Krishnamachari Srikkanth didn’t have the best of times in the 1983 World Cup, going through the tournament without a single half-century. But in the match that mattered, the big final against West Indies, he was the top-scorer on either side with a counter-punching 38 including one memorable on-the-knees square drive off Andy Roberts.
Thirty years on from that memorable June evening at Lord’s, Srikkanth – who brought intent and energy to the side – reflects on India’s incredible march to the title in this chat with Wisden India. Excerpts:
Does it feel like it’s already been 30 years now since that World Cup triumph in 1983?
I don’t know how to react to it. Sometimes, you feel 30 years younger. It is a fantastic feeling. Thirty years is a good long time for us to look back and when you do look back, it is a great achievement. Going into the World Cup, given the sides we were to come up against, nobody ever gave us a chance to win anything. It has been a good 30 years, I should say. Actually, it took a long time for it to sink in that we had won the World Cup. The value of winning the 1983 World Cup became more obvious 10 or 15 years down the line, as one World Cup after another kept slipping away until we won again 2011.
India went into the tournament as rank outsiders, but what was the thinking within the team?
When we went into the tournament, we didn’t have any kind of pressure. We had lost matches in the build-up to the tournament to even minor counties. But Kapil Dev was a very crucial factor in our winning the World Cup. He always kept telling us that if we could beat West Indies once (in Berbice in the Caribbean just before the World Cup), we can beat them again. He is a very positive-minded person and he was a young captain at that time. His positive attitude and the self-belief he brought into the team rubbed off on us. The first match against West Indies at Old Trafford, Manchester – I think it was the most crucial match. Yashpal Sharma made 81 and we won the match, it was a huge result.
Did that win give you the confidence to think big? When did the team believe it was on to something special?
I don’t think the West Indies win gave us the belief that we could win the title, not exactly. Let me be very frank, we never even dreamt that we would qualify for the semifinals. We never had dreams. We just said ‘let us believe in a positive approach and take it game by game rather than thinking of the cup or whatever’.
It was after the match against Australia at Chelmsford (the second league tie between the teams) that we thought we could do something in the competition. That was a do-or-die match; we had to win to qualify for the semifinals. On the eve of the match, we had the confidence that we could beat them, even though we had been beaten badly by Australia in the first game. I don’t know why, but we had the confidence.
The Australia match came on the heels of that sensational win against Zimbabwe.
Correct. The Zimbabwe match, Kapil’s 175 not out, that sort of gave us the confidence going into the Australia game. When a captain plays a knock like that, from 17 for 5 and you go on to win the match, it instils in the other players a feeling of guilt. It also inspires and motivates you, you also are desperate to fight it out and contribute to the team’s success. That match did that for us.
When we were 9 for 4 and then 17 for 5, we never imagined we would pull the match off. We thought we were gone, very honestly, we thought our campaign was over. There was only one man there, Kapil Dev, who believed otherwise; we all felt we had lost it. It was just a magical knock. The way he played that innings is what stands out for me. He didn’t look as if he was batting with his team at 17 for 5. It looked as though he was playing with the team at 200 for 2. That’s the kind of approach he adopted, like you do in the last ten overs of a 50-over game. That was something amazing. At 17 for 5, you would have expected the captain to take ones and twos and to consolidate. But right from ball number one, Kapil started hammering the bowling.
You also had a team ideally suited to exploit the conditions in England.
On hindsight, and especially when you have the one-day cricket of today to use as a comparison base, we had the perfect team. Everyone knows that in the shorter version, it is the allrounders that count a lot – the batting allrounders, the bowling allrounders. By default, we hit upon that formula in the 1983 World Cup. More importantly, all the quicker bowlers we had were ideally suited to exploit English conditions – with the ball moving around. That made a huge difference. And at least eight or nine of the playing XI were excellent fielders and the rest were very safe catchers.
Talk us through that 38 in the final.
