Rank outsiders, they said. We had not a clue what that meant.
Fancied at 66-1, they proclaimed. Again, that sailed over our heads, though in our collective ignorance, we believed there was something to look forward to because 66 sounded such an impressive number.
Gawky teenagers blissfully unaware of the world beyond us, we were naïve 14-year-olds who had neither the knowledge nor the maturity or access to information that today’s 14-year-olds have. Like so many others, we naturally gravitated towards the game of bat-and-ball, making up our own rules — as well as bats and balls — mentally picturing ourselves as Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev.
Our cricketing memories were largely fashioned by mellifluous radio commentary that magically transported us to Melbourne and Manchester. It was as if, if you closed your eyes and allowed the mind to create its own images, you could actually see the action unfold graphically. Then, miraculously and just in time for the 1982 Asian Games in the national capital, live action on colour television smash-grabbed our senses. We were a little disappointed that we had to abandon our imagination, but the wondrous opportunity of being able to see top sportspersons go about their business with such class more than made up for that disappointment.
Oh, those innocent, ignorant times.
Thus it was that we braced ourselves for the 1983 World Cup – the Prudential World Cup, as it were. We didn’t know what Prudential was, but were taken in by the glorious-sounding and suitably intimidating name. The Hindu, the odd magazine and my father had unwittingly lowered expectations in the lead-up to the tournament by pointing out that in two previous editions and six matches, India had won a solitary World Cup match, against the unheralded East Africa in 1975.
Yet, we harboured hopes. Not of our heroes going all the way, of course, but of a win here, an upset there. I am not sure, 37 years on, if we truly believed we would win a match, though Berbice was still fresh in memory, as was original hero Gavaskar’s 90 in that stirring win in the Caribbean just a couple of months previously.
We savoured the stunning conquest of two-time defending champions West Indies in the campaign-opener in Manchester, courtesy Yashpal Sharma’s 89. It was as if the World Cup itself had been won. Our summer vacations would have been totally worth it even had India not won another game in the competition. But they did, and with each win, even as the cup of joy brimmed over, so was the inescapable feeling that the worst was round the corner.
At 9 for 4 and 17 for 5 in unheard of Tunbridge Wells against unfancied Zimbabwe, our world – at once outrageously both optimistic and pessimistic – was rapidly collapsing around us. For a change, I was happy to be weaned away to a family function that evening. When we got back home, I rushed to turn on the transistor, heart pounding, fumbling fingers twiddling with the tuner before eventually locating the soothing voices of seasoned action-callers. I couldn’t believe my ears, India were on the verge of victory! Kapil, 175 not out, I thought I heard, then told myself, ‘Nah, somehow we managed to reach 175.’ It was inconceivable then that one man could score so many runs in such little time. Even if that man answered to the name of Kapil Dev.
Not even after pesky Zimbabwe were defeated did one dare dream of the ultimate accomplishment. That was the time when India’s One-Day International credentials were less than awe-inspiring, and we followers of fortunes viewed every Test draw overseas as a victory of sorts. Perhaps out of a sense of patriotism, you sometimes allowed your imagination to run wild, but that was more a fleeting and fanciful experience. And so even when India reached the semi-final, against England, you felt this was as good as it got.
That game was to be televised live on the only channel available at the time, Doordarshan. For some silly reason, I remember even the make and model of the black-and-white television at our Madras home – Dyanora T481. My dad and I crowded around the contraption on match-day, impervious to everything around us. I remember, fuzzily, being wild and exuberant; the old man was a picture of composure, occasional wiping of his spotless spectacles the only giveaway that he probably wasn’t as calm as he appeared.
