The current celebrations in connection with the 25th year of the World Cup triumph in England are enough to send the middle aged cricket fan on a nostalgic trip.
The current celebrations in connection with the 25th year of the World Cup triumph in England are enough to send the middle aged cricket fan on a nostalgic trip. For those who followed that victorious campaign through radio, television and newspapers it will bring back a flood of memories. Certainly among the many historically notable dates in Indian cricket history there is little doubt that June 25 1983 must take pride of place. August 24 1971 - the date when India won their first ever Test series victory in England - will probably rank a close second and there are a few other significant dates as well. Still a World Cup triumph is something very special more so when one considers that India have never repeated the feat. In the ultimate analysis this is what makes the triumph really memorable.
I well remember events leading up to the Indian team's arrival in England. There was nothing of the kind of media hype and sky high public expectations that are the in thing these days. There were no nationwide signature campaigns wishing the team good luck, no Bollywood stars involved, no corporate sponsors and no big money. Television (read Doordarshan) was then in its infancy and attracted a comparatively limited audience. Expectations were not high because of various reasons. One day cricket had not yet caught the fancy of the public in the country who still swore by Test cricket. Also no one expected the team to work wonders going by the past record of failing miserably in the previous two World Cup competitions held in England. Even a semifinal spot was in doubt for India were placed in group B along with two-time champion West Indies, former runners-up Australia and rookies Zimbabwe. The general opinion was that India would finish third in the
group and stories circulated that some of the team members had already booked holidays in the USA as an early exit was almost a foregone conclusion.
In a way this helped for playing in a pressure-free ambiance with no high expectations Kapil Dev's team was able to perform in a relaxed manner. As the manager of the team PR Man Singh put it in an interview sometime back "we were in a situation where we had nothing to lose but everything to gain." Today with all the media hype, the ridiculously high expectations and the unbelievable pressures the situation is reversed. Should the Indians' performance be even slightly sub-standard the team has everything to lose and nothing to gain.
When the Indians shocked West Indies in their opening match by 34 runs fans back home woke up and took notice. How could a team rated as 66 to one outsiders to win the trophy and with just one win in six matches in the World Cup - and that against East Africa – stun the formidable champions? A predictable five-wicket victory over Zimbabwe put the Indians on top of the table but a heavy 162-run loss to Australia brought them back to earth with a sickening thud. The slide continued with the West Indies winning the return match by 66 runs and suddenly the Indians were back on familiar losing territory. They were certainly fading after their dream start and even if they defeated Zimbabwe the expected loss to Australia would see them out of the competition.
But at Tunbridge Wells on the morning of June 18 the campaign already seemed to have ground to a halt. India batting first were 17 for five, defeat was imminent and it appeared that the players might after all keep their date with the holidays in the USA. Then as the whole cricketing world knows by now Kapil Dev played what in the opinion of Sunil Gavaskar is the greatest ODI innings ever. Gavaskar said this the other day as the silver jubilee celebrations got underway and it is difficult to disagree with this view. Keeping in mind the precarious position - the Indian captain had entered at nine for four - the amazing turnabout and the remarkable effect it had on revitalizing the campaign Kapil's 175 not out is certainly the kind of feat that is straight out of the fiction books.
Kapil's innings had a marvelous effect on the team for it rekindled self-belief. Putting it across Australia in a virtual quarterfinal the Indians totally unexpectedly were in the semifinal but waiting for them was England who had topped Group A and were the inform team. Till then we had followed the World Cup only through radio and newspapers but I well remember that the semifinal was telecast live as a most pleasant surprise. From an advantageous position England collapsed thanks mainly to some accurate bowling by the unheralded duo of Mohinder Amarnath and Kirti Azad who between them bowled 24 overs for 55 runs and three wickets. India found a target of 214 a breeze racing to victory by six wickets and by now the British press duly impressed had named them 'Kapil's Devils'.
Predictably the Indians were again the underdogs against West Indies in the final which was also telecast live. The holders had shrugged off their shock defeat in the first match and had registered six straight victories to march into the title clash for the third time in a row. Despite an explosive 38 by Kris Srikkanth India were bowled out for 183 and West Indies in reply were coasting along at 50 for one with Vivian Richards in unstoppable form. Yet a little later the hunter had become the hunted. West Indies slid sharply to 76 for six and now even the most cynical Indian cricket fan knew that the World Cup was changing hands. Sure enough West Indies were all out for 140 and there was the mad scramble for souvenirs, the predictable crowd invasion, a proud Kapil Dev on the balcony with the Prudential Cup and the joyous celebrations that followed all over India immediately even though it was almost midnight when Amarnath had Michael Holding leg before to signal India's triumph.