Mukul Kesavan is a writer based in New Delhi
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The national audience for cricket was created by Doordarshan. I was part of that pan-Indian audience when it first gathered as one to watch the World Cup in 1983. Which partly explains why I was so annoyed in an earlier post that Doordarshan had passed on the Bangladesh Test matches.
I watched India win the 1983 World Cup in black-and-white. I also watched it in colour. Colour television had arrived in 1982 with the Asian Games in Delhi, but my parents weren't early adopters. So the Indian innings, which I watched at home (including Kris Srikkanth's stirring cameo) lives in my mind in period monochrome. 183 in 1983. Srikkanth, who opened, pulled Andy Roberts for four and I can still, a quarter of a century later, hear that knowing commentator tell us that Roberts had two bouncers: the quick one and the quicker one. The one that Srikkanth had hammered had been the former. He knew, this commentating genius, that Roberts was setting him up. And he was…right. Roberts bowled him the faster bouncer and Srikkanth was so surprised that he pulled it for six.
But when we collapsed for under two hundred, the fairy tale seemed over. You have to understand that none of us really thought we could win. This was the West Indies, twice champions of the world already. Just to list their bowlers was to finger a rosary of scary modern greats: Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Malcolm Marshall and Joel Garner. And we were one-day minnows; that we were in the final was a miracle. In the first two World Cup competitions we had won once, against a minor team.
In the break between innings, I did what what Indian fans have always done: I consoled myself with individual performances amid the collective wreckage. Individual performance, actually, in the singular: Srikkanth top-scored with 38. Reading the scorecard now, it's odd to notice that it took him 57 balls to make, because I remember it as a berserker innings.
Anyway, after the team folded, we drove to a friend's house because it seemed too depressing to sit indoors waiting for the West Indies to begin killing us. Venkat, who lived a few miles away, had a new colour television. I saw Desmond Haynes and Gordon Greenidge take guard in colour. The West Indies didn't just have the four greatest fast bowlers in cricket, they also had an invicible top order. Haynes and Greenidge had been the best opening partnership in the game for years. Number 3 was Viv Richards, whose on-field aura was more menacing than that of most fast bowlers. Number 4 was the skipper, Clive Lloyd who had been giving Indians a hard time from the time I was twelve. And they batted all the way to eight.
But colour worked for us. Balwinder Singh Sandhu, the gentlest swing bowler in the history of cricket, got Greenidge to shoulder arms to a slow-motion in-dipper and that was the end of Greenidge. There was a nasty passage when Richards was cruel to Madan Lal, hitting him for lots of unnecessarily emphatic boundaries but that ended in colour too, with Kapil in whites bounding across green turf to catch a red ball dropping over his shoulder in his brown hands. We tore ourselves away from that magic box because we had to get home for dinner. By the time we got back, Lloyd and Larry Gomes and Faoud Bacchus were gone too, consumed, presumably, by the corrosive colour of Venkat's television. Mohinder Amarnath didn't let the handicap of my mother's old black-and-white set get to him: bowling even slower than Sandhu, he winkled out Jeff Dujon and Marshall who were threatening a lower order resurgence, and then, suddenly, the thing was done.
There were people screaming and little explosions in my corner of Delhi. All the accounts I've read of that famous victory have fire-crackers going off. And they're all true, because for once the phrase 'India rejoiced' wasn't a metaphorical flourish--it was literally true. The World Cup of 1983 was the first cricket event that had a national television audience in India. Indians had watched live cricket on television for years before 1983, but never as a networked national audience. Calcutta, Delhi, Bombay, Madras didn't watch the same programmes. Only with the Asian Games of 1982 did the National Programme come into being, which linked all of Doordarshan's broadcasting nodes for the same telecast. The result was that India's incredible win in 1983 was watched by a single pan-Indian audience, tens of millions of eyeballs transfixed by a single event.
This coincidence of national telecasting and World Cup victory transformed cricket in three ways.
It cemented cricket's primacy in India because this newly consolidated television nation wanted winners and Indian cricket team had delivered glory on cue. Two years later, our one-day heroes delivered again when, captained by Gavaskar, we won the World Championship, a one-off one-day tournament in Australia, this time in blue costumes (in 1983 the teams wore white). These two victories won cricket a new mass audience which was as interested in savouring the unfamiliar taste of international glory as it was in watching cricket.
This perfectly timed, nationally televised victory, created a massive captive audience for any company that had the sense to advertise its wares in the course of a cricket match. India hadn't yet emerged from the austerity of autarky and high tariff barriers (the Maruti 800 was launched the year we won), so this was an untapped ocean of consumers. Unsurprisingly Dhirubhai Ambani saw the opportunity first and staged the Reliance Cup in 1987. Pepsi moved in to India at the end of the decade and began recruiting actors and cricketers for its campaigns because they were the keys to India's consuming classes. First Kapil Dev, then Mohammad Azharuddin, then Sachin Tendulkar and his generation became rich and the BCCI became powerful. By the time India began to open up its economy at the start of the Nineties, cricket owned the national audience and was perfectly positioned to milk a sub-continental market.
And once it became clear that India owned the world's largest and most lucrative audience for cricket, the balance of power within world cricket changed decisively. For good and ill, India became the pivot of the ICC, of world cricket. The consequences of this shift in power are still working themselves out.
And all of this began that long ago summer evening in 1983, when spectators like me, individually clapping for India, found ourselves part of a national communion.
This post first appeared as an article in the April 2007 issue of Cricinfo Magazine