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From Being Underdogs To Winners, Sports Writer Ayaz Memon Traces India’s 1983 World Cup Journey 

Led by Kapil Dev, team India lifted the World Cup in 1983, much to everyone’s surprise. But the team’s occasional wins against strong opponents such as the West Indies were hints to show that they could do it.  

By Joshua Thomas
New Update
From Being Underdogs To Winners, Sports Writer Ayaz Memon Traces India’s 1983 World Cup Journey 

The World Cup of 1983 is recounted as one of the landmark moments in India’s cricketing history. It was the first time that India lifted the trophy, much to everyone’s surprise. Team India didn’t have an impressive track record to make them the probable winners of the trophy, yet it scripted history. From being one of the weaker teams to ultimately winning the World Cup under Kapil Dev’s captaincy, 1983 sounds like the script of one of those inspirational films.

The Core’s executive producer (Podcasts) Joshua Thomas and renowned sports journalist Ayaz Memon speak about team India's inspiring journey of 1983 World Cup. Memon went to England to cover the sporting event. And even he thought to himself then if it was even necessary to go because everyone was sure about India’s poor performance.  In fact an English journalist who wrote for Wisden magazine at that time had written, “If India wins this World Cup, I will eat my words.” And he had to eat his words! 

“He brought the copy of Wisden later on and he ate up that page, or at least as much of it as he could, to show how wrong he had proved to be,” Memon recalls.  

The Indian team had been throwing hints of their mastery. Before the 1983 World Cup , they had won a One Day International (ODI)  against the mighty West Indies, which was a strong team back then.  

It has been forty years since that glorious victory and India is braced for the World Cup again this year which begins on October 5 in India. Men in blue will play their first match on October 8 against Australia.     

Here are the edited excerpts from the conversation as Memon takes us through team India’s inspirational journey to victory: 

 

As we hark back to India’s win in the 1983 cricket World Cup, what were the expectations for the Indian team? What was the moment that caused the team to eventually shift gears and take home the trophy?

1983 is a landmark moment not just in Indian cricket, but in Indian life. It is one of the most remarkable sporting achievements that India has achieved. I would in fact extend it a little further and say when you look at examples from across the world, this must rank as amongst the most sensational ones because nobody expected the Indian team to do so well. 

There was a good reason for that kind of lack of belief that the team could do anything because in two previous World Cups – 1975 and 1979. They lost all matches in 1975. They lost all matches in 1979 except for the one against East Africa. And in fact, the performance was so poor that the Indian team was known as the dull dogs of cricket because of the lack of aptitude to play limited overs cricket. 

The Indian team was a very good test team even then. But when it came to limited overs cricket, it seemed to be a flop show every time. So when the team went to the World Cup in 1983, the expectations were low because not much had changed. Yes, there were some changes which took place which finally in hindsight had a big bearing on the result, I would imagine. For instance, Kapil Dev became the captain. A couple of months before the tournament, the change in guard took place after India lost to Pakistan in the Test series. In Pakistan, Sunil Gavaskar was replaced as the captain. You know how it can be for Indian captains in whatever sport. If you do not do well against Pakistan, then your neck is on the chopping block. So that is where Gavaskar lost his captaincy. Kapil Dev, who was the vice captain, became the captain. 

But when the team went to England for the World Cup, the expectations were extremely low. In fact, I must tell you, a lot of the players had themselves thought that they would not be able to do much in this tournament. So they had fixed up holidays for themselves immediately after the tournament ended. Some would go to the US, some would go to Europe. And Krishnamachari Srikkanth, one of the heroes, was actually on his honeymoon in England. It seems surreal now when you look back 40 years and say what really went right. And then, of course, you start retracing your steps and you gather your thoughts again and try to find out as to what could have gone right. And then obviously, there are many things that went right. But the whole setup, as it were, was absolutely uninspiring, to say the least. And therefore the results which came and culminated in the victory over the West Indies, the world champions West Indies in the final at the Oval on June 25, 1983, remains one of the biggest upsets in sports history… to get that kind of a result. 

 

So, India was sort of the underdogs in the World Cup. 

They were not the underdogs. They were the no-hopers. When the tournament began, the odds for an India win was 66-1 (sixty six to one). Even a team like Zimbabwe, which was actually a pretty strong team then, was thought to have a better chance of winning than India.

In fact, a very renowned English journalist of that time, David Fritz used to write articles for Wisden magazine.  He wrote: “If India wins this World Cup, I will eat my words,"  which he subsequently did post India's victory. He brought the copy of Wisden later on and he ate up that page, or at least as much of it as he could, to show how wrong he had proved to be. 

