India celebrate the win

The history-makers: from left, Balwinder Sandhu, Kapil Dev, Madan Lal and Sunil Gavaskar celebrate the win

© PA Photos/Getty Images

20 Greatest ODIs: No. 6

India's endless dream run

In 1983 the team achieved all of their fans' expectations - and then went where no one had ever dared imagine

Sambit Bal  |  

India vs West Indies, World Cup final, Lord's, 1983

India won by 43 runs

For sports fans, dreams are lifeblood and hope is oxygen, but we often are furtive about them, using pessimism as insurance against potential ridicule and for self-consolation. Still, whatever the odds, however mighty the opposition, and however dismal our team's past record, we keep our hearts lit with the dream of a miracle. Or many little ones. To give up hope is to abandon the basic idea of sport itself.

However, that English summer day in June 1983, everything was different. We started the day sated. The wildest dreams had been achieved. We sat down to savour whatever moments came our way. India winning would be a fairy tale, but why burden the day with expectations? Surely, the World Cup would go where it belonged. A West Indian hat-trick of titles was inevitable. By making it to the final, India had already won. Why sully that warm glow with greed? So as Viv Richards set about dismantling the Indian medium-pacers with gum-chewing nonchalance, it was time for some fresh air.

But before going any further, let's rewind a bit. The early '80s were the analogue age. It was ten years before Cricinfo was born. We knew the real meaning of "dialling a number" because our phones had dials. The liberalisation that would unshackle the Indian economy and unleash consumerism and an assertive and upwardly mobile middle class was far away, as was cable television and a million channels. As sports fans we reflected the national mood: wide-eyed and somewhat diffident, if less angst-ridden.

We watched grainy black-and-white television at a neighbour's house on the only channel that Doordarshan beamed. Live sport was new and rare, and it was interrupted for news bulletins, but we were grateful nevertheless. It was bountiful compared to going to movie theatres early to catch a glimpse of cricket on the mandatory newsreels that preceded the films. Why, even watching cricketers in ads in the intervals for those films was a thrill.

We were unaccustomed to seeing the team win much outside India. For those of us born in the late '60s, the series wins in the West Indies and England were nearly mythical. We grew up on Sunil Gavaskar's hundreds, and more recently, Kapil Dev's muscular all-round skills.

Cricket was a leisurely pursuit. England arrived for a tour of India in November 1981 and stayed nearly three months, playing six Tests and three ODIs; the latter were interspersed between the Tests. India won the first Test and resolutely held on to the lead. Four of the five drawn matches didn't make it to the final innings. The scoring rate hovered firmly around three an over; sometimes, when Chris Tavaré set up shop, it dipped into the mid-twos. There were seven tour games too, five of which were drawn.

The ODIs yielded results - 2-1 to India - but they too kept pace with the Tests. The first two matches produced scores comfortably under 200. When India chased 231 in the decider, in Cuttack, it felt genuinely high-octane.

It was a momentous occasion for me: the first live international game I watched from the stands. And I had defied a ban imposed by my father, who worried about our safety, to watch it. When my violation was discovered, I pretended to sleep through the day in the spare room, but once I was past the shame, I was impossible to contain: I gloated for days about watching Gavaskar's cover drive in the flesh, driving my family nauseous with my repeated re-enactment of the stroke. The rest of the games I followed voraciously on the radio, results be damned.

We sat down to savour whatever moments came our way. India winning would be a fairy tale, but surely the World Cup would go where it belonged. A West Indian hat-trick of titles was inevitable

Stories of the Indian team's lackadaisical outlook towards the World Cup have been narrated by members of the team themselves. India had won only 12 of their 40 ODIs till then. Seven of those wins had come outside the country, but only one in England. That solitary win was against East Africa in the inaugural World Cup in 1975. They drew a blank in the World Cup that followed, in 1979. It wasn't only the bookmakers or the British media that gave them no chance in 1983: for several members of the team it was a stopover to a holiday in the US, for which air tickets had already been booked.

Who could blame the naysayers for cutting our dreams to size? One win at a time, sprinkled with the a few moments of magic, our favourite stars turning in a few heroic performances - that was all we wanted. The wildest dream? God, take us to the semi-final, please, and another favour will never be asked for.

What's now known as the 50-over World Cup was played over 60 overs then. It was the third successive World Cup in England, and very English. Played in whites, with a lunch break in the first innings and a tea break in the second. Eight teams in two groups, each team playing the others twice, all in two weeks. By the time the 25th of June came around, the cup of our dreams was overflowing.

An unthinkable win over West Indies in the first game. A once-in-a-lifetime, back-from-the-dead, blockbuster of a hundred from Kapil Dev, the very first by an Indian in ODIs. India's medium-pacers running amock against Australia. And in the semi-final - who would have thought it - India out-dibbly-dobblied England. An astonishing swivelled six off Bob Willis by Yashpal Sharma; Sandeep Patil creaming eight fours.

