In the history of Indian cricket, there are really only two competitors for the title of ‘greatest victory ever’: the 1971 series win over England in England, and the defeat of the West Indies in the 1983 World Cup final. In 1971 England were arguably the best side in the world: they had just defeated the Australians Down Under, and not long before had got the better of Garfield Sobers’s West Indians. In 1983 the West Indies were indisputably the best team in the world. They were winning Test matches against all-comers, and, as far as the limited overs game was concerned, had comfortably won the first two World Cups.
I myself watched the 1983 World Cup final in a college common room in Calcutta. When India batted first and were all out for 183 few gave us any hope. But then Gordon Greenidge shouldered arms to Balwinder Sandhu and was bowled, and a little later Desmond Haynes holed out to mid off. The great Vivian Richards came in and started ominously well. After his second boundary the television went on the blink. Doordarshan had lost its signal from London.
Some students, judging that the match was lost anyway, started wandering off. I, knowing both Doordarshan’s ways and the uncertainties of the game, had a radio handy. I tuned the set to the BBC, in time to catch Richards getting out, caught by Kapil Dev at mid-wicket. Clive Lloyd limped to the crease, suffering from a pulled hamstring. Characteristically, he thought he would hit his way out of trouble. However, in attempting to loft Roger Binny through the off side, he failed to get to the pitch of the ball, and lobbed an easy catch to cover.
Not long after Lloyd’s dismissal the signal returned. Hearing of the wickets that had fallen, wayward students started coming back. Malcolm Marshall batted bravely, but then a late outswinger from Mohinder Amarnath took the edge, and was held safely by Sunil Gavaskar at slip. By now there were close to two hundred people in the room, to watch the last few wickets fall in a heap.
Not one Indian, in India, watched, ‘live’, the moment that turned the match—Kapil Dev’s catch to get rid of Richards. Later we saw clips of it. Buoyed by three boundaries in succession, Richards tried to hit a good length ball from Madan Lal through the on side. The ball caught the top part of the bat, but still soared high and beyond midwicket. The Indian captain sprinted back twenty yards to take the catch, smiling as he ran. The smile bespoke of an extraordinary self-confidence. For the swirling skier for which you have to run behind your back is one of the most difficult catches in cricket, not least when you are watched by thirty thousand anxious pairs of eyes, and this is the final of the most important tournament in the world. But, the superb athlete that he is (or was), Kapil knew as soon as the shot was struck that he had his man.
Only the semi finals and final of that World Cup were telecast live. When one looks back from a distance of twenty years, which moments still stand out? From the semi-final, I might pick, first of all, the ball that bowled Ian Botham. This rolled along the ground, and was bowled by Kirti Azad, an all-rounder as unknown as his opponent was famous. Then, when India batted, there was that contemptuous flick for six that Yashpal Sharma hit off Bob Willis—another instance of the obscure humbling the illustrious. This came in the middle of the crucial third-wicket partnership between Yashpal and that other courageous Punjabi, Mohinder Amarnath. Eventually both got out, but a breezy cameo by Sandeep Patil put the result beyond question. When there were less than a dozen runs to get Kapil Dev came to the wicket. While Patil finished it off, he stood at the non striker’s end, with a grin on his face as broad as the river Ganga. That smile, properly decoded, read: ‘We, no hopers India, are about to defeat the inventors of the game on their home soil, and thus reach the final of cricket’s World Cup’.
My memories of the final start with the staggeringly good spell bowled first up by the Big Bird, Joel Garner. He bent the ball like a boomerang, and beat Sunil Gavaskar four times an over. Astonishingly, he did not get a wicket. When Gavaskar did fall, it was to Andy Roberts. Then Roberts dug one in short, and Krish Srikkanth pulled him down to the pavilion for four. The English commentator said knowingly: ‘That was Andy’s slow bouncer. He’s just setting him up’. Roberts’s fast bouncer duly arrived, and Srikkanth hooked it for six. More spectacular still was a square drive, played on his knees, that he hit off Garner. I recollect, too, the two exquisite lofted drives that Mohinder Amarnath played off Larry Gomes, inside out, over extra cover.
Half a dozen strokes are all that one remembers from the Indian innings. Memories of the West Indian reply begin with the unexpectedly early dismissal of Gordon Greenidge. For Balwinder Sandhu looked amiable and bowled amiably too. He was underrated not just by us that day, but also by one of the greatest opening batsmen in history. Greenidge’s fatal misjudgement opened a crack that disciplined bowling and careless batting were to force wider and wider open. Among other dismissals, one remembers that of Jeffrey Dujon’s, bowled off the inside edge while trying to leave the ball alone; and the tenth and last wicket, of Michael Holding’s, leg before to Amarnath. And I can see again as I write, Kapil’s smile as he raced to catch Richards. That smile, if rendered in words, would have read: ‘I am about to get rid of the most dangerous batsman in the world, and we, no hopers India, actually now have a chance to defeat the holders of the Cup.’
If Kapil’s great catch in the World Cup final was not shown live by Doordarshan, his greatest achievement in the tournament was not telecast at all. This was the 175 he scored against Zimbabwe in an early match of the championship. India were 9 for 4 when he came in to bat. Ten minutes later they were 17 for 5. With just a little help from Binny (who made 24), Madan Lal (17), and Kirmani (24 not out), Kapil took his team to a commanding 266 for 8 off fifty overs. His was an innings of character and supreme skill. It included sixteen 4’s and six 6’s, and there was scarcely a false shot played. Without it, India would have been turfed out in the league stage itself. And yet this extraordinary knock was never filmed, as the ground (Tunbridge Wells) was deemed too small and the contestants too insignificant to merit an official camera crew. From time to time, rumours have circulated of an amateur video buff having captured the innings on his machine; but no film has ever appeared to confirm this.
As I noted, the 1971 victory over England ranks with the 1983 World Cup win as one of Indian cricket’s two finest achievements. Those who see Test cricket as the real thing shall put the 1971 win a shade higher. Those who are democratically inclined prefer the 1983 victory, for this was a more representative team. (It had only three players from Bombay, whereas the 1971 side had as many as six). I suppose that, as a traditionalist myself, I would put the 1971 campaign at the top. Not that I didn’t enjoy the 1983 World Cup final, whose twentieth anniversary falls this week. Truth be told, for me, as for millions of other Indians, any time is a good time to remember that match and that summer.