The year we grew up
Where were you in the 18th year of your life: the year when you came of voting age, when you didn't have to slink into a cinema screening an adult movie, when you saw "independence" in the welcoming arms of the college canteen, when you dated, and drank Old Monk and Coke?
I know where I was: like millions of Indians in my age group, the summer of 1983, the year I crept into adulthood, will be defined by one glorious evening in central London. Only, I was a wee bit luckier: I was actually at Lord's on June 25 when the World Cup was India's. I was playing league cricket in England, dreaming of being a professional cricketer one day. A friend had suggested we go to watch the final, but we didn't have a ticket.
And then, quite remarkably, India beat England in the semi-final at Old Trafford and suddenly the English seemed to lose interest in the sport. We managed to get tickets, along with a visiting team of schoolboy cricketers from Rajkot's famous Rajkumar College, which lists Ranjitsinhji among its distinguished alumni.
We went to watch the game with a prayer more than any realistic anticipation of victory. India versus West Indies in the 1980s was a bit like Afghanistan versus India in 2015. Well, not quite, but pretty close. The West Indians were a mighty side, arguably the greatest of all time, certainly the closest you could ever get to perfection. Any side blessed with the majesty of Viv Richards, the power of Gordon Greenidge and Clive Lloyd, the artistry of Jeff Dujon, and, above all, the sheer pace of the most fearsome attack in cricket history (four of them!) was simply invincible. Or so we thought. We were going to be runners-up, a good enough reason to spend a day at the home of cricket.
In fact, when India were bowled out for 183, one of our band of merry supporters, former Test player Yajurvindra Singh, decided to go shopping. His brother was to arrive that evening and Yajurvindra, a record holder for most catches in a Test innings (by a non-wicketkeeper), decided it was best to leave before the final act of what seemed a formality. It was perhaps the worst decision he has made in his life!
The glorious uncertainty of sport is a bit of a poppycock cliché. You don't expect Usain Bolt to be out-sprinted, Roger Federer to lose to a player ranked in the lowly 100s, Real Madrid to lose to a Kolkata club. Some things are not meant to happen. And yet, bless the Lord, India - 50-to-one outsiders at the start of the tournament, a team whose previous World Cup record included wins against lowly East Africa and not much else - achieved the seemingly impossible. Kapil Dev lifted the Cup that evening, West Indies were shell-shocked, and we - well, we just soaked in the wonderment of the win.
There may be little sense in recounting the highlights: before every World Cup, we are taken on a nostalgic journey with endless replays of the famous win. And yet, each little shot and wicket only adds to the drama. Of Kris Srikkanth, wielding his bat like a sword, actually hooking a six off Andy Roberts; of Sandeep Patil lofting Larry Gomes into a stand where we were surrounded by beer-swigging West Indian supporters; of Syed Kirmani diving full length to take a catch; above all, of Kapil running like he was at the Haryana marathon and then bursting into the widest smile imaginable after dismissing Viv, who was batting with an imperious air, almost as if he owned the ground and the Cup.
For me, the special moment was when Balwinder Sandhu, a genial sardar, bowled another great West Indian batsman, Greenidge, when he shouldered arms. "Balloo", as he was fondly referred to, was our mate from the Mumbai maidans; we often played him in club matches and never really saw him as a world-beater. And yet, here he was on the biggest stage of them all, bamboozling one of the finest players of fast bowling. If Sandhu could make the West Indians dance to his swing, we should have known it was to be an exceptional day.
June 1983 was not just about what happened on the field. It changed Indian cricket forever, and at the risk of hyperbole, it changed the country too. Suddenly we had a renewed self-belief as a nation. The early 1980s were a tough and violent period: rising militancy in Punjab, massacres in the north-east, and riots in other parts. Indira Gandhi's prime ministership was under question, haunted by corruption and slow economic growth: India was a nation under siege that was looking for some inspiration to lift the spirit.
Cricket provided that magical moment of hope in times of despair. Indian cricket till then had flourished in an amateur garb: you played cricket for India but you still worked for Tata or State Bank of India or Air India in your day job. This was public- sector India and cricket was part of the socialist ethos, where players were meant to serve the public, not be seen as stars shining through private enterprise.
The 1983 win changed the commercial worth of the Indian cricketer forever. Until then, cricketers rarely did advertisements. Farokh Engineer in a Brylcreem ad in the 1960s had been an exception. Yes, Sunil Gavaskar in the 1970s had acquired superstar status but his was the achievement of the middle-class hero: an old-style Test batsman who had defied the fastest bowlers in the world. Gavaskar's world, much like the India of the times, was not one of extravagance or self-indulgence; he was the classical singer in the Mohammad Rafi mould. India was waiting for its metropolitan Kishore Kumar voice, and found it in the incredibly versatile Kapil Dev.
If you ever went to a movie theatre in the 1980s, you couldn't miss Kapil. With his toothy smile and wide moustache, he invited you into a new world that said, quite simply, "Palmolive da jawaab nahi." If Gavaskar was the legend, Kapil became a pop icon for a young India: suddenly, in the land of spinners, everyone wanted to bowl fast and hit sixes. Kapil transformed the role of the Indian cricketer from player to entertainer. Cricket was ready to take its first step into the entertainment industry. The day jobs could now be given up in the belief that the sport would pay enough if you were good enough. The economy was liberalised only in 1991, but cricket was "liberated" from its feudal past in 1983: the relationship between player and patron, between officials and the men in white (we still didn't have coloured clothing) became that much more equal.
Part of it was to do with the advent of colour television in India just a year earlier, in 1982, at the Asian Games. In the 1960s and early '70s, you experienced cricket through the radio: ball-by-ball commentary was our window to the magical game, and we kept our transistors fixed to our ears. From 1975 (government-run) Doordarshan began showing cricket matches live, but in black and white. The 1983 World Cup, though, was played out in colour, the size of the television screen also slowly expanding to accommodate the visual effect. The romance between live cricket and colour television would change the sport forever.
Sachin Tendulkar would, in the 1990s, become the first real hero of the satellite television age, but the seeds were sowed by "Kapil's Devils" (a name that has never gone away) a decade earlier. Indeed, even the minor stars of that win are routinely wheeled out before every World Cup: the Man of the Match in the final, Mohinder Amarnath, the honest trier Madan Lal, the ebullient Kirmani, the noisy Kirti Azad, the feisty Yashpal Sharma.
In 2008 we did a television programme to celebrate 25 years of the famous win. The entire squad came for it, including Sunil Valson, who didn't play a single match in the tournament, but can always tell his grandchildren that he won a World Cup medal. As I hope to tell mine: when India won in 1983, I was there!
PS: The moment Amarnath got the last wicket of Michael Holding, we actually ran onto the field in delight, waving the tricolour. A West Indian in the crowd threw a can of beer in our direction. I picked it up and drank what little remained of it. You are, after all, 18 only once!
Rajdeep Sardesai is a consulting editor with TV Today and the author of 2014: The Election That Changed India