When Kapil Dev and Madan Lal had a brief conversation on the pitch at Lord’s on 25 June 1983, during the World Cup final, little did they know that the result of their deliberations would have a profound effect not just on Indian cricket but on the game globally. Over the next few overs these two men, and their teammates, would help to send cricket into a new era.
India had surprised everybody, except perhaps themselves, by reaching the final of the third World Cup, a tournament which, like its two predecessors, was hosted by England. The West Indies had won the 1975 and 1979 World Cups and, having bowled out India for a meagre 183 with more than six overs to spare, were strong favourites to lift the trophy again.
The Caribbean bands had been in a celebratory mood since early in the day, and there was no let-up from them as the imperious Viv Richards, with 7 fours in his 33 runs, helped his team past the 50 mark for the loss of only one wicket. As Richards feasted on the Indian bowling, Sandeep Patil shouted out to Gavaskar in Marathi, ‘At least we will have time to go shopping.’ Kapil’s wife, Romi, did indeed leave to do just that.
Madan Lal, like the other Indian bowlers, had taken punishment, but he felt the champions, and Richards in particular, had become overconfident. He had already had Desmond Haynes caught and, although he had been made to look as if he was giving Richards batting practice, he sensed a chance for India to change the course of what had so far been a one-sided final.
Kapil, India’s captain, recounted that pivotal moment at a promotional event in Mumbai in 2017. He wanted to change his bowling attack, but he relented when Madan stated his case:
Before that particular over, 2 or 3 fours were hit off Madan. So, I went to Madan, asked him to take a break and come back after a few overs. To which Madan said ‘You give me the ball. I have earlier dismissed Vivian Richards, I can do it once more.’
When a player is so confident, even though I was not too keen, I thought, let him bowl another over. They say, some things just happen for you and this happened with us.
Madan felt Richards was vulnerable and he was right. He delivered a ball with more bounce; an overconfident Richards mistimed his shot and hooked it. Kapil ran backwards. Sitting in the press box, surrounded by English and Australian journalists who had written off India, I held my breath. But while I, and all of India fretted, Kapil was calm. In 2014, talking to me at Lord’s, while India played England in a Test, he recalled, ‘I thought nothing when I took the catch. If I had been thinking I would not have taken the catch. Reflexes take over.’ I could not contain my joy as Kapil took the catch over his shoulder with breathtaking ease. This was the turning point of the match. Madan soon struck again, removing Larry Gomes. Lloyd came and went; from 50 for 1 the West Indies had slid to 76 for 6. The steel bands fell silent.
Jeff Dujon and Malcolm Marshall attempted to stem the tide, but Amarnath got them both, and when Kapil trapped Andy Roberts lbw it was 126 for 9. Joel Garner and Michael Holding held out, adding 14, but West Indies were 43 runs short when Amarnath had Holding lbw. India, the team nobody had predicted would do anything in the World Cup, 66–1 no-hopers, had won it. The Indians had gone where Australia and England could not, both of them having been beaten by the West Indies in the two previous finals.
The Indians, not expecting to win, had no champagne with which to celebrate. The West Indians were well stocked, and Kapil, having gone to their dressing room to commiserate, saw the bottles stacked and asked Lloyd to give him some so he could toast the victory. It provided a wonderful final touch: beat the opponent and then drink his champagne.
The West Indies may have been overconfident, but this was a well-drilled Indian team which had worked out its plans. It preferred to bat first, make a score, and then use it to pressure the chasing team. Also, there was remarkable cohesion in the team, the leading players being all from the north. Apart from Roger Binny in the second match against Australia, in every successful match the Indian ‘Man of the Match’ award went to a northern cricketer: Yashpal Sharma, Madan Lal, Kapil himself and, in the semi-final and final, Amarnath. The re-emergence of the north was finally being reflected in the national side.
In the next day’s Sunday Times my colleague Robin Marlar’s piece was headlined, ‘Kapil’s men turn the world upside down’. Mine was headlined ‘Tigers find their claws’ and I wrote it is ‘the Northern mafia who have made this astounding World Cup series possible’. Kapil, I said, was a ‘yaar’, a friend, who had a bond with his team more than other Indian captains had ever managed to create:
It is this relationship between a great player and a strongly motivated group of individuals wanting to prove themselves that explains much of the Indian revival... Some credit for this resurgence must also go to the fact that Indians in England no longer feel alien... The Deputy High Commissioner and the Political Officer have travelled with the team, and the players have struck up much the same rapport with the Indian section of the crowd as they do in India.
Before the final, young Indians had gathered outside Lord’s holding up the Indian flag and a hand-written placard that read ‘Patel bookies, India 11/10, Windies 8/1’. It was meant to mock the real odds, which made the West Indies hot favourites. After the final, they swarmed around Kapil’s team as a previous generation had done around Wadekar’s but in even larger numbers. So delirious were they that it took three hours for the Indian team to make their way to their hotel, which was just over the road. Back in India millions of Indians watched on television. Among them were four kids who would become the second ‘Fab Four’: Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and V. V. S. Laxman. For Dravid, then ten, it was the first match he had watched on television and, as he told me, ‘Cricketers of my generation, Sourav, Sachin, Laxman, and Anil, we all grew up with that memory.’
Just as the Oval, 1971, had been a new dawn for my generation, so was Lord’s, 1983, for these young kids. Winning international competitions was no longer a fantasy.
As Kapil would say years later, ‘Once we started winning matches, everyone was more motivated and played like leaders. We had a team.’ And for this team, winning matches had started not just in England in June but in the Caribbean in March. On an otherwise difficult tour—beaten in the Test and one-day series—India achieved a remarkable, and significant, one-day victory over the West Indies in Berbice, Guyana, on 29 March 1983.
