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View, review: Why the ’83 triumph by Kapil’s Devils is Team India’s greatest win

The seminal victory at Lord's ended the reign of Clive Lloyd’s mighty West Indies, paved the way for the team's glory at the World Championship of Cricket two years later and helped the Indian cricket Board become a powerhouse in world cricket

Written by Tushar Bhaduri |
Updated: December 5, 2021 10:28:21 am
1983 world cup, Kapil Dev

The traction and interest generated by the theatrical trailer of the film 83 just proves that despite almost four decades having elapsed from arguably India’s greatest and most unexpected sporting triumph, it still holds resonance and emotional appeal for a large part of the country’s consciousness. Even if more than half the population wasn’t even born when the event took place.

Kapil Dev’s famous running catch to dismiss Viv Richards, and Balwinder Sandhu’s banana inswinger to hit Gordon Greenidge’s stumps have left a deep imprint on the minds of generations.

A lot of water has flown under the bridge since, and it has been decades since India became the nerve centre and heartbeat of world cricket. But it will be hard to argue against the notion that all that wouldn’t have been possible, or at the very least taken much longer to eventuate, without the events at Lord’s on June 25, 1983.

Nobody had given India the slightest of chance coming into the third limited-overs World Cup. The Doubting Thomases couldn’t be blamed either – India had won a grand total of one match over the first two editions, that too against East Africa. In the 1979 tournament, they had lost all their games, even against Sri Lanka who were not yet a Test-playing nation. India were known for producing some world-class players off and on – the 1983 team had skipper Kapil Dev and Sunil Gavaskar – but the rest were generally known to be honest triers and gentlemen on and off the field.

That Kapil’s Devils managed to eclipse Clive Lloyd’s Caribbean legends, considered one of the greatest and most fearsome outfits to ever take the field, makes the achievement even more remarkable.

One remembers friends, family and neighbours converging around a single black-and-white TV (not many had television sets of their own then, remember?) late in the evening, smiling, celebrating and shaking their heads in disbelief, all at once, at the scarcely-believable events unfolding on the screen.

Limited-overs cricket was an afterthought among the Indian cricket establishment through the 1970s. A few matches were scheduled along with Tests during home series while the only time they got to play a significant number of One-Day Internationals was in Australia in 1980-81, when they failed to make the triangular finals finishing behind the hosts and New Zealand.

Winds of change

However, a little over a couple of months before the 1983 World Cup, India had already done something unexpected. They had beaten the two-time defending champions on their home turf. Gavaskar scored 90, Kapil came in at No. 4 and smashed 72 off 38 balls – Michael Holding leaked 49 runs in seven overs – as the visitors put up 282/5 in 47 overs. Richards scored 64 off 51 balls while Faoud Bacchus and Jeff Dujon managed half-centuries, but the hosts fell short by 27 runs with Kapil and Balwinder Sandhu being miserly with the ball and Ravi Shastri taking three wickets.

The Indians repeated the feat in their first match at the World Cup, the late Yashpal Sharma starring with 89 in a team total of 262/8 in 60 overs (remember?) in Manchester. The West Indies were never really in the chase and were reduced to 157/9 before the last pair of Joel Garner and Andy Roberts provided some anxious moments. But three-wicket hauls by Shastri and Roger Binny ensured a first World Cup defeat for Lloyd’s men.

But such was their aura that these defeats were considered just minor blips. And when India lost consecutive games to Australia and West Indies, every subsequent match became a must-win encounter. Kapil’s heroic 175 not out against Zimbabwe and incisive spells by Binny and Madan Lal against the Aussies took India into the semi-finals, which was itself considered a minor miracle then.

When India then put it across hosts England, there were some sniggers that the result denied the prospect of a well-contested final. Those whispers grew louder when the underdogs were bowled out for 183. But what unfolded over the subsequent few hours changed the complexion of the world game forever as eyeballs and sponsorship upstaged the clout of the traditional powers.

In that sense, the 1983 triumph is a much more seminal event than MS Dhoni’s men clinching the 2007 ICC World T20. The latter also was an unexpected victory, but India had already turned into the powerhouse of world cricket with a huge talent pool and financial clout. But in 1983, they were considered perennial underdogs with little commercial attraction beyond the subcontinent. Hardly anyone took them seriously as possible contenders while in 2007, they were always a dangerous outfit despite little experience in the 20-over format.

The ICC World T20 made the Indian Premier League the beast it currently is – the elephant in the annual cricket calendar. But India’s ascent to the top of the cricketing pyramid, at least in limited-overs cricket, began in 1983. Less than two years later, they triumphed again, this time at the World Championship of Cricket in Australia.

Looking back objectively

The West Indies side that went down in the 1983 final was a star-studded outfit no doubt, but lacked in one aspect in comparison to their conquerors that day. The likes of Greenidge, Desmond Haynes, Richards and Lloyd could demolish any bowling line-up while Roberts, Garner, Holding and Malcolm Marshall were an awesome quartet.

But most of them were one-skill players. Apart from Richards and Larry Gomes, none of their specialist batsmen could provide overs. At the same time, the fast bowlers could not be relied on to consistently bail out the team in case the top and middle order faltered.

In contrast, the likes of Shastri, Mohinder Amarnath (Player of the Final), Binny, Lal, Kirti Azad, apart from Kapil himself, had more than one string to their bows. Even if by default, India had stumbled upon the formula of success in one-day cricket with the whole being more than the sum of the parts. Almost the same core brought success Down Under in 1985.

But when Lloyd’s men visited India a few months after the World Cup, they seemed bent on avenging the defeat. The hosts were blanked in the ODI series while a 3-0 Test series victory may have salvaged some pride for the men from the Caribbean.

It may have strengthened their impression that what happened at Lord’s that summer day was an aberration. But it is also an undeniable fact that West Indies never scaled the heights they were accustomed to till the 1983 World Cup again, at least in one-day cricket. With the advent of T20 cricket, they became a major force but lacked consistency when it came to 50-over cricket, and eventually the five-day game.

Maybe, India can claim some credit in ending one of the longest and most powerful reigns in the world of sport.

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