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Turning Points

The 1983 and 1987 World Cups

They marked a significant shift in cricket's balance of power from England to India

Indian fans watch a World Cup match outside a shop near the Charminar, Hyderabad, March 17, 2007

Indians became the biggest consumers of cricket in the 90s  •  AFP

India's win in the 1983 World Cup remains the biggest upset ever in international cricket, but beyond all the glory that it brought India, the signal achievement of that victory was that it made one-day cricket matter to Indians. In the earlier World Cups, India had merely turned up to make the numbers, winning only one match, against East Africa, and losing to Sri Lanka, not yet a Test nation. If effigies were not burned on the streets back home after Sunil Gavaskar's 60-over 36 not out against England in 1975, it was because no one cared. Before the 1983 World Cup, India had played a mere 40 one-day matches and only six of those at home, the first of which came, amazingly enough, in late 1981.
Had India been as dismal in 1983, it is inconceivable that the country's administrators would have been emboldened to bid for staging rights for the 1987 World Cup, an event that marked the first significant shift in the balance of power in international cricket.
One-day cricket has been India's ticket to superpowerdom. Satellite television was a hungry monster and it fed ravenously on a diet of one-day cricket in the 90s, making Indians the biggest consumers, and in effect, India the biggest market in cricket. You could call the 1983 win a fluke, but rarely do flukes bring about transformations as profound as this one did.
By winning in 1983 and then hosting the tournament four years later (with Pakistan), India made it a global sport. By 2007, the tournament had been to its fifth continent.
In 1987, India got to host the tournament against much opposition from the so-called traditionalists. True, there was much travelling to do, the grassless wickets tended to favour the batsmen, and Asian fans were disappointed as there was no India-Pakistan final. Yet the Reliance Cup marked a turning point in many ways.
It was a major step in the shifting of the headquarters of the game from Lord's to Eden Gardens, culminating in the election of Jagmohan Dalmiya as the first Asian president of the ICC. It brought Indian sponsors into the frame - they have dominated most World Cups since. It saw the revival of then-lowly Australia, who under Allan Border beat England in the final. A decade-and-a-half later, Australia continue to be the leading international team. Post-modern cricket was born in 1987.

This article was first published in Wisden Asia Cricket magazine in 2003