A student who doesn’t catch a wink of sleep before an important exam, not because he’s studying, but because India are playing against West Indies in a biological clock-altering timezone and staying up all night is the only way to catch every ball of the match.
An employee who calls in sick on the day of an important meeting, not because he can’t come to work, but because it’s not every day that you get tickets to see India play at the stadium. If the boss catches sight of him on television – and he’s made sure he’s got the flag painted on both cheeks, is wearing the Indian team jersey and carrying a placard with the wittiest caption he could think of that will not get him thrown out of the stadium – well, it’s still not every day that you get tickets to see India play.
Skipping work and school are passé, there are many who put lives on hold. Postpone family get-togethers, reschedule timetables, defer wedding plans according to when there is a break in the cricket calendar.
All because of that day in 1983. It’s been 30 years, and it’s still staggering.
An XI without any great One-Day International pedigree against possibly the best side ever assembled together. An Indian team whose top five didn’t have a single One-Day International hundred between them on June 25, 1983 against a West Indies side in which Viv Richards and Gordon Greenidge alone had four each.
And that bowling attack – Andy Roberts and Joel Garner opened, Malcolm Marshall and Michael Holding followed.
Pinning down first causes for great events is a very tempting endeavour. But while it may be easy – especially with the benefit of 30 years’ hindsight – to point to India’s 1983 World Cup win as the start of the wave of cricket mania that swept the country and never let go, it may also not be too far off the mark.
Cricket was a popular sport before, but the 1983 team gave the country such a romantic against-the-odds triumph on the biggest stage that India was swept off its collective feet and has stayed besotted since.
And like every good romance, this one too had an all-conquering hero. Captain, inspiration, author of fairy tales with the bat and champion with the ball.
The bare numbers will tell you that Kapil Dev was among the top five run-getters in the tournament and by far the quickest scorer, that only five people took more wickets than him and only four were more miserly, and that no one took more catches. And he captained the winning team. There hasn’t been a more tournament and history-defining performance.
Imposing as they are, there was something very clearly beyond numbers too. An ability to see the ball well does not grant ordinary mortals the power to come in at 9 for 4, watch the score become 17 for 5, and then nonchalantly flick off the annoying ‘for’ between 17 and 5 on the way to his country’s first ODI century. The skill to bowl an outswinger does not result automatically into becoming your country’s first bowler to take a five-wicket haul against a fancied opponent, as Kapil did against Australia just five days before that almost-mythical 175 not out.
And only athletic genes do not imbue that surety of step in a lope across the outfield to pouch the most important catch in Indian cricket history. I was too young to have watched the tournament as it happened, but even today, videos of Kapil’s running catch to send back Richards bring out the goosebumps.
In the English summer of 1983, Kapil must have been in a zone of magic. He might have tried his hand at Wimbledon that year after the World Cup triumph and given John McEnroe a run for his money.
Winning in 1983 established cricket in India’s heart, leading to the kind of fan base that has ensured India control the purse strings in international cricket and are likely to do so for the foreseeable future. It has given today’s cricketers untold wealth and adulation.
That is why 1983 will always remain the pre-eminent win. 2011 was delirious, delightful and the stuff of dreams. But it wasn’t the first.
Decades later, the whiff of that win still binds strangers in worship. Strangers who might have nothing in common other than cricket. One of the few times I’ve actually felt what is meant by ‘pin-drop silence’ was at Lord’s in 2010, when during a tour of the long room, a group of 30-odd people of varying nationalities was shown the glass case that encased the 1983 trophy. It was reverence and awe more than silence. The general chatter had completely died down and you instinctively knew – no words were needed – that your neighbour felt that electric current of history while looking at the Cup.
A champion who had the team that could seize the moment, a nation that took to a sport like a religion, and ripples across time that ensured that an industry has grown around cricket in India, providing livelihood not just for players but allowing a number of professions to become viable – including that of a cricket journalist.
Standing on the balcony of the visitors’ dressing room at Lord’s shortly after exiting the long room, I was profoundly grateful that it was possible to earn a living as a cricket writer.
And all because of that day in 1983.