.

Now they brought to fruition the theory prevailing at the time: pack the team with allrounders, rely on the batsmen getting the runs, and then leave it to the bowlers to be restrictive rather than attacking.

The story of the 1983 World Cup is part of our collective consciousness. India began with a win, against West Indies, so clearly Berbice was no fluke. Kapil Dev's incredible 175 helped overcome Zimbabwe after India were 17 for 5 at one stage. That was the turning point of the tournament. India had lost to West Indies and Australia before that; now they sailed through without another defeat, beating Australia and England before meeting West Indies for the third time, now in the final.

While the team was creating upsets in England, the fans back home were transfixed in their drawing rooms, before shop windows, in offices, clubs and anywhere a television could be accommodated. Colour TV had come to India the previous year with the Asian Games in Delhi. Suddenly it all came together - television and live telecast from distant fields, an audience hungry for action, a significant victory, and the awareness of the marketing possibilities - and the first steps towards India's domination of world cricket were taken. Among those who had tuned in was future India captain Rahul Dravid, then ten years old. "I remember watching that final in Bangalore," he recalled. "That win inspired a lot of young kids to take to the game."

The pictures have been played over and over on television channels and in our minds. Krishnamachari Srikkanth square-driving Andy Roberts for four; Srikkanth taking a single running backwards in sheer exuberance; Balwinder Sandhu clean-bowling Gordon Greenidge, who had let the ball go; Kapil Dev running to catch Viv Richards over his shoulder after Richards had threatened to take the game away; Mohinder Amarnath bowling his friendly medium pace and then shyly walking up to receive his Man of the Match award; Kapil Dev handing over the World Cup to Amarnath; a bunch of unknowns, fans from India, grinning stupidly on the Indian balcony.



India kept the momentum of the World Cup going for a good while, winning the World Championship of Cricket in Australia in 1985 © Getty Images
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From no-hopers to world champions is a huge leap, and led by Kapil Dev, India took it almost casually. Soon they won the Asia Cup in Sharjah and the World Championship of Cricket in Australia. But that was only the immediate fallout. Just as the players made that huge leap, so too did the fans (and the BCCI). One-day cricket went from being dog's dinner to emperor's feast. There's nothing like an international victory to ease the path towards acceptance. History was merely repeating itself with the win in the World Twenty20 last year.

India's one-day history can be divided into three phases. From their debut till the Berbice match in 1983 was a period of adjustment psychologically and physically. India relied on the established Test players to "play their normal game" and hoped for the best.

The second phase, from Berbice till the end of the Hero Cup tournament in 1993, was the Kapil Dev era. Kapil pulled India out of their lethargy, showed what was possible, and inspired the World Cup victory. India played the best teams on equal terms.

The third phase, the Sachin Tendulkar era, began the following year with two important developments. Tendulkar opened the batting for the first time, in New Zealand, and later made his first century, in Sri Lanka, in his 79th match.

But 1983 was the turning point. Soon the World Cup moved out of England. Within a decade England and Australia lost their veto power, and after the second World Cup in the subcontinent, Jagmohan Dalmiya became the president of the ICC.

When, having made 33 in 28 balls Viv Richards lofted Madan Lal in that 1983 final, the cricket world stood still. Kapil Dev took the most significant catch in India's history. From that moment, the world rearranged itself so India would emerge as the game's superpower. Cricket would never be the same again.

Suresh Menon is a writer based in Bangalore

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Posted by DineshIyer on (June 25, 2008, 21:34 GMT)

We won the WC 25 yrs ago and that was a great achievement that must be remembered. Somehow the celebrations to me seem to be going overboard. With the amount of fan-following and money that is invested in Indian cricket, we have been complete under-achievers since that point. Look at Brazil in soccer, they have fan-following and they have made it to the finals 3 out of 4 cups and won 2 of them! The victory in the 1983 WC was supposed to lead to great things. But all it has led to the BCCI becoming power and money crazy!

Posted by kompai on (June 25, 2008, 20:27 GMT)

Until 1983, Only West Indies, Australia and England use to make it to the finals. It is the 1983 world cup that put the 'Can do' attitude in Asians. Since then IND, PAK, SL have won world cups and each one of them have made it to the finals more than once. More than 50% of the finalist came from these teams. England has never won a world cup for that matter. should they be shameful?(They found cricket, correct me if I am wrong). As long as we give a good fight and keep the entertainment value high, I would continue to watch and follow India's cricket. We certainly had shameful world cups like the last one where we didn't qualify for the super six and was a poor show on entertainment as well. I hope that changes.

Posted by vsssarma on (June 25, 2008, 19:23 GMT)

Kapil Dev inspired the team with his personal performances. He played 8 matches, batted 8 innings, 3 times not out, scored 303 runs; bowled 504 balls, conceded 245 runs to take 12 wickets, and then took 7 catches. He was certainly the man of the tournament and was ahead of the second best i.e. Vivian Richards.

What did we do to Kapil Dev now ?