Sunny Gavaskar was dismissed early and after a while, I went up to Jimmy (Mohinder Amarnath) and said I was finding it difficult. The ball was moving around and bouncing a lot. He said you just play your game, don’t worry, I am there at the other end. So I decided to go after the bowling. The only way to play fast bowling of that quality is to counter-attack. If you go in looking at defend against them, you are asking for trouble. Look at all those who succeeded against the West Indian fast bowling in that era – Jimmy was a counter-attacker who could hook and pull, Kapil could hook and pull. Or you had to be like Gundappa Viswanath, a superb cutter; Allan Border was a cutter and puller. In that era, these were the guys who were successful against the four famous fast bowlers. Or you had to be extraordinarily technically perfect like Sunny Gavaskar. Otherwise, the only way to do it in those conditions was to go for the bowling, so I decided to go for it.
That must have required a lot of courage, knowing that if you played one good stroke, a screamer was on the cards next ball?
The one thing I was very clear about when I started playing at a young age was that if I have to die on a cricket field, then let me die on a cricket field. That’s the kind of courage you need when you play those fast bowlers who are constantly bowling at an average speed of 95mph. The only way to do it is with courage. The West Indian fast bowlers, they never opened their mouths, they never sledged. They just used to give you a cold stare, and believe me, sometimes it was very scary. When you look back at the attack you played, they were very scary fast bowlers. You talk about (Malcolm) Marshall, (Andy) Roberts, (Joel) Garner, (Michael) Holding – you sometimes wonder, have we really beaten this side? Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes, Viv Richards, Clive Lloyd, (Larry) Gomes, (Faud) Bacchus, (Jeffrey) Dujon – they were an unbeatable side from 1976 to 1985. Defeat in that World Cup final was perhaps the only blip in that era.
Did being the highest scorer in the final take away the disappointment of what was otherwise a modest tournament for you?
I have some stories to tell my grandchildren – that, yeah, in the World Cup 1983 final, I was the highest scorer. When you look back, the 38 runs I scored were crucial. It is a great feeling to be the highest scorer in the World Cup final that we won for the first time and which people remember fondly even to date. Even though we won the title again in 2011, the 1983 win will always rank a little higher because no one gave us a chance, we went in as huge underdogs. In 2011, India were expected to win the title, and they did.
Bowled out for 183, what was the discussion at the break between innings?
Not too much, really. Kapil only said, ‘don’t give up easily, let’s fight it out’. He said, ‘I know 183 is not necessarily defendable, but let’s at least give it a fight’. Gordon Greenidge’s wicket gave us that impetus to bowl well. But the way Richards was batting, we thought it would be all over before tea. Then came that catch by Kapil. When you look back at the replays now, it is easily one of the most brilliant catches ever taken, yet he made it look so simple and easy. That wicket of Viv Richards, it gave us a ray of hope and the team was energised. We started to think that yes, we can win this game.
And you had plenty to do with that energy, especially in celebrating the fall of a wicket.
Basically, I am a person who is bubbling with energy. My belief in life is all about positive energy. Being a science student, an engineering graduate, one thing I learned was that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, it can only be converted or transferred. That’s the philosophy I follow in life. Everything around us is about energy. The more you can create positive energy, more positive things happen. That’s what I believe in. My energy is reflected in the way I batted, in the way I talk, the way I approach things in life, the way I captained. I was 23 when we won the World Cup and I am 53 today, but there has been no change in my approach. Even today, I try and do the same thing.
You also won the 1985 World Championship of Cricket in Australia. How do the two triumphs compare?
The tournament in Australia was similar to a World Cup. Saying that, 1983 will always be special, though in 1985, I personally had a good time with the bat and we won all our matches convincingly in different conditions, under lights. Again, going into that tournament in Australia, we were not rated as a great side, we were the underdogs. We had lost badly to England at home just before going to Australia, so people never gave us a chance. I can’t say with any certainty which team was better – the one that won the World Cup in 1983, or the one that won the World Championship in 1985. But to me, 1983 will always remain more special because it was the World Cup. In 1985, it was more like a mini World Cup.