Ten of the world’s best teams are in England at the moment, trying to lay their hands on the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup, the most prestigious symbol of supremacy in the sport there is. It is here that the ‘Kapil’s Devils’, a bunch of no-hopers, had dethroned the mighty West Indies to win the cup for the first time. That was 36 years ago, and the memories of that stunning win still linger.
Who can forget that spectacular Kapil Dev catch in the final, running back 20 yards at mid-wicket to send back a rampaging Vivian Richards off the bowling of Madan Lal? Or for that matter, the turning point in that tournament — the unbeaten 175 by the skipper after walking in at 17 for 5 and helping India beat Zimbabwe, to find a slot in the semifinals? Another defining moment in that final was the inswinger from Balvinder Singh Sandhu that got rid of Gordon Greenidge.
Sandhu — to me, the ‘Sardar of Swing’ — and I go back a long way. We used to operate with the new ball for both club and company in local cricket, exchanging notes on how to improve on our craft. He lived a couple of kilometres away from my place in Mumbai. Therefore it was a 10-minute early morning ride for him on his motor-bike, a quick cup of tea made by my mother for both of us, and then we would go down to the ground for fitness sessions or a long bowl at the nets. In my family, he was ‘Our Ballu’.
On that memorable evening in June 1983, my parents, brother, a couple of neighbours and I were glued to the black-and-white television set in our drawing room as India took on the might of Clive Lloyd’s boys in the final. The Indian batsmen were like lambs to slaughter, put in to bat on a green, seaming track at Lord’s against the likes of Andy Roberts, Joel Garner, Malcolm Marshall and Michael Holding. After Sunil Gavaskar had left early, K Srikkanth and Mohinder Amarnath were battling it out in the middle, like gladiators.
Just then, the TV camera panned onto the Lord’s balcony to show the tense faces of the Indian batsmen to follow. Sandhu, to bat at 11, had just picked up a cup of tea. “Look,” I said, “Ballu will now dip his finger in the hot tea, move the layer of cream aside, and then lick his finger.” He did just that and all of us, as tense as the players in the dressing room, had a hearty laugh at Our Ballu’s expense.
Sandhu walked in to bat after Marshall had clean bowled Madan Lal; the score then was 161 for 9. He scored an unbeaten 11, facing 30 deliveries and added 22 valuable runs for the last wicket with Syed Kirmani. “One of those deliveries from Marshall was a skidding bouncer and I lost sight of it,” says Sandhu. “The ball thudded into the side of my helmet but I carried on gamely though my head felt heavy.”
When people ask him about that delivery these days, displaying a wry sense of humour, he replies, “Marshall didn’t realise that I was a sardar and that I don’t have anything up there.” Sandhu has this rare quality of laughing at himself. Often during our cricket tours, he would forget something small and then say, “Arrey, main bhi sardar hoon.”
Sandhu’s forgetfulness reminds me of the day when he met Greenidge a few months before his benefit match at the Wankhede Stadium, almost 10 years after the epic final at Lord’s. In that 1983 final, he had had the legendary West Indies opener shouldering arms to a ball that he thought would leave him but had dipped in at the last moment to clip his off bail. That wicket, early on, had set India on the trail to victory.
Designing a logo for Sandhu’s letterhead and visiting card for his benefit match, I had drawn a stylised version of Greenidge, shouldering arms, and the bowler, Sandhu celebrating. That logo, as many of his well-wishers opined, had summed up Sandhu’s international career.
That evening, in the Wankhede Stadium dressing room, after Sandhu had invited Greenidge to participate in his benefit match, the West Indies great had asked him for a visiting card. Sandhu had taken a card from his pocket and was about to hand it over to him, when he remembered that the logo was based on Greenidge’s moment of embarrassment. “Oh, oh,” cried Sandhu, quickly putting the card back into his pocket, “I’ll give you my phone number on a piece of paper.”
Greenidge was taken aback but the sheepish expression on Sandhu’s face was worth going miles to see.
In his book The Devil’s Pack (co-authored by me), he mentions how the Indian batsmen who had ‘failed’ in the match against Zimbabwe at Tunbridge Wells had tried to hide when Kapil Dev returned to the dressing room after that epic knock of 175 not out. The skipper, realising that they were distraught, is said to have shouted out: “C’mon guys, it is going to be a hard day in the field for us. You better eat something. You can’t give your best on empty stomachs.” Reassured, they are said to have played their hearts out and won that match by 31 runs. Sandhu says, “Even Gavaskar, the team’s elder statesman, was so impressed by the skipper’s knock that he went running with a glass of water for him as he walked back to the dressing room.”
Mentioning Ravi Shastri, Sandhu says that as soon as the prize-money for the winners was announced after the final on 25 June 1983, the present head coach of the Indian team had his figures ready as to how much each player’s share would be. Hope he has his figures ready for the winners of 2019 too! It will surely help.
Sandhu says that the Indian team of 1983 won, not because they were the best amongst the lot but because they had an intense desire to win, had self-belief and had faith and trust in each other’s abilities. “All of us gave a hundred percent on the field and then had a lot of fun off it.”
The present Indian team, under Virat Kohli, has self-belief. But, how strong is their desire to win? Who amongst Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami will bowl that magic ball — like Our Ballu’s inswinger to Greenidge — if India plays the final on 14 July? Let’s wait and see.
The author is a caricaturist and sportswriter. A former fast bowler, mentor and administrator, he believes in calling a spade a spade.