After recalling one of the most deplorable chapters in Indian cricket only yesterday, I am happy to go down memory lane again today and cover a much more pleasant episode. Indeed, June 25, 1983 is arguably the greatest day in Indian cricket. Exactly 17 years ago to the day, India won the World Cup at Lord's and it was an event that was predictably celebrated loud and long in this country.
And why not? After all, it was the first time that India were winning the premier competition and the fact that it came about most unexpectedly still gives it the fairly tale touch. The significance of the feat is best exemplified by the fact that four more World Cup tournaments have come and gone and India have never come anywhere near winning it again.
India had been eliminated at the group stage in the first World Cup in 1975. They fared worse four years later, losing all their pool matches including a shock defeat at the hands of then lowly Sri Lanka. Over the next few years, there had been some improvement in the team's one day performances - a series victory over England at home in 1981-82, a famous win over West Indies at Berbice in March 1983. Yet it did not come as a surprise that India were quoted as 66 to one outsiders to take the World Cup. It was a good side, fairly well balanced in batting and bowling, there were a number of utility players, so very important in limited overs cricket and it was quite strong in seam bowling which was ideal for English conditions. But the opposition - holders West Indies, England, Australia, Pakistan and New Zealand - was formidable. India had fared badly in the one day matches against Australia and New Zealand in 1980-81, had come a cropper in England in 1982 and had lost to Pakistan in 1982-83. The general view was that India would finish third in their group behind West Indies and Australia and be elminated at the group stage itself.
Even when India shocked West Indies in their opening match - it was the first defeat the holders suffered in World Cup history - the odds came down only marginally. The reasoning was it could be a fluke. The Indians then defeated Zimbabwe in a match of giant killers - the Zimbabweans had surprised Australia - but then went down to two straight defeats at the hands of Australia and West Indies. The dream start seemed to be fast fading and it did look like the initial forecasts about the team would come true.
Then came Tunbridge Wells and Kapil Dev's 175 not out. It was just the kind of blood transfusion the side needed. That one innings transformed the Indians and outplaying Australia in the last league match, the Indians pipped the 1975 runners-up for the semifinal spot from the group.
Even at this stage the Indians were taken lightly. In fact one headline in an English newspaper virtually thanked the Australians for losing to India for that made England's task easier - or so the home team supporters thought. It was already taken for granted that the pre tournament forecast of an England-West Indies final would come true for the holders were meeting Pakistan in the other semifinal.
There had been no live telecast of India's matches so far but fortunately for us, the semifinal was telecast live. The start was ominous with England getting off to a good start but they lost considerable ground in the middle order with the unexpected duo of Mohinder Amarnath and Kirti Azad keeping Botham and company in check. Ultimately England were all out for 213 which did seem to give India a chance. But given the Indian record in England and the World Cup there was still a lot of trepidition. It was not until Gavaskar and Srikkanth came up with a firm partnership of 46 for the first wicket that hopes were raised and then of course the solid middle order of Amarnath, Yashpal Sharma and Sandip Patil built upon this to steer India to an unforgettable victory. Even today, the picture of Yashpal's stupendous six off Bob Willis - for which he just flicked a really fast ball pitched on middle stump and despatched it over long leg - remains etched in my memory. As also the comical ending when Willis, the England captain had all his fielders on the pavilion side of the ground, to give the players an escape route, with the crowd prematurely having invaded the field just before this with the scores level. Patil was given all the freedom in the world to hit the winning boundary.
So the 66 to one rank outsiders were in the final! And up against the holders who had made short work of Pakistan in the other semifinal. Naturally they were the outsiders again. Despite their encouraging showing so far, few gave them any chances against West Indies who had an aura of invincibility about them. After their defeat against India in the first match, they had registered six successive victories and seemed to be peaking at the right time.
I remember scenes from this match vividly - it was again telecast live. The first memorable happening that had us on our feet was Srikkanth's square drive off Roberts, the ball racing to the fence. It was a typical Srikkanth retort. But after the early flourish came the sickening collapse and from 90 for two, India were all out for 183 with Srikkanth's 38 being the top score. Little could we have realised then that it would be the top score not just of the innings, but in the match.
Well, so the challenge was over - or almost. ``You put up a good fight boys, well done and all that, better luck next time,'' was the popular refrain at this juncture. The early fall of Greenidge - bowled by an incutter from Balwinder Sandhu that is remembered and recalled even today - raised hopes somewhat but these were quickly dashed by Vivian Richards' brilliance. At 50 for one, it seemed all over, and it was taken for granted that in the next couple of hours, West Indies would be celebrating their hat-trick of triumphs.
The rest of the story is of course well known by now even to the younger generation, probably not even born in 1983. Richards playing a little too eagerly at Madanlal and Kapil Dev, running back to take a well judged catch; The sudden middle order collapse that saw West Indies slide from 50 for one to 76 for six. In a trice, Richards, Haynes, Bacchus, Gomes and Lloyd had gone. Suddenly the hunter had become the hunted. And all over India, the fans watching the telecast could scarcely believe what was happening. Yes, we were seeing all this on TV but was it true? We kept pinching ourselves to make sure it wasn't all a dream.
But at Lord's it was very much a reality. India were indeed pressing for victory and in fact barring a miracle, an astounding result was round the corner. Miracles do not occur too often otherwise they would not be called miracles, would they? And there were no further turnabouts that evening. The West Indian tail put up some semblance of a fight - thanks mainly to Jeff Dujon and Malcolm Marshall - but their partnership only heightened the suspense and delayed the inevitable. At around 11.55 pm IST Amarnath had Holding leg before and the mighty West Indies had been bowled out for 140. It was victory - glorious and unexpected - and the Indian players, all smiles, made a sprint for the pavilion, in a vain bid to get there before the racing supporters got to them. It was pandemonium but of a delightful variety.
Back home of course the crackers started going off even as the Indians were smelling victory. And following the triumph - despite the unearthly hour - the fireworks just would not stop. It was a fact but it still seemed to be straight out of fiction. Only when we saw Kapil Dev being presented with the trophy, which the Indian captain proudly held aloft for the world to see, did we come to the terms with reality - India had indeed won the World Cup.
For me personally it brought back memories of another triumphant day - August 24, 1971 at the Oval when India defeated England to win a series there for the first time. It was about 7.10 pm in India when Abid Ali square cut Brian Luckhurst to the boundary for the winning hit. Of course, almost 30 years ago we could only savour the historic event courtesy the radio. Twelve years later, there was TV. Indeed, it does seem hard to believe that 17 years have gone by since that memorable day at Lord's. The events remain so fresh in the memory of those who saw the game - and why not?