(Written by Syed Kirmani)
Before the 1983 Cricket World Cup, every member had different hopes and dreams. I thought, if we just qualified for the knockouts, that would be a big achievement. We were in the group of the reigning world champions, West Indies. They had won it on the previous two occasions, 1975 and 1979. We had beaten them in an ODI in Berbice before the World Cup. I was the vice-captain on that tour. Kapil Dev, who was the captain, went to the dressing-room and stayed there for some time due to an injury or something and I was leading the side. And we won very comprehensively and then defeated them for the second time in the first match of the 1983 World Cup. From thereon, belief came in the dressing room that we could win the World Cup. We started to believe in our strengths. It was a big boost.
We were the minnows of the tournament and some of our opponents were a little complacent as well. Then came the very important match against Zimbabwe. We had beaten them earlier in the first leg of the league phase. But we also lost a couple of group league matches. So the Zimbabwe game became a must-win affair. The game wasn’t televised. I was very relaxed. Wicket-keepers were not considered as all-rounders until M S Dhoni came and changed the perception.
We batted first and I was getting ready for a shower followed by breakfast. Suddenly someone shouted from outside the dressing-room: ‘Kiri pad up’. I realised it was a serious call. I was preparing myself for a big shower and a big breakfast. I went to the dressing-room window and saw the scoreboard. It was 17 for five. My towel dropped (tongue-in-cheek); my mouth agape. I don’t know how I finished my shower and breakfast, because very soon I found myself walking out to bat. It was somewhere around 140 for eight, by the time I walked in.
I walked up to Kapil, who was standing there, his head down. It was a 60-over game and we still had 35 overs left in our innings. I told Kapil, “Listen Kaps, we are in a do-or-die situation. We just cannot sit and die’. “Maar ke marne ka hai (we will go down hitting)”, he said. I inspired him saying that “You are the best hitter in the Indian team. I will take singles and will give you strike. You will try to hit every delivery.” He said, “Kiri bhai humko aur 35 overs khelna hai (we still have to play 35 overs). I will try my best.” He went on to score 175, which till this day remains the best ODI innings ever played. I have never seen any other batsman play like that in such a situation. Certainly, that was the greatest innings played in the history of the World Cup. I did my bit, gave him support. It was excellent partnership batting in fact.
When our partnership was flourishing, everybody sat tight outside the dressing-room. We played full 60 overs. We had an unbroken 126-run partnership. He was 175 not out and I was 24 not out. We reached the semifinal and it was history after that.
I took a brilliant catch to dismiss David Gower, who was England’s X-factor. We won the match comprehensively. Throughout the tournament, till we reached the final, we were overlooked by the fans. We were the minnows. Reality dawned on the local fans and media after we reached the final. They started to belt out, “the weakest team in the competition is looking to surprise the whole world.”
On the eve of our very first match we had a team meeting, where Kapil said, “Listen gentlemen, you are all seven seniors, you don’t need my guidance. You will have to guide me.” It was a big statement which gelled the team. We improved as a team as the tournament progressed, although we didn’t have any support staff. Of course, we had a bit of luck. But luck only helps you when you do your job with sincerity.
Even after we were all out for 183 in the final, we weren’t looking back. We had nothing to lose. Kapil said, “Let’s go and give our best.” We had already overachieved. We decided to put our best foot forward.
Gordon Greenidge departed early. Vivian Richards came at No 3 and the way he started, it felt like the match was going to end inside 20 overs. Then Madan Lal asked for an extra over from Kapil. He was punished by Richards in his previous overs. It proved to be a masterstroke. Richards mistimed a pull and Kapil ran from wide mid-on to deep mid-wicket and took a stunner. Once Richards left, West Indies started to panic. In fact, sometimes they panicked when their top-order failed – Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes, Richards and Clive Lloyd. We sensed an opening. But I told my team mates not to relax. It wasn’t over until Michael Holding was out.
We didn’t know how to celebrate also. Our triumph was that unexpected. A cash-strapped cricket board didn’t have enough money to give us proper cash rewards. Lata Mangeshkar did a concert to raise the fund. The BCCI collected in lakhs from the concert. We, the players, were given Rs 1 lakh each.
For me, there was a personal achievement as well. I was adjudged the best wicket-keeper of the tournament. The great Godfrey Evans came with then ICC president and handed me over the silver gloves and the silver ball, written below, “World’s best wicket-keeper”.
The writer, a former Test player, was part of the 1983 World Cup winning team