It was like a home game for them, where the Indo-Guyanese were the dominant population.
The West Indies put India in. West Indies’ great pace attack of Holding, Roberts, Davis and Marshall had no reason to suspect Indian batsmen would do much. But Gavaskar was lifted by those thousands of supporters and he played a superb innings, scoring at almost 5 runs an over. Gavaskar made 90 before being run out, while Kapil hit 3 sixes and 7 fours in his whirlwind 38-ball 72. India’s score of 282 for 5 in 47 overs was not only their highest in a one-day match, it was the best score by any team against the West Indies in this format. Kapil Dev, Balwinder Sandhu, Madan Lal then all bowled well against a home team whose confidence seemed to wilt. The spinners kept it tight and the majority of the 15,000 crowd celebrated an Indian victory by 27 runs, their first in what is now called white-ball cricket—then the red ball was still used for limited-overs—against the West Indies.
But while India lost the five-Test series 2–0 and the one-day series 2–1, they proved that the victory at Berbice was no fluke when on 9–10 June 1983 they played the West Indies in their opening World Cup game at Old Trafford. The West Indies had never been beaten in a World Cup match; India’s solitary win had been against East Africa in 1975. But as at Berbice, the West Indies were surprised. India made 262 for 8 in sixty overs—more than they had ever made in a World Cup match. They then bowled the West Indies out for 228.
In their next game against Zimbabwe at Leicester on 11 June they struggled, despite registering a five-wicket win. The match was notable for the large number of Indians in the crowd, and for the first time on an English ground, announcements were made in Hindi and Gujarati. The Indian diaspora in England was emerging. That victory was followed by two heavy defeats within three days, first against Australia, who scored 320, then the return against the West Indies.
After those two defeats India knew only wins would be enough to take them to the semi-finals ahead of Australia. Next was the second encounter with Zimbabwe. Kapil decided India would bat first, thinking this was the best way to have a better run rate than Australia. But on a difficult Tunbridge Wells wicket Gavaskar made a duck and India were reduced to 6 for 3. Kapil, not expecting to bat so soon, was still in the shower after his morning workout and had his towel wrapped around him. He rushed to pad up, and 3 runs later, as the fourth wicket fell, strode out to join Yashpal Sharma, only to see him get out and reduce India to 17 for 5. Kapil made sure no further wicket was lost until lunch and then decided to attack Kevin Curran, Zimbabwe’s most potent bowler. Making the most of the small ground, he hit Curran for sixes into the hospitality tent or clean out of the ground. Kirmani and Kapil put on 126, a World Cup record for the ninth wicket. Kapil’s unbeaten 175 was also a World Cup record individual score, and the total of 266 was enough to defeat Zimbabwe, who batted well but fell 31 runs short.
If this was the great match of the tournament, then beating Australia to get to the semi-finals and there beating England were also major upsets. The look on the faces of the Australian and English journalists told the story. India beat Australia by 118 runs with Binny taking 4 for 29, and Madan Lal, 4 for 20. England, bowled out for 213, were beaten by six wickets.
Kapil was now a great hero. A popular advertisement for bikes featuring him showed him on his way to the airport in a ramshackle taxi. It breaks down and he seems destined to miss the flight and the Test. Then a pretty woman cycles by. She lends Kapil her bike, he reaches the airport in time and in the Test devastates the opposition. Then, just as he goes on national television to receive his ‘Man of the Match’ Award, he winks to acknowledge the help of the woman and her trusty bicycle.
Looking back in 2014 to that victory Kapil told me, ‘My proudest moment was winning the 1983 World Cup. Because when the country enjoys with you that has to be the most important thing. It was just not me. It was my entire team and every person in India was happy.’
However, the World Cup victory did not go to his head. Karan Thapar, then an associate producer at London Weekend Television, recalls how on the morning after the victory he went to the Indian team hotel to find a pack of journalists following Kapil Dev asking for an interview. To all of them he said yes, including Thapar. But Thapar, not sure he meant it, wanted to make sure and after endless telephone calls finally spoke to Kapil Dev. Although it was well past midnight he very politely said, ‘Haan yaar, it’s tomorrow morning at 9, but why don’t you let me get some sleep before that!’ Kapil kept his word and also brought along his vice-captain, Mohinder Amarnath, which emphasized how well his team had bonded together.
But for all the guts they had shown on the field these World Cup winners were also very much part of an Indian cricket world which believed in fairness and decency. So Kirti Azad flew back to India with the team but twenty-four hours later flew back to England to fulfil his commitment to the Lancashire League club he was contracted to play for, scoring a century and helping them win a match. Madan Lal never allowed getting Richards’ wicket go to his head. Soon after, playing in a Lancashire League match, he beat Brian Heywood and while he did not appeal the slip and wicketkeeper did and Heywood was given out caught. Heywood told me, ‘After the match Madan Lal asked me, “Did you hit the ball?” When I said no he said, “I wanted you to know I didn’t appeal.” That to me reflects how the Indians played the game.’
To the great credit of the World Cup-winning team, they resisted the lure of white South African gold. Immediately after the win the white South Africans had approached the Indians hoping to entice them into a rebel tour. Gavaskar told me, ‘The proposition was put to us after we won the World Cup, but to the great credit of the players they turned it down without another thought. It was just out of the question.’
India did not treat this victory to mean that India had arrived as a nation as the West Indies had in the past treated their cricket victories. India had any number of national symbols. For Indians the triumph meant that a dreadfully underperforming sporting nation, which had not won any world competition since the demise of Indian hockey almost two decades earlier, could still take on the best in the world in a sport and beat them.
Excerpted with permission from Aleph Book Company