Lords, then and forever: 40 years of India’s 1983 cricket World Cup win


“Can you ever forget your first love?” Forty years, and Syed Kirmani’s rhetorical question only enhances the belief that the 1983 World Cup was much bigger than a sporting conquest; it was an agent of reinvention. Indian hockey was losing its charm. And football had never gained enough traction in the country to make a worldwide mark. That left one-day cricket as the only patch where India could have broken new ground.

 (Getty Images) PREMIUM
(Getty Images)

Also imperative is understanding that it came at a time when the urban middle-class was finally warming up to technology. Colour television had just begun making a foray into our homes, and Rakesh Sharma was still 10 months away from making his space sojourn. In that exciting backdrop, Kapil Dev’s toothy grin while lifting the Prudential Cup gave a sense of purpose and achievement to a still-young nation on the move.

“It’s as if it happened yesterday,” says Dilip Vengsarkar. “What keeps it fresh is that we have a WhatsApp group of the 1983 World Cup team. It was an amazing victory. It gave a huge boost to Indian cricket.”

The win inspired many to renew their vows with the game, and millions more to take it up with dreams in their eyes. Sachin Tendulkar would have probably drifted to tennis had it not been for 1983. The World Cup wouldn’t have come to the subcontinent in 1987. MCC would have still been the seat of cricket politicking — no BCCI mandarins, no financial might, and who knows, no IPL, and so on and so forth… it would have been a chronology of what-ifs.

But India won. David Frith, then editor of Wisden Cricket Monthly who had summarily written off India, had to literally eat his own words. Indian cricket set off on a journey of self-discovery, and the sport never remained the same again.

“What we see today is after what we did in 1983,” says Kirti Azad. “It’s after 1983 that BCCI got a big sponsor for the 1987 World Cup. Indian administrators went on to hold positions of power in ICC which was once governed by the Australians and the British with an iron hand.”

(Seated, from left) Dilip Vengsarkar, Syed Kirmani, Kapil Dev, Mohinder Amarnath, Sunil Gavaskar, Madan Lal. (Standing, from left) Yashpal Sharma (who died on July 13, 2021, following a cardiac arrest), K Srikkanth, Balwinder Sandhu, Ravi Shastri, Sandeep Patil, Roger Binny, Kirti Azad and Sunil Valson. (Getty Images)
(Seated, from left) Dilip Vengsarkar, Syed Kirmani, Kapil Dev, Mohinder Amarnath, Sunil Gavaskar, Madan Lal. (Standing, from left) Yashpal Sharma (who died on July 13, 2021, following a cardiac arrest), K Srikkanth, Balwinder Sandhu, Ravi Shastri, Sandeep Patil, Roger Binny, Kirti Azad and Sunil Valson. (Getty Images)

The odds of India winning the World Cup were abysmal — 66-1 to be specific — with Kirmani adding another perspective: “There was no money, we were the poorest board, and the third weakest team (above Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe) in the competition. Nobody thought we would qualify for the knockouts, including some of the players.”

But if beating West Indies was the final objective, the bookmakers’ odds made little sense because India had already done it once in the same year — in Berbice, Guyana on March 29. If that wasn’t convincing enough, beating West Indies again in the World Cup opener surely marked India’s upturn.

India played as a team, but it’s worth wondering where they would have finished if not for Kapil Dev. Despite not being a great orator, Kapil succeeded in binding the team, according to Kirmani, by “shirking away all our egos”.

“The greatness of Kapil Dev was evident in our very first meeting,” recalls Kirmani. “He said, ‘Gentlemen, I have seven seniors in the team. I don’t have to tell them what their responsibilities are. You know what you should be doing. You are the seniors who can guide me.’ I have never heard a captain talk like this.”

Kapil’s greatness was apparent in his strategy as well — stacking his side with all-rounders who ended up taking bulk of the wickets and scoring precious runs, especially in the final where Krishnamachari Srikkanth ended up being the highest scorer, from both sides, with 38.

“I never expected that 38 would be the highest score in the final,” says Srikkanth. “It was not a great score, but it was still the highest score. Sometimes, you pinch yourself.” That innings acted as a precursor to a lifetime of memories — Gordon Greenindge shouldering arms to a Balwinder Singh Sandhu delivery and getting clean bowled, Mohinder Amarnath bowling military medium off a dibbly-dobbly run-up, Kapil haring backwards to catch Viv Richards over his shoulder before Amarnath trapped Michael holding leg-before and scurried away, from the converging spectators, with a stump in hand. He was Man of the Match but it was, till date, the most complete team performance.

A page from the Hindustan Times coverage of the win.
A page from the Hindustan Times coverage of the win.

“Individual performances don’t mean much,” says Madan Lal who, with three scalps, was the highest wicket-taker in the final. “It’s just good that you have contributed. Yes, I got three wickets in the final but the way I look at it, it’s our entire team that won that match. Whenever we meet, we never talk about individual performances. Even Kapil Dev never talks about the innings that he played.”

Kirmani, however, doesn’t fail to remind us how India wouldn’t have gone that far without that 175 not out against Zimbabwe at Tunbridge Wells. “That was the best match in the entire history of the World Cup. Unfortunately the BBC didn’t televise or record the match.”

And then there was that gem of a catch of Richards. Madan Lal, the bowler, remembers what went through his head as he watched Kapil running backwards. “When the ball is in the air and the fielder is running backwards, all you can do as a bowler is trust,” he says. “It also depends on who the fielder is. With good fielders, they can cover the ground faster. And Kapil was definitely one. It was a big catch in the context of the match.”

Apart from the fanfare and recognition that the World Cup win brought with it, it also triggered an immediate leg-up in other tournaments as well, with India winning the Asia Cup in Sharjah and the World Championship of Cricket in Australia. One-day cricket was slowly getting accepted as the norm.

Have India lived up to the fervent dreams that the 1983 World Cup win fanned? In the 40 years since 1983, India have won the ODI World Cup once (at home), a T20 World Cup in 2007 (in South Africa) and a Champions Trophy in 2013 (England). Is that fair enough appraisal for what is now a cricketing superpower?

“You can’t win all the time,” says Lal. “The 2011 win, too, bears a huge significance in Indian cricket. And at least we have played two World Cup finals (2003 and the T20 version in 2014). Many countries haven’t been able to do that.”

Irrefutable, however, is the rate at which expectation has grown since 1983. “In 2011, our team was equally competent,” says Kirmani. “We were keen to see India win. This is the contrast.”

In many ways, 1983 was a dream many want to live on. “It raised the self-belief that Indians can do it on the big stage,” says Sandhu. Gavaskar, as usual, was measured in his reminiscence. “There is a quiet sense of joy when we reflect on what the team achieved 40 years back.” But Kirmani was more rambunctious: “This was a victory that can’t ever be repeated till eternity,” he says. Azad echoed the exuberance. “We were the first. You can never match Neil Armstrong, can you?”

(With input from Sanjjeev K Samyal and Rasesh Mandani)

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