The week that went by marked the 37th anniversary of the great event that changed the face of Indian cricket for ever - the triumph in the ICC World Cup of 1983. The story of how underdogs India halted the West Indian juggernaut to register the biggest surprise in cricketing annals has been told and retold on numerous occasions. The various twists and turns that took place during the course of that exciting game and the nail-biting suspense it produced, which finally ended with the wild exhilaration of victory would remain etched in the mind of everyone who was fortunate to experience it. It was, simply put, the “mother of all victories”.
Even the newest entrant to the cricketing fraternity in India would have listened to the tales of Kapil Dev’s unbeaten 175 against Zimbabwe and the catch that he took to send back a marauding Viv Richards in the final. Similar fables about the all- round brilliance of Mohinder Amarnath in the last two matches, Sandeep Patil’s stroke-filled half- century in the semifinal which knocked England out of the championship, Balwinder Singh Sandhu’s magic ball that left Gordon Greenidge flummoxed, and Krishnamachari Srikkanth’s cameo in the final, where he showed little regard for the West India fast bowling quartet, have been passed on from one generation of cricket lovers to the next in the country and thus become part of the cricketing “ballads”.
However, this amazing win was not achieved riding on the shoulders of the heroic exploits of a few players; it was possible because of the efforts put in by the entire squad. This was one of the few instances in the history of the sport where the entire team rose together to attain great heights, with each member contributing far above the potential than he had hitherto been credited with. It was this extraordinary aspect that made the achievement all the more remarkable and would make this a difficult one to emulate.
Gutsy Madan Lal
It is widely appreciated that it was the dismissal of Richards that turned the tide in favour of India in the final. Credit is generally given to Kapil in this regard as he sprinted nearly 30 yards, with his back to the pitch and held the ball running, even as it was dropping fast to the ground. Little praise is paid to Madan Lal who delivered the ball that provoked Richards to launch into a savage pull that he ended up top edging. Richards was in tremendous form and had demonstrated this in no uncertain terms after reaching the crease at the dismissal of Greenidge. He treated the Indian bowlers like club bowlers and was particularly harsh on Madan Lal. One had expected skipper Kapil to remove Madan Lal from the attack after Richards had hit him for three boundaries in an over. In fact Kapil also thought on the same lines but Madan Lal approached him and requested for one more over. It would have required tremendous self belief and courage to seek to bowl to a rampaging Richards, knowing fully well that one more poor over could probably cost his side the match. But the request of the bowler made Kapil change his mind and he decided to continue with Madan Lal. In that over, Madan Lal dismissed Desmond Haynes, which brought some relief to the Indian camp.
When the next over started, Richards, a trifle over confident, saw an easy picking when he watched Madan Lal running in and pitching one short. Though the ball was not as short as he expected it to be, Richards went ahead with the pull shot, with the result that it struck the upper half of the bat and rocketed skywards. And the rest is history.
Binny joins the party
The fact that Roger Binny was the highest wicket-taker of the 1983 World Cup might be known to fans of the game with a flair for statistics. But his contribution in the last league match against Australia, which India had to win to qualify for the last-four stage, has not received the attention it warrants. Batting first, India were reduced to 174/6 and it was only a strong rearguard action led by Binny (21) that ensured a respectable final score of 247 runs. Australia appeared to be comfortably placed at 46/1 when Binny struck to dismiss Graeme Wood, David Hookes and Graham Yallop in quick succession to swing the game decisively in India’s favour.
In the semifinals against England, it was Binny who struck after the opening batsmen had put on 69 runs for the first wicket. He removed both Chris Tavare and Graeme Fowler and brought India back into the game. Binny played a crucial role in the final also, claiming the important wicket of Clive Lloyd. Noticing that the West Indian skipper was not able to get on to the front foot comfortably due to a hamstring injury, Binny bowled one just wide of the batsman, enticing him to drive it. Hampered by the injury, Lloyd was not able to get his leg across and ended up spooning a catch to Kapil at cover. The wicket of Lloyd was as significant as that of Richards as he too possessed the ability to single-handedly carry his side to victory.
Azad grabs the chance
Kirti Azad was one of the few players who was considered fortunate to make it to the squad that left India for the championship. He had done little of note in his international career till then, as there was little scope for his big-hitting ways to succeed in the tough world of Test match cricket. Moreover, the side had Ravi Shastri as the first choice spin bowler and lower order batsman. But good fortune smiled on Azad when he got a chance to play in the league match against Australia, where he equipped himself adequately. In the semifinal game against England, Kapil threw the ball to him when David Gower and Alan Lamb, two batsmen who possessed the skill and temperament to push the score at a brisk pace, had come together. Azad wisely bowled a yard slower than his wont and kept a wicket to wicket line, thus denying the batsmen width and liberty to play their strokes freely. Lamb was so frustrated by his inability to break free that he ran himself out. Ian Botham, who followed Lamb, had made mincemeat of the Indian spin bowlers during the previous season. But he also found himself tied up in knots by the off spin of Azad and could score only six off 26 balls, before he perished, attempting to cut a straight delivery and having his stumps rearranged.
India, who had won only one match in the previous two editions of the World Cup, had started the championship with a bang, defeating the defending champions West Indies, who had not tasted a loss in this tournament till then. The player who helped India to record this historic win was Yashpal Sharma, a doughty middle order batsman, who scored a gritty knock of 89 to help India post a total of 262 runs. In reply, West Indies were bundled out for 228 runs after rains caused the match to be extended to an extra day. In the semifinal against England, it was Yashpal who steadied the Indian innings in the company of Amarnath after the loss of two quick wickets, with the total on 50.
He then went on to play the role of sheet anchor when Patil started hitting the bowlers to all corners of the ground. Yashapl was finally dismissed for 61 with India needing just nine runs.
Similar was the case of Syed Kirmani, who kept the wickets brilliantly throughout the championship. He caught everything that came his way, did not miss any stumping and chipped in with the bat whenever the need arose. His unbeaten stand of 126 with Kapil Dev in the league match against Zimbabwe, which came off only 13 overs, and the last-wicket partnership of 22 runs with Sandhu in the low-scoring final, were his significant contributions with the bat. The catches that he took to dismiss Gower in the semifinal and Faoud Bacchus in the final stand out as testaments to his excellence behind the stumps.
When the memories of that beautiful night of June 25, 1983, are shared again and the tales of the legends passed on, mention must be made about these hardworking cricketers, who also contributed their mite to the success of the side. They were an integral part of Kapil’s Devils who brought the cricketing world to its knees and scripted an “Indian summer” in England.
(The author is a former international umpire and a senior bureaucrat)