Now, interestingly, the next tour for India, after the Pakistan tour, was to the West Indies where Kapil Dev was the captain.We lost the test series. But in one of the ODI matches, India beat the mighty West Indies. Now, again, when you look back in hindsight, 40 years, you ask “couldn't we have known then that something was in the offing, something unusual, something very different?” But who would have thought then. But the West Indies were a formidable team, one of the greatest teams that has ever played cricket. 

And what happened is that when the World Cup began, the first match was between India and the West Indies. It was a part of the league match. It was not a knockout match. And again, India beat the West Indies. It was one of those unusual occurrences. But it happened two times in quick succession. Once in the West Indies, once in the first match of the World Cup. And therefore something should have kind of told us. Maybe now this is a way of rationalization that India was not such a poor team after all. 

I had gone to cover the World Cup and I did not go for the first match, West Indies versus India, because I thought “kya karna hai jake (what is the fun of going?”. We were going to get a thrashing. So I went for another match, which was England versus New Zealand, which was played at the Oval. India was playing West Indies at Old Trafford, which is a fair distance away from London. I saved on my train travel, saved on a one night stay in Manchester, and I said: Let me go and watch a more interesting match, England versus New Zealand. I was very keen to see a young player called Martin Crowe from New Zealand. I went and saw that match. Martin Crow made a lot of runs, which made my day. But things were happening in Old Trafford because that match spilled over into the second day because of rain. So India versus the West Indies. And lo and behold, India beat the West Indies in a fine all-round performance. They batted better, they bowled better and they beat the West Indies. And that kind of, in a sense, set the ball rolling. The momentum was to come much, much later. 

But now, when you look back, there were such strong signals that India beat the West Indies in the West Indies,  India beating the West Indies at Old Trafford in the first match. But who would have thought then? Nobody. Not me certainly. 

The biggest kind of lesson that emerges from that 83 World Cup–and look it's a long time back– was how everything seemed to fall in place. And when I say fall in place was actually getting the right kind of players for those conditions, which gave the team a lot of balance. 

You had outstanding players renowned in international cricket, like Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Syed Kirmani, Mohinder Amarnath, Dilip Vengsarkar and a lot of other players who were not so renowned. But they were of great value because of their distinctive skills that they had, which fit the kind of the conditions in Roger Binny, Madan Lal—all rounders. Kirti Azad, Ravi Shastri  didn't play the final, Dilip Vengsarkar did not play knockout matches. But by that time, it was becoming clear, by the time the tournament kind of moved on from the first match to the other matches and so on, that India seemed to have the talents right. They seemed to have the bowlers who could exploit those conditions. They had depth in batting which could come good. It's not as easy as it might sound now. They had  a lot of trouble getting the combination right. Some players played, some good, some didn't play, some had to be removed, some others had to come in. Some got injured, but the squad had the right kind of combination. And the selectors, therefore, who've been given very little credit so far for getting things right, they must be given credit because they chose players who would fit into the English conditions. Because of the selectors who knew what the English conditions would be at this time of the year and that helped.

Because if you had chosen players only on reputation, it might not have worked. Roger Binny and Madan Lal and all were not great players then. They are legends now because they won the World Cup. They were very good players. But maybe all or some of them may not have got a place in the squad. For instance, if the tournament was being played, say in India or Pakistan or South Africa, some other combination would have been thought of. So getting the combination right was obviously very crucial. 

And then, of course, there were the performances. And amongst these, what stands out, certainly, is Kapil Dev himself playing, making that unforgettable 175 not-out against Zimbabwe. That was a do or die match for India. You lost that match, you were out of the tournament. People could have resumed their honeymoons or gone off on their holidays, but Kapil Dev’s in what was literally a one man show, 175 not out of 266. And that kind of triggered a revival. It was against one of the lesser-known teams – Zimbabwe. But it gave the team self-belief and momentum. Sometimes it happens in life that there comes a trigger where it just completely alters the mental makeup of a whole bunch and a group of people. Those around them see a roadmap of how they have to navigate or they can navigate  and they all get inspired and then become part of the whole joint endeavor. That's something which is common in team sports. You need those triggers, you need those Eureka moments of inspiration, being hit by inspiration, and then it gets transformational. That's what happened with Kapul Dev’s 175. After that, India went from victory to victory to victory to victory. 

From the brink of ouster, from the tournament, beating Zimbabwe, then beating Australia, then running into England—home team joint favorites or second favorites in the West Indies in the semifinal, then beating England there at Old Trafford and going to Lords for the final against the mighty West Indies, scoring only 183, which looked like a cakewalk for the West Indies, and then winning the match by 43 runs. 

Incredible is the only word in which I can describe it.