June 25. 1983.
Greatest day since independence. You bet.
India won the Prudential World Cup by beating the mighty West Indies.
For all you newbies, this Australia team has got nothing on the West Indies of 83. No other team in the modern era had a bowling attack like they did—sure other teams, at various times, had Waqar & Wasim, McGrath & Gillespie & Warne, Pollock & Donald.
But the West Indies firm of Roberts & Holding & Marshall & Garner was something else— four of the most accurate, fearsome gentlemen ever to have walked the cricket field. And all of them did it together on that day in mid summer, June 25 1983.
The batting was not too bad either.
Three of the greatest one day batsmen ever were in the West Indies team that day———Greenidge, Haynes and Viv Richards. Backed up by the mighty hitting Clive Lloyd, the steady Larry Gomes and the artistic and athletic keeper Dujon who was the best keeper-batsman before Gilchrist.
And yet they lost the biggest game of their collective lives.
They lost to India.
India…. which then looked about as threatening as Bangladesh does today. Kapil was the only world class one day player in the side. Gavaskar was a liability in ODIs, the bowling attack of Binny, Madan and Sandhu would give no opponents sleepless nights and the other players—well not much could be expected from them. Or so we thought.
When the World Cup began, there was no excitement in the country. We did not care about it and you could not blame us for that…. in 2 previous editions we had beaten only East Africa (even lost to Sri Lanka before they got Test status). I remember buying the pre-World cup “Sportsweek” (now defunct) and asking my father what chances we had. (I was 7 then)
My dad nodded mournfully
“Winning the cricket World cup is as much a pipedream as winning the football one.”
This time however things were a bit different. My dad did not notice it then and neither did many people—-but in retrospect it is evident now.
Just before the World Cup, India toured the West Indies. Needless to say, they were plastered. But it was not in vain. A 3 month tour playing against the world’s best opposition was exactly the right kind of preparation going into the cup.
In addition, two significant things happened on that tour.
Mohinder Amarnath rose from the ashes to become India’s leading batsman. Amarnath used to be known as a pathetic player of the short ball whose career was in jeopardy after he got hit on the head by Rodney Hogg.
After a layoff, he came back a changed man. He had stood tall among the ruins in the Pakistan series (where Imran and Safraz razed our batting) and then attained legendary status on this tour to West Indies.
The West Indian speed merchants peppered us with the short stuff. Gavaskar ducked. Gaekwad took it on his body. Amarnath hooked. The West Indians had never seen Indians hooking bouncers. The faster they came at Amarnath, the more vicious he hooked it……….and such was his dominance on that tour that both Imran and Marshall accepted that he was the best player of pace in the world.
The second significant event was that we actually won a ODI off the Windies. It was the last one—rather insignificant in terms of the series………but of great significance for what was to follow. At Berbice, Gavaskar finally got into the groove of one day cricket (forgetting his 36 over 60 overs) and Kapil blasted the West Indies bowling attack. A mere blip on Windies’ radar———–but at least we knew we could beat them.
Well not only was it possible to beat the West Indies, India made it two in two defeating them in the first match of the World Cup. And then, after a few wins and losses, it all came down to the match against Zimbabwe.
My dad had a small radio. When I turned it on, India were 15 for 4. Soon they were 17 for 5. I was deliberating whether to skip drawing school……but this did it. I trooped off with my paint brush and was ensconced on the cold floor along with scores of others, drawing “still life.” My mind however was anything but still.
There was the unmistakable drone of transistors coming from outside. That means people were still listening in. Soon the drone increased. More transistors/radios had come on. What could that mean ? Was India still “in the game”?
It was hot inside the room. And I desperately wanted to leave. But I had to wait to get picked up by Baba. And then the first sound of “chakka” (sixer) from someone next door. Soon others followed.
My heart was pounding….threatening to jump out of its socket into the paint bowl.
Baba where are you? I want to go home.
Baba came. A big smile on his face. Kapil was smashing Zimbabwe all over the place—-he was in a marauding mood. Going home, I caught the end of India’s batting on the radio.