Posted by ajaym_believer on (June 25, 2008, 19:06 GMT)

I was 16 when I went out to sea in 1972. I sailed with many natinalities which are traditionally known for their seafaring traditions, the English, Scandinavians, Germans etc. Based on my personal experiences, at a young age I realised that we are equal to anybody in the world where ability is concerned. What we fell short was in self belief that we can be world beaters. That day in 1983 watching the events unfold on a B&W tv in Delhi, I felt like a world beater. How much impact it had on how India perceived to be where she is now is open to arguement. But Mr. Kalyan, rejoice in significant victories in the past for they lay a foundation for future achievement. I will rejoice in future victories but 1983 will always be significant. It was then we raised our hand and said, we can do it too.

Posted by Gaadi on (June 25, 2008, 16:12 GMT)

Summer of 1983 !!!! Nostalgic memories certainly....Especially so once you start associating such events with your childhood days....

Kapil's Devils certainly changed the way India looked at & played cricket. And for those critics, we will keep talking about 1983 till another ODI team brings us another World Cup. Yes, Dhoni's team was equally brilliant when they won the T20 world cup but you are always charmed by what comes first. Surely 1983 world cup has a certain place in Indian people's minds....It is a shame that the 1975 hockey world cup win did not create the same effect on hockey and on the Indian Hockey Federation.

Posted by KishoreSharma on (June 25, 2008, 14:36 GMT)

A somewhat contrived article. I am not sure why the author had to bring caste into it and where it fits into the picture. There were a number of prominent Indian cricketers and captains before Kapil who were not Brahmins - Bedi, Pataudi, Merchant etc. To make out as though Kapil not being a Brahmin was a significant transition is plainly false.

Posted by insightfulcricketer on (June 25, 2008, 14:32 GMT)

I think in this hullabaloo of '83 cricket win we are missing a point. While truly great that win was, I think the turning point of Indian cricket was the winter of '80-81. When India beat a full strength Australian team at Melbourne and managed wins in World Series Cup against Australia and New Zealand. I compare that to starting to turn a battleship going full blast (read Indian cricket mindset). The '81 team showed it was possible to play the "modern" cricket and excel in it. Sportstar magazine had some fabulous pictures and DD was showing 1 hour capsule after the evening news. In the meantime the Indian team played Eng in England,Pak in Pak and West Indies in WI hardening their game further. By the time '83 World Cup came about the battleship had turned around and I think that ,Jimmy's fabulous form with the bat and '83 win made the game more mainstream . But make no mistake '83 and '85 wins truly captured imagination of awaam. I for one rejoiced like hell as only a 15 year could!

Posted by insightfulcricketer on (June 25, 2008, 14:31 GMT)

I think in this hullabaloo of '83 cricket win we are missing a point. While truly great that win was, I think the turning point of Indian cricket was the winter of '80-81. When India beat a full strength Australian team at Melbourne and managed wins in World Series Cup against Australia and New Zealand. I compare that to starting to turn a battleship going full blast (read Indian cricket mindset). The '81 team showed it was possible to play the "modern" cricket and excel in it. Sportstar magazine had some fabulous pictures and DD was showing 1 hour capsule after the evening news. In the meantime the Indian team played Eng in England,Pak in Pak and West Indies in WI hardening their game further. By the time '83 World Cup came about the battleship had turned around and I think that ,Jimmy's fabulous form with the bat and '83 win made the game more mainstream . But make no mistake '83 and '85 wins truly captured imagination of awaam. I for one rejoiced like hell as only a 15 year could!

Posted by RedRascal on (June 25, 2008, 14:23 GMT)

The reason it is beng discussed is that it had been the only achievment by Indian sport at a world level for the last 25 years, and the reason that it did not cause the same impact in Pakistan ( after 92) is that even in 75, 79 and 83 World cups Pakistan team made the semi finals, they were not the 66-1 odds and no hopers coming and winning the finals in 1992, their track record in the game was good, a likely comparison would be if Bangladesh wins the world cup with their current track record, that was how India's record in the one day world was in 1983, they had won 1 match in two world cups before 1983 ! Those who did not exist at the time of the win do not understand the importance and the impact of the occaision.

Posted by ToTellUTheTruth on (June 25, 2008, 14:13 GMT)

How old are you anyway Kalyan? May be you are too young to have not witnessed the significance of this victory. It has transformed an entire nation. Cricket really really took off after this victory. My heart still flutters remembering those grainy pictures on the B&W TV I watched the games. I very clearly remember my aunt running into the pooja room and praying her heart out (at 4:00 AM in the morning or so) for Indian victory. I still remember the whole family going to the Hanuman temple the day of the win and offering 101 coconuts, as we believed that God did help our team. This was one single event that united the country like never before, at least for a brief while. I never played cricket before that day. But after that the only thing I knew was run in from 25 paces and throw the ball as hard as I could. How many people got inspired by that win and how many gems of players came out just because of this single victory? God only knows. Nostalgia, you call it. As well it is.

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Suresh Menon Suresh Menon went from being a promising cricketer to a has-been, without the intervening period of a major career. He played league cricket in three cities with a group of overgrown enthusiasts who had the reverse of amnesia - they could remember things that never happened. For example, taking incredible catches at slip, or scoring centuries. Somehow Menon found the time to be the sports editor of the Pioneer and the Indian Express in New Delhi, Gulf News in Dubai, and the editor of the New Indian Express in Chennai. Currently he is a columnist with publications in India and abroad, and is beginning to think he might never play for India.
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