One false shot, and a World Cup lost
The first World Cup outside England was a mixed success. For every packed house that India and Pakistan, the hosts, played to, there was the surreal sight of Zimbabwe and New Zealand playing in a near-empty Eden Gardens. That same stadium was the venue of the final; this time, 100,000 people were on hand to demonstrate, ominously for the rest of the cricketing world, India's sheer demographic advantage. The crowd was squarely behind Australia, not least because their opponents, England, had - against all odds - knocked India out in the semi-final. Australia, winning the toss, opted to bat and put up 253, thanks largely to David Boon's 75. In reply, England were coasting at 135 for 2, captain Mike Gatting and Bill Athey at the crease, when Allan Border stepped up for his left-arm orthodox.
Border was no mug with the ball - the very next season he was to take 7 for 46 against West Indies in the Sydney Test. Gatting was not known for his risk-taking daredevilry and conventional wisdom had it that, with his team comfortably placed, the captain would face his opposite number's first ball with some circumspection. Yet as the ball pitched around his off stump, something snapped in Gatting and he got down on his haunches - a not inconsiderable feat - and effected a reverse-sweep. Except it didn't quite come off; the ball hit his shoulder and flew up and behind to Greg Dyer, who was so surprised he almost dropped it. Magic for Australia, Tragic for England.
The crowd sighed; England were running - as much as Gatts could run - away with it and the Aussies, whom Calcuttans had taken to its their hearts, were seemingly staring down the barrel. And now they were bringing on their best batsman; this final couldn't possibly get any worse. We were all wrong, of course, and when Gatting played that shot, and the ball ballooned up and over to Dyer, there was a cathartic roar that had wrapped in it all the injustices suffered by the good Bengali: The Raj itself, the transfer of the capital (political) to Delhi, Partition and the flight of capital (financial) out of Bengal, maybe even a premonition of Ganguly being axed.
What happened next
England's innings faded into the November dusk, Lamb unable to spark a revival. For Australia, though, the spontaneous celebration and brilliant fireworks that followed - how Calcutta cheered the underdogs - were a precursor to World domination. Blame it all on Gatting.
Jayaditya Gupta is executive editor of ESPNcricinfo in India