We took our seats before the television for the final with our hearts full and expectations met beyond imagination. We only wanted to be granted a few moments that would keep us warm in retrospect, and for our team to finish with grace. A close fight? Now that would have been greed.

India's batting never got going. The West Indies pace quartet was too good, too switched on. Andy Roberts struck early, Joel Garner was impossible get away, Malcolm Marshall came first-change to break a hope-building partnership. Michael Holding entered next to snuff out India's most reliable batter in that phase of a year or two, and Larry Gomes winkled out two big wickets when the batters, chafed and shackled by pace, looked for release against his part-time offspin.

But of course, we got our moment. Krishnamachari Srikkanth, the free-spirted, insouciant, mould-breaking, motormouthed, chain-smoking opening batter, who was one of the New York-bound players, having bought an "excursion ticket via London for Rs 10,000" for his honeymoon, provided it. After being harried by Garner's steepling bounce, he slashed one over the slips to get going, but when Roberts threw one marginally wide and slightly full, Srikkanth's right knee fell to the ground, the bat swished through the air, the wrist uncoiled at the right moment, and the ball went crashing to the square boundary. The bat finished straight and tall above his shoulder, and Srikkanth held his pose. It was a moment of alchemic perfection, perhaps the shot of the tournament, at once lyrical and ferocious. He was trapped lbw by Marshall a few overs later; it couldn't have been imagined at that point that his 38 would end up as the highest score of the final.

Freeze that frame: Srikkanth and the iconic square drive off Andy Roberts

Freeze that frame: Srikkanth and the iconic square drive off Andy Roberts © Patrick Eagar

Another moment came soon after West Indies began the chase. Gordon Greenidge, whose magnificence was often overshadowed by the majesty of Richards, misread an indipper from Balwinder Sandhu and was bowled shouldering arms. Unlike the pace, bounce and hustle from the West Indies quicks, this was subtle, surgical and hypnotic. Midway through his (non) shot, Greenidge knew where the ball was headed, but he was hopelessly committed, and watched it waft in to take the off bail. To simply call it an error of judgement gives little credit to the bowler for pulling off a deception. The previous over Greenidge had watched Sandhu, aided by the slope of the ground, bowl a succession of outswingers to his opening partner, Desmond Haynes.

But this hastened Richards' arrival to the stage that he had lit up in the previous World Cup final with 138 not out, signed off with a casually flicked six off Mike Hendrick. In the 1983 title match, it was Madan Lal who took a pounding, and about the time the fifth boundary came off Richards' bat, it was time to bow to the inevitable. It was with a resigned smile, and a sense of fulfilment, that we turned off the TV and left the room. As it would it turn out, we were hardly alone. The wives of Kapil Dev and Madan Lal had left the stadium too, decisively affirming to security personnel that they had no intention of returning.

And so I missed watching the most iconic moment of the game as it unfolded: the catch that exacted Madan Lal's revenge, the outcome of a 20-metre glide from Kapil Dev towards a pull miscued behind him, head turned sideways and upward, eyes fixed on ball, hands cupping under it as it neared him, and the secure pouching of it. A feat of both athleticism and composure. If there was ever a catch that won a match, this was it. It gave India both belief and momentum, and with the ball nibbling away, India's medium-pacers preyed on the uncertainty among the West Indian batters on how to negotiate this unfamiliar terrain, handing the World Cup to the team who had been deemed 66-1 outsiders before the final began.

Forty years on, it's possible to see the World Cup in a different light. Yes, there was an element of hubris to how West Indies approached the chase, and there was a sense of destiny to how things fell into place for India, but caught up as we were in our diffidence, we perhaps couldn't see see signs that sunnier prospects were in store.

The final was India's third win over West Indies in three months. Late in March of 1983, India had soundly beaten West Indies in Berbice, where Gavaskar missed out on being India's first ODI centurion, getting run-out on 90, and Kapil Dev blasted 72 off 38 balls to take India to 282 from 47 overs, a score well above par for the time. In one of the Tests on that same tour, Sandhu had foxed Greenidge the way he went on to do again in the final. India had the perfect bowlers for the early English summer: it wasn't happenstance that Mohinder Amarnath's gentle medium pace was so tough to get away.

And most of all, behind his gawky smile and rustic mannerisms, India had a leader with the heart of a lion. It would be nearly 30 years before India won another World Cup, and in 2011 they entered the tournament as favourites. Nineteen eighty-three was a lot more than the triumph of the underdog. In unleashing the aspirations of Indian cricket, it changed the game forever.

Sambit Bal is editor-in-chief of ESPNcricinfo @sambitbal