India wrapped up the game in style with the commentators describing the fielding as brilliant.
India had made the turn——–cricket would henceforth be India’s national sport.
Semi final. I knew India would lose. I was sanguine. I also thought that if I thought India was going to win, God might punish me for my hubris and defeat us. And by God, did we need godly intervention to win against England.
India bowled first. The fielding was exceptional. The runs were choked and England made their mistakes.
Alan Lamb was run out by an exceptional bit of fielding, Gatting was bowled by a gem from Amarnath and Botham was castled by a brute of a delivery from Kirti Azad.
Then India came into bat. Also went out the lights—power cut ! Or what we used to call “load shedding”.
I have this problem. Whenever I get tense, I start shivering. So here in the month of June, on a hot Kolkata night with all power off, I was shaking. With tension.
You see I had maneuvered myself into a lose-lose situation. Long before Azhar and Jadeja, I had bet against my own team. I had a running bet with an uncle—if India makes it to the finals, I will treat him to a “Rajbhoga”. Which cost Re 1 in those days. Something I was not willing to give up since it constituted about 20% of my “personal stash”.
I wanted India to win. Desperately. And I also wanted to avoid losing my Re 1.
Yashpal Sharma flicks Bob Willis for a six. Sandeep Patil hammers Allot. The power comes back on for us to see Yashpal Sharma getting dismissed. But no further hiccups and Kapil races back to the pavilion after the winning run as he is engulfed by the teeming population.
I lose my Re 1. Which, I refuse to pay when uncle asks for it.
Then June 25 dawns. No more bets. No more debts. India vs West Indies.
Sunil Gavaskar. 5 feet and a few. Joel Garner. 7 feet and a few. Garner hustles in and hurls them from sky high and Sunny is all at sea. He is soon taken out of his misery. So are we.
Srikkanth, on the other hand, looks cool and composed. Well as cool and composed as he can look. Roberts is hooked over fine leg for six and then Sri gets on one knee and creams him through cover. Shot of the match. Twitches his nose, walks towards square leg. And then gets beaten by a beauty from Marshall and is trapped in front.
Amarnath has dropped anchor. Runs are difficult to come by. Holding goes wide of the crease, angles one in. Amarnath plays down the wrong line and his stumps go cartwheeling. My heart sinks.
With runs not coming, Yashpal Sharma loses the plot and gifts his wicket to the innocuous off spin of Larry Gomes. Kapil also holes out to deep square leg attempting a mighty heave. Then Doordarshan loses feed. Damn.
Back to the radio. Azad and Binny are blown away. India’s tail fights back. But my heart has turned to cinder. I knew India was going to lose but at least a fight was expected. This was abject surrender.
Everything is going according to their script. Their script. I almost feel like crying.
Power is back on for the Windies chase. Only good news, Llyod has pulled a hamstring. Fat chance of Lloyd batting though. Richards is enough.183 is nothing. Absolutely nothing.
And then it happens. Pure magic.
Gordon Greenidge, one of the world’s most technically correct batsman is at the crease. Sandhu runs in and bowled a seemingly innocuous outswinger. 183 to get…60 overs. Plenty of time. So Greenidge reads the outswinger and shoulders arms to let it go.
Nothing wrong in that. But the ball is charmed—- the collective will of so many Indians makes it change its line. Late…. very late it swings in ever so slightly and clips Greenidge’s off stump.
Greenidge stands there with his bat raised—incomprehending, incredulous. Sandhu is rushing towards keeper Kirmani clenching his fist. India has drawn blood.
The Man comes in. Chewing gum, twirling bat, utter disdain for the opposition. Madan Lal is dismissed from his presence with a swipe to square leg. Binny (India’s version of JLo—if you have seen him you know what I mean) is thrashed through cover. And then Doordarshan loses transmission again.
“A good thing” my mother says. It is torture watching India lose. Now we can all go back to our respective lives.
But the radio is on. My dad mutters to himself—“Richards has got to go”.
