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1983 World Cup - the year everything changed

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

Suresh Menon
Suresh Menon
PA Photos

PA Photos

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.
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.
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