Saturday, September 30, 2023

When Kapil’s Devils turned world beaters

Himalayan Paths

By Kushal Chakraborty/IANS
Beginning as rank underdogs, “Kapil’s devils” left the cricketing pundits shaking their heads in disbelief by lifting the trophy in the 1983 World Cup, that saw the end of the West Indies’ uninterrupted reign and produced delightful upsets as the number of matches almost doubled.

The June 9-25 tournament, staged by England for the third time, was played under a new format. Like the previous two World Cups, the matches were of 60 overs with the teams divided into two groups, and top two sides from each group advancing to the semi final.

The novelty lay in each team playing its group adversaries twice, which raised the number of matches to 27 spread over 15 venues.

Till the start of the 1983 edition, India had won only one game – against minnows East Africa – out of their six outings in the first two World Cups. Overall, the side had lost 28 of the 40 One-Day Internationals (ODIs) they had played till then.

So low was the expectation from the Kapil Dev-led side that even some of the Indian journalists, who travelled all the way to England, chose to attend the group A game between England and New Zealand at the Oval on the inaugural day, rather than watch the group B tie between their country and defending champions West Indies at Old Trafford.

However, India surprised the cricketing world by carving out a 34-run win over the Calypso charmers – who slumped to their first defeat in the history of the tournament.

The Indians retained the momentum with a five-wicket victory over Zimbabwe, but then suffered back-to-back defeats to Australia and the West Indies.

To make matters worse, they seemed hours away from yet another ignominious exit from the tournament when half of their batsmen departed with only 17 on the board in the next game against Zimbabwe, who had earlier pulled off a big upset win against Australia.

But braveheart Kapil came up with an innings that not only changed the complexion of the game, but gave a tremendous boost to the morale of the Indian players for the remaining games of the tourney — and above all, altered the future of Indian and world cricket.

Kapil’s unconquered 175 (138 b, 16×4, 6×6) was then the highest individual ODI score, and though many batsmen have scored more subsequently, the innings is considered arguably the best because of the trying circumstances in which he batted.

However, the spectators missed watching Kapil’s heroics on television, following a strike called by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) employees on that day.

Another proof of the low standings of the two sides lay in the choice of venue – Nevill Ground, Tunbridge Wells, that never again hosted any international fixture. Even the dressing rooms were located in the basement, where the sun’s rays hardly ever entered.

With support from middle-order contributors Roger Binny, Madan Lal and Syed Kirmani, Kapil piloted India to 266 for eight, and the Zimbabwe innings folded for 235 in 57 overs.

Later, Mohinder Amarnath disclosed that the players had become so superstitious that none of them changed their position till the Indian innings ended.

Buoyed by Kapil’s heroics against Zimbabwe, India registered an emphatic 118-run win over Australia with the in-form Madan Lal and Binny capturing four wickets each, to move into the semifinal as the second placed team from the group.

Moving on to Old Trafford, Manchester, India took on England for a place in the final. The bowlers bowled economically to peg the hosts to 213 and then coasted to a comfortable six-wicket win with Yashpal Sharma coming up with 61.

As the Indians returned to London, people of Asian origin gave them a warm ovation. But the problem started when the players were deluged with requests for complimentary tickets.

The hotel rooms of all players had Indian guests who had arrived from various parts of England to watch the historic June 25 final, where India were to take on the West Indies. Amarnath remembered he had to sleep on the floor on the night of the semifinal win.

But still, nobody gave any chance to India on the big day. The West Indies had looked their awesome best in all their six matches post the defeat against India and crushed Pakistan by eight wickets in the last four stage.

The fearsome Caribbean pace battery and their great batting line-up looked too intimidating for the surprise finalists.

But how events unfolded is now a part of Indian folklore.

Put in to bat, the Indian batting caved in against the quality pace bowling attack of Andy Roberts, Joel Garner, Malcolm Marshall and Michael Holding. With Krishnamachari Srikkanth top scoring (38), the Indians were skittled out for 183. It seemed, it would turn out to be the biggest final mismatch of the World Cup.

Medium-pacer Balwinder Sandhu got rid of Gordon Greenidge early, but the great Vivian Richards (33) went all guns blazing, as if he wanted to finish off the match inside 30 overs.

However, Kapil took a spectacular catch, running backwards for a considerable distance towards the boundary rope to dismiss Richards. Suddenly, the Indians looked inspired.

From 50 for one, the West Indies slipped to 76 for six. Wicketkeeper Jeff Dujon (25) and Marshall (18) tried to put up some resistance but it only delayed the inevitable with the West Indies bundled out for 140.

India won by 43 runs to become champions, as hundreds of Indian supporters invaded the ground.

Amarnath (three for 12) and Madan Lal (three for 31) were the chief wreckers. Binny and Madan Lal, who got assistance from the slippery English conditions, topped the wicket takers’ list with 18 and 17 scalps respectively.

West Indies legend Garfield Sobers acknowledged India’s achievement.

“You deserve it man, you were the better side,” the West Indies great told Kapil.

(Kushal Chakraborty is a freelancer. He can be contacted at [email protected])

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