I could lie and say that I watched every ball. I didn’t. Had I been in England, where we lived then, I might well have. But we were in India after my grandfather had passed away. And unless you lived in one of the four metropolitan cities, the radio was as close as you got to the 1983 World Cup final.
I could say that I listened to every ball. I didn’t. When you’re nine years old, playing the game is far more interesting than watching it. Two of my cousins had come to visit and, even as my uncle declined to join us, sitting glued to the transistor near the window, we played – with stumps drawn in chalk and a tennis ball that had seen better days.
I remember getting periodic updates. I’d be lying if I said my heart skipped beats. Back then, I wanted to be Kenny Dalglish or Mark Ella. Cricket was almost an afterthought, a sport that was fun to play, but little more.
As the day wore on though, I began to get a sense of what was happening. It must have been close to midnight in India by the time the match ended. But no one asked me to go to bed. I remember sitting with my uncle in the final stages, as the voices of the commentators reached shrill pitches that even Bollywood soundtracks couldn’t match. But what I recall most is the joy on my uncle’s face when Michael Holding was given out. I’d never seen an adult so happy.
India in those years was not a one-sport country. I vividly recall the detailed coverage of the Nehru Cup football that year, and a year later we would be in India on vacation when the country went into meltdown over the failure of a fine hockey team to make the Olympic semifinals. But even that was nothing compared to the excitement generated by PT Usha’s progress through the 400m hurdles field. That she failed so narrowly in the quest for that elusive medal seemed to make her even more of a heroine in people’s eyes.
But the consequences of the 1983 triumph were soon to become evident. We moved back to India before the 1987 World Cup and, by then, cricket had already stolen a march on other sporting endeavours. I didn’t get to see too many matches – school was a chore that couldn’t be avoided – but every lunch hour, we’d rush off to the house of a classmate that lived nearby to catch a few minutes of action. That was how we watched Phil DeFreitas bowl Sunil Gavaskar in the semifinal – the last time he would grace a field in Indian colours.
By 1992, those colours had changed from white to navy blue. Cable television had just arrived, and cricket was starting to enjoy saturation coverage in the newspapers. There was a place down the road from me that let you watch games for a nominal charge, if you could stomach the idea of being crammed with 20 other people into a space scarcely bigger than a hall closet.
I remember nearly being lynched the night Pakistan beat Australia in Perth, and my first girlfriend shouting at me for not having been home to pick up her calls. Neither the threat of violence nor the emotional outburst mattered much. A fortnight or so later, when Imran Khan – one of my childhood heroes – lifted the World Cup, it all felt worth it.
Four years later, I watched India beat Pakistan in Bangalore from a friend’s house in Cochin. As soon as the last ball was bowled, you could hear firecrackers being burst. India’s exit a few days later doused the celebrations, but by then it was obvious that cricket no longer belonged to those that loved it as a sport. Jingoistic morons incapable of appreciating legendary opposition figures and performances had also appropriated it.
By 1999, with India and Pakistan in a state of war while a cricket match was played at Old Trafford, things had become much worse. The nastiness had become mainstream. The curiosity about “the other”, which Amos Oz has written beautifully about, was replaced by us-and-them rhetoric. Shamefully, it was the large media houses that led the way.
By 2003, when Sachin Tendulkar told me that he hadn’t slept properly for nearly a fortnight before the Pakistan game, the class of ’83 had become as much millstone as inspiration. The Ganguly-led side represented Indian cricket’s golden generation. They lost to just one team throughout the competition, twice. It was just their misfortune that the Australian side was one of the greatest to ever set foot on a cricket field.
In 2007, they would get another chance. This time, they didn’t even leave the starting gate. A squad torn this way and that by the intrigue of the previous 18 months crashed out in the opening round. Of the old guard, Tendulkar alone would sing the redemption song on home soil four years later. For Ganguly, Dravid and Kumble, there would be no World Cup glory.
By the new millennium, broadcast deals for Indian cricket were bigger than the GDP of many small nations. That brought with it its own problems, as a string of opportunists and power-hungry folk traipsed into cricket administration. A decade later, despite much success on the field, Indian cricket is still counting the cost.
Thirty years on, however, Indian cricket is in a far better place than it was when Kapil Dev’s team journeyed to England as rank outsiders. The talent is no longer restricted to the cities, and a younger generation plays with the eye of the tiger. The Champions Trophy success could just be the start of another era of plenty.
One of the cousins I played with on that unforgettable day 30 years ago is now settled in the Bay Area. I have no idea if he even follows cricket. His sister died of cancer more than two decades ago. Each time I cover a women’s cricket match, I think of her and the way she laughed that sunlit afternoon.
As for me, the West Indies came to England the following summer. I feigned illness to stay home and watch the first ODI at Old Trafford. King Viv. Holding. That pace attack. My love affair with cricket was consummated that afternoon. And though West Indies ceased to be a genuine cricket force years ago, the pulse still quickens when I see those in maroon caps gambol on to a field.
Without June 25, 1983, I’m not sure any of that would have happened. And I’m certain I’m not alone in feeling that way.