The two standout memories of that game, again for no reason, are the near-grubber with which Kirti Azad got rid of Ian Botham, and Sandeep Patil’s spectacular assault on Bob Willis as India galloped towards victory. Botham was a nightmare; laugh if you must, but I genuinely believed he could never get out, that he would pick up a wicket every ball, that if you got your hand in the way of the ball that had just left his bat, you seriously couldn’t count ‘five’ with the fingers of said hand. Thus, when Azad snuck one under his bat emanated the yell of delight that brought my mother out of the kitchen, and brought out of her a withering stare that immediately silenced me.
To see Patil do what I thought only Botham was capable of was equally exhilarating. My cricket viewing spectacularly limited at the point, it goes without saying that it was the hardest I had seen anyone strike the cricket ball. Even today, when watching highlights of that innings, I can’t help a goofy smile. Oh man, how that superstar smacked that poor little orb.
Throughout the campaign, if there was one thing that rankled, it was that my hero had hardly made an impact with the bat. Like any other badly hurt (petulant?) 14-year-old of that era, I took some sort of perverse pleasure, if that’s the right word, in the fact that India lost both games that Gavaskar didn’t play. I was desperately praying for him to get a score in the final that Saturday night – 25 June, 1983. Those prayers didn’t bear fruit, though to watch then city-mate Krishnamachari Srikkanth set about the mighty West Indian bowling briefly acted as a soothing balm.
As wickets tumbled and India settled for 183, there was an air of despondency. Greenidge. Haynes. Richards. Lloyd. Bacchus. Gomes. How many of these giants would even be required to bat? How many overs will the torture end in?
The ecstasy at Balwinder Sandhu’s peach to dismiss a bemused Greenidge soon gave way to despair as Viv Richards cut loose. Disdainfully, he lay into Madan Lal, repeatedly bowling short and getting torn to shreds. I was relieved when we lost live coverage – predictably, over satellite booking issues – because it meant one didn’t have to see the carnage, though we did listen to it over the radio.
When Kapil ran and ran and ran and ran back from mid-wicket to pouch Richards and vindicate Madan’s request for another over as well as his sustained short burst, even my dad clapped. The veneer of self-control had cracked. All this while, he had been telling me that all was not lost. That 183 was a lot of runs, that India had got them and West Indies had yet to get there. They didn’t register then, no sir. But with time, his lessons on untiring effort, on undying spirit, on team work, on camaraderie all finally began to make sense.
He’d point out minute details, forcing me to think and therefore look at cricket in a way I never might have otherwise. But that night after the Kapil catch, with our Standard 11 classes set to start in less than 36 hours, we were just two fans.
Finally, DD managed to get the live pictures back in time for us to see Mohinder Amarnath force Jeff Dujon to drag one on to his stumps and for Gavaskar to catch Malcolm Marshall at slip off the same bowler. Amarnath’s dismissal of Michael Holding to signal India’s 43-run triumph, against all odds, will remain my most cherished cricketing memory. Ever. Kapil’s band had achieved the impossible, they had shown that nothing was impossible, really.
Later, we came to know that they themselves hadn’t bargained for the impossible. That some members had planned a holiday to the US during the knockout stages of the World Cup because they didn’t see themselves progressing beyond the first stage. Defeatist, we might scoff today, but that was a different time.
What worked for India? Plenty, actually. Accidentally or by design, the right men for the conditions, an inspirational captain, and the infusion of self-belief once they felled West Indies in their first game. They didn’t necessarily believe even then that they could reach the Promised Land, but they weren’t going to die wondering.
India’s first resounding statement on the global ODI stage sparked the evolution of the golden generation of Indian batting that took proper shape from the mid-1990s. The Tendulkars and the Dravids and the Laxmans were galvanized by that success. They were inspired to chase their dreams, and gifted enough to translate them into reality. For us lesser mortals, the offshoots were less tangible but no less precious. Immortalised as Kapil’s Devils, that Class of ’83 reiterated that the sky was the limit, that David wasn’t a pushover, that Goliath wasn’t infallible. If 14-year-olds from that period have slayed a few Goliaths in subsequent years, you know their origins.
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