The year 1983 is etched on every Indian’s memory as India scripted one of the most remarkable turnarounds in cricketing history. As the cricketing world descended upon England for the 1983 Cricket World Cup, little did anyone anticipate the seismic shift that was about to take place. India, once considered the underdogs of the tournament, defied all odds to lift the coveted trophy, forever etching their names in cricketing lore.
Ayaz Memon, a seasoned observer of the sport and renowned sports journalist, paints a vivid picture of how a young and determined team, led by the indomitable Kapil Dev, defied expectations and conquered the cricketing giants of that era. With insights drawn from his extensive experience and in-depth knowledge of the game, Memon unravels the intricacies of the team in a conversation with The Core’s Joshua Thomas, Executive Producer (Podcasts).
“India's record in ODI cricket was poor, at least in the previous World Cup before 1983. So there was a need to look at some young, fresh players. Yes, there were the regulars—Kapil Dev who had played in 1979, Gavaskar who had played in 75-79, and Mohinder Amarnath a veteran who had made his international debut for India in 1969. Then there was a younger crop. Ravi Shastri was just about 23 or even younger. Krishnamachari Srikkanth was around the same age,” Memon recalled. He was one of the journalists who travelled along with the team to cover the major sporting event in England in 1983.
The team had some surprise elements as well – such as Kirti Azad. “Kirti Azad managed to dismiss Ian Botham just as everyone was wondering how he had managed to make it to the team as a spinner. He was made a part of the playing 11 as a spinner because Ravi Shastri did not have a good time,” Memon said.
How was team India’s 1983 squad selected and what are the takeaways for the current team as it braces for the World Cup in October this year?
Here are the edited excerpts from the interview:
We are back to talking about the 1983 Cricket World Cup. So how is the team selected for the tournament?
There was a panel of five selectors that chose a squad for the tournament. There was a chairman of the selection committee as well. The panel's initial decision on the players was not unanimous, as is typical in most selection-related situations. A consensus was reached finally, though there was some back and forth on some of the names. This is the general practice for squad selection, not just in India but worldwide too. The cricket set up in India was divided into five zones — