See, review: Why the ’83 triumph of Kapil’s Devils is Team India’s biggest win

The traction and interest generated by the theatrical trailer for the film 83 just proves that despite the fact that almost four decades have passed since arguably India’s biggest and most unexpected sporting triumph, it still has resonance and emotional appeal for a great part of the country’s consciousness. Even though more than half of the population was not even born when the event took place.

Kapil Dev’s famous running catch to fire Viv Richards, and Balwinder Sandhus ‘banana swing to hit Gordon Greenidge’s stump have left a deep imprint on generations’ minds.

Much water has flown under the bridge since, and it is decades since India became the world cricket center’s nerve center and heartbeat. But it would be difficult to argue against the notion that all of this would not have been possible, or at least taken much longer to complete, without the events of Lord’s on June 25, 1983.

No one had given India the slightest chance to get into the third World Cup in limited overs. The doubting Thomases could not be blamed either – India had won a total of one match over the first two editions, also against East Africa. In the 1979 tournament, they had lost all their matches, even against Sri Lanka, which was not yet a test nation. India were known for producing some world-class players from time to time – the 1983 team had skipper Kapil Dev and Sunil Gavaskar – but the rest were generally known for being honest trial players and men on and off the pitch.

That Kapil’s Devils managed to obscure Clive Lloyd’s Caribbean legends, considered to be one of the greatest and most fearsome outfits ever to take the field, makes the achievement even more remarkable.

One remembers friends, family, and neighbors gathering around a single black-and-white television (there were not many who had their own television at the time, remember?) Late at night, smiling, celebrating, and shaking infidels on their heads, on once, by the hardly credible events unfolding on the screen.

Limited cricket was an afterthought among the Indian cricket establishment through the 1970s. A couple of matches were scheduled along with tests during home series, while the only time they got to play a significant number of One-Day Internationals was in Australia in 1980-81 when they failed to reach the triangular final after the hosts and New Zealand.

The winds of change

But just over a few months before the 1983 World Cup, India had already done something unexpected. They had beaten the two-time defending champions at their home ground. Gavaskar scored 90, Kapil came in as No. 4 and smashed 72 of 38 balls – Michael Holding leaked 49 runs in seven overs – as the visitors put 282/5 in 47 overs. Richards scored 64 of 51 balls while Faoud Bacchus and Jeff Dujon managed half a century, but the hosts fell short with 27 runs with Kapil and Balwinder Sandhu miserable with the ball and Ravi Shastri taking three wickets.

The Indians repeated the feat in their first match at the World Cup, the late Yashpal Sharma with 89 in a total team of 262/8 in 60 overs (can you remember?) In Manchester. The West Indies were never really involved in the hunt and were reduced to 157/9 before the last couple of Joel Garner and Andy Roberts gave some anxious moments. But three-wicket moves by Shastri and Roger Binny secured a first World Cup defeat for Lloyd’s men.

But such was their aura that these defeats were considered small blips. And as India lost consecutive matches to Australia and the Caribbean, each subsequent match became a must-win meeting. Kapil’s heroic 175 not out against Zimbabwe and sharp incantations of Binny and Madan Lal against the Aussies took India to the semi-finals, which in itself was considered a minor miracle at the time.

When India then put it across hosts England, there were some jokes that the result revealed the prospect of a well-contested final. These whispers got louder as the underdogs were ruled out for 183. But what unfolded over the ensuing few hours changed the color of the world game forever as eyes and sponsorship increased the influence of the traditional powers.

In that sense, the 1983 triumph is a much more landmark event than the men of MS Dhoni who played the 2007 ICC World T20. The latter was also an unexpected victory, but India had already become the powerhouse of the world cricket with a huge mass of talent and economic influence. But in 1983, they were considered perennial underdogs with little commercial attraction beyond the subcontinent. Hardly anyone took them seriously as possible competitors, while in 2007 they were always a dangerous garment despite little experience in the 20-over format.

The ICC World T20 made the Indian Premier League the beast it is at the moment – the elephant in the annual cricket calendar. But India’s rise to the top of the cricket pyramid, at least in limited-overs cricket, began in 1983. Less than two years later, they triumphed again, this time at the World Cricket Championships in Australia.

Looking back objectively

The West Indies side, who went down in the final in 1983, were undoubtedly a star-studded outfit, but were lacking in one aspect compared to their conquerors that day. People like Greenidge, Desmond Haynes, Richards and Lloyd could ruin any bowling alley, while Roberts, Garner, Holding and Malcolm Marshall were a fantastic quartet.

But most of them were one-skill players. Except for Richards and Larry Gomes, none of their specialist batsmen could give overs. At the same time, one could not rely on the fast bowlers to consistently save the team out if the top and middle order faltered.

In contrast, people like Shastri, Mohinder Amarnath (finalist), Binny, Lal, Kirti Azad, apart from Kapil himself, had more than one string to their bows. Although India by default had fallen over the formula for success in one-day cricket, where it was all more than the sum of its parts. Almost the same core brought success Down Under in 1985.

But when Lloyd’s men visited India a few months after the World Cup, they seemed set to avenge the defeat. The hosts were blank in the ODI series, while a 3-0 Test series victory may have saved some pride for the men from the Caribbean.

It may have strengthened their impression that what happened at Lord’s that summer day was an aberration. But it is also an indisputable fact that the West Indies never reached the heights they were used to until the 1983 World Cup again, at least in one-day cricket. With the advent of T20 cricket, they became a major force but lacked consistency when it came to 50-over cricket and ultimately the five-day game.

Perhaps India can claim some honor to end one of the longest and most powerful governments in the world of sport.


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