When Indian cricket found its self-belief, self-respect


Mumbai: There was a swarm of journalists at the press conference with Virat Kohli and Ravi Shastri in Mumbai on the eve of the team’s departure for the World Cup as I gathered from a photograph published later.

With a shoot to finish, I couldn’t make it to the PC (press conference). However the picture—in which I counted 50 scribes before giving up—tells a story of how Indian cricket has grown, and took me back in time to 1983, the first World Cup that I covered.

I don’t recall a press conference before Kapil Dev’s team left for England. If there was one, there was certainly no media brouhaha accompanying it. In fact, barely half a dozen journalists from India made the trip.

There were a couple of reasons for this lacklustre approach. One, media houses in the pre-Liberalisation era didn’t spend as much money on news gathering as they do nowadays. Moreover sport— even cricket—was not a priority.

The other reason was deep pessimism over India’s uninspiring record in limited overs cricket till then, particularly the first two World Cups: In two tournaments, the team had won only one match, and that against lowly East Africa.

Sunil Gavaskar’s grotesque crawl (36 not out in 60 overs) against England in 1975 had earned Indian the unflattering sobriquet “dull dogs” of cricket, which was hardly redeemed in the 1979 tournament.

Given this unedifying background, the 1983 campaign seemed a non-starter. In fact, such was the sense of hopelessness that I skipped India’s first match in the tournament— against West Indies at Old Trafford—preferring instead to watch England play New Zealand at the Oval!

There was a hard lesson to be learnt from such professional vagrancy which has stood me in good stead as a journalist thereafter: stick to assignment, self-indulgence can be self-defeating, unproductive.

As it transpired, India beat mighty West Indies at Old Trafford. By missing the match, I missed seeing a spark in the Indian team that was to become a raging fire by the time the tournament ended.

The story of India’s 1983 World Cup triumph is too well chronicled to repeat here. Kapil Dev’s heroic 175 versus Zimbabwe, his brilliant catch to dismiss Viv Richards in the final, several ‘bits and pieces’ players coming good are all part of Indian cricket lore now.

How does that victory appear 36 years later?

I’ve often been questioned whether it was not in fact a fluke. I’ll confess to having asked that of myself several times. After countless analyses—personal as well as from several quarters— I’ve finally reached a conclusion.

While the 1983 victory was certainly a major upset, against extraordinary odds (bookmakers Ladbrokes had offered 66-1 on India at the start), it was not a fluke as is normally understood.

It’s a fluke if a player/team, after a stunning performance, slips back into old mediocrity over an extended period of time.

But if an unexpected win becomes a defining thrust for a new paradigm, then scepticism must be re-examined, and cast aside if necessary.

Consider what happened in the next few years. While there were reverses in bilateral series, India won the Asia Cup (1984) and Rothmans Cup (1985), both in Sharjah, but most significantly, the World Championship of Cricket in Australia in 1985.

This tournament, where all major cricket nations were present, was won without dropping a single match. And in all matches, India bowled out the opposition, highlighting the balance and composition of the side.

The core of the team was pretty much the same that had won in 1983 bolstered by the addition of a few young players (Azhar, Sivaramakrishnan, S Vishwanath) which gave the effort more youthful vigour.

I’ll argue that in the period between 1983 and 1986 —till Javed Miandad’s last-ball six at Sharjah broke the spell—India were the best ODI side in the game barring none in all conditions, against all opponents.

The more I look back at the 1983 World Cup, the more significance it assumes. It changed the destiny of Indian cricket.

The richness and importance of Indian cricket—for the establishment and players—is exemplified by the packed press conference at the team’s departure these days.

But more than just a sporting triumph, the 1983 World Cup victory was transformational in the way Indians were to see themselves subsequently: with a great deal more self-respect and self-belief in every facet of life.