History isn’t quite my area of expertise but, when you are a part of history, it’s difficult not to remember everything that went into making it.
All of us, and I’m sure many of you, remember things that went on in England in June back in 1983 but, as far as I am concerned, the story started a year before the World Cup when we toured the West Indies. We didn’t win, but we fought hard on that tour and against the best cricket team in the world, we lost the One-Day International series 2-1 and the five-Test series 2-0. That gave us a lot of belief and, more importantly, the selectors believed in us. We felt that, if we could push the best in the world so much, we could do better against the other teams and even the West Indians.
The World Cup started for us in Manchester, where we played West Indies. Yashpal Sharma  played an outstanding innings and both Roger Binny [3 for 48] and Ravi Shastri [3 for 26] took wickets and we won [by 34 runs]. We’d done it. It was a very proud moment for us because we hadn’t done well in the two previous World Cups [in 1975 and 1979] where the West Indies had been champions. We believed, and I kept telling my teammates, that if we could beat the West Indians in the first match, we could beat anyone.
I don’t know how it happened, but the ball started rolling our way and we played some of the finest cricket played by an Indian team at the time. We didn’t know that we were going to create history but we knew that the conditions suited us, we had a strong batting line-up and our swing bowlers were at home in England. Of course, we did lose a few matches but at no stage did we feel that we were not good enough, even if people said that we couldn’t go all the way.
The match I remember most for my own performance, of course, is the one against Zimbabwe. First of all, no one thought that we would be 17 for 5 against Zimbabwe. They bowled really well and our top order crumbled. Then it was my turn. I was the captain. I would say that that day was meant to be my day. I just couldn’t do anything wrong. I think that was the best day of my cricket life – in fact, the best day in my life. We went on to win the tournament of course, but in that match, I pulled my team out of the dumps and set it on the winning path with that innings of 175 [not out]. That gave all of us the confidence that we could win from any situation; no matter who comes our way, we could win.
In the very next match, we pulled off a huge win over Australia [by 118 runs]. All the batsmen scored runs, but what a bowling performance it was from Roger (4 for 29) and Madan Lal (4 for 20). All of us played like champions. Australia was a great team and to beat them by such a big margin and qualify for the semifinal was a big achievement. I think the win against Zimbabwe gave us the confidence and the momentum to pull it off.
But confident as we were, it was very disappointing to wake up the next morning and read in the papers that everyone was predicting an England vs West Indies final. We were facing England in the semis and no one gave us a chance. But then again, that’s the sort of thing that gives you extra motivation to fight and try that much harder. That’s what we did against England. It was another team performance. Yashpal  again played a great innings, as did everyone else. All our batsmen contributed and before that, we bowled very well to finish the England innings at 213.
I still remember everything as if it happened just yesterday, even though it’s been so long. We went to Lord’s for the final and again everyone said that India had done well but now we didn’t stand a chance. Everyone started saying that the West Indies were going to win it once again, for the third time. But I think we had something that no one knew about. There was something up our sleeve – it was the self-confidence and the self-belief.
The most interesting thing before the final was the team meeting we had. I thought I was the captain but I realised that everyone was the captain on that day. Everyone wanted to win and everyone had suggestions for the team. Everyone wanted to play a part. God had marked that day, June 25, for us and we were up for it. In the dressing room, there were so many people saying ‘we’ll do this’, ‘we’ll bowl there’ … there was an amazing buzz.
When we went to Lord’s on June 25, we were stunned after looking at the pitch. They had created the pitch only for the West Indies. It was green, so green. The West Indies had Joel Garner, Michael Holding, Andy Roberts and Malcolm Marshall – I think, if you pick up teams from the last 100 years of cricket, you won’t find a pace bowling attack of that calibre. And the pitch was perfect for them. We also had pace bowlers, but we were not as fast as them.
But we had beaten them earlier in the tournament and we were determined not to chuck up the chance. We believed we could do it.
But then we got out for just 183 and everybody was quiet in the dressing room. We kept saying that the total was not big enough. I just said a couple of things to the players. I said that we had made 183 and they still had to make 183. So let’s put so much pressure on them that if they have to win, they have to fight hard for it. I called my players ‘jawans’ and told them before we walked on to the field, “Let’s fight, jawans … let’s fight till the end”. I remember that Sunil Gavaskar turned around and told me, “Stop calling them jawans; we are in the final and all of us deserve more than that”.
And how can anyone forget what happened after that! What a dream ball Balwinder Singh Sandhu bowled to Gordon Greenidge. Each time I have met him since that day, the first image that crossed my mind was that delivery. He was bowling up the hill and against the breeze and still brought the ball back into Greenidge. What a delivery that was – it was fantastic.
Then I took that brilliant catch (off Vivian Richards). It wasn’t a very tough catch, but it wasn’t easy, and I would say that it was the most important catch ever in Indian cricket at the time. Even today we enjoy watching it. Viv was playing very well and Madan snatched the ball from me and asked me to give him one more over. He said, “I will get Vivian Richards out.” When a player starts believing in himself so much, the captain’s duty is to go with the flow and let him try his best.
I can’t forget any of those moments. I saw the faces – Krishnamachari Srikkanth, Sandeep Patil, Kirti Azad … Mohinder Amarnath bowling Jeffrey Dujon and Dujon slapping the ground when he got out. When you play as a team, you don’t need big names to win. You need big commitment. That’s what we had in 1983 and that’s why we were the champions.
After winning, we didn’t behave like champions. The West Indians were expecting much more and when we went to their dressing room to shake hands with their players afterwards, we told them that they didn’t need the World Cup because they already had two, so let us enjoy ourselves for the moment. I still remember that photograph at the Lord’s balcony – the whole team was there, we were dancing and shouting and laughing. We had phenomenal support too. There were so many Indians there, across England and on the field after we won. The celebrations just never ended. Everyone was so proud.
We were the world champions, but we were world champions who didn’t get dinner after winning the trophy. We were dancing and celebrating and drinking till 3am. But it didn’t matter. Nothing mattered except that we were the best in the world.
(As told to Shamya Dasgupta)