However it is Haynes who goes, unable to keep a drive down off Madan Lal. The wrong guy….the wrong guy….we need Richards.
The fall of Haynes has no effect on the Man. Richards is no mood to step off the center stage—-determined to finish off the match himself and repeat his murderous innings against England in the 1979 World Cup. Runs flow from his bat with precise inevitability.
” He is out. Gone.”
The commentary drowns out amidst the thunderous applause. It’s true. Viv IS out and Madan has scalped him. Richard’s overconfidence has done him in. He bludgeons Madan Lal uppishly and Kapil Dev, runs back and takes the most significant catch in Indian cricketing history. Crowd goes silent and then the Indians erupt.
But we all saw that later. For now, we are simply jumping up and down with joy. We are in with a chance.
Clive Llyod is not being able to play his normal flowing game and Gomes has gone into a shell.
Binny takes out Larry Gomes with a late moving outswinger.
And then “Big Cat” Lloyd, strung by a hamstring, plays a nothing shot and is skinned by Kapil at cover.
I run around the room in the unquestioning glee of childhood………..we have won, we have won. My father tells me to calm down……………half of the side still remains. But yes, we are in with a chance.
Now we are cursing Doordarshan. Doordarshan obliges by restoring live feed.
Bacchus is scratchy. Dujon looks solid but watchful.
Srikkanth hits the stumps on a direct throw. The Indians go up in appeal. The umpire does not oblige. Srikkanth runs around like his pants are on fire.
My mother opines that it is better luck when there is no live feed. Maybe she wants us to just have our food but there is logic in what she says. As long as I was watching the game on TV, India kept losing wickets. When the feed went off, India’s batting fought back. And now also just after the feed is back on, things have stalemated.
Sandhu comes back in and bowls one wide of off stump. Bacchus is no Richards but tries to be. He swings hard hoping to send the ball screaming to the fence. It takes the edge and Kirmani dives full tilt to his right and brings off a blinder.
India’s problems have always been in getting rid of the tail. How many times has it happened that we get rid of the main players and then the fringe guys come and bite us on our bum?
Marshall, who was a fairly decent bat, digs in. Dujon works the ball away into the gaps. No more of the frenetic, disdainful heave-ho of the top batters——Dujon and Marshall have gone over to Plan B. The Indian fielding is tight, Binny beats Marshall all ends up. But the edges are not coming.
Kapil is striding like a wounded tiger—-the team is pumped up.
I am shaking like crazy. Please let us not lose this from this state….please God.
God answers. Mohinder Amarnath is called into bowl. He lopes in, the only bowler in the world who decelerates as he comes to the bowling crease. A loosener, gently going down off. Dujon takes an exaggerated front foot movement and seeing the line of the ball raises his bat.
And as he raises it, the ball miraculously takes the inside edge of his bat, comes back, bounces once in front of the stumps and hits it !
Dujon slaps the ground in digust and I am airborne with joy.
Amarnath is not done. He induces Marshall’s edge and Gavaskar clutches onto the ball for dear life.
Kapil brings himself back on. A lot of overs still left. This is a gamble.
Andy Roberts. Shuffling across he is pinned to the crease by a Kapil inswinger. The finger goes up. Kapil is growling now and the Indians are all over the place.
Andy Roberts wends his way back accompanied by a fat white man who keeps on lecturing him. It is still a wonder to me why he did not smack the guy then and there.
Garner and Holding hold on. They are not scoring runs but they are not getting out either.
Amarnath bowls. Holding launches into a wild swipe. It misses, strikes him a bit high on the pad. Who cares? The umpire’s finger is up, Holding looks dejected. Amarnath has started running towards the pavillion.
The Indian contingent that was in the dressing room is rushing onto the ground. The TV flashes ” India has won the World Cup”. Kapil is smiling from ear to ear.
The Goliath has fallen. David has won the World Cup.
Many years have passed by since then.
I have since become an atheist. I don’t know what to believe or trust any more.
But there is one thing I do believe in and that is in miracles.
Because I saw one myself. On June 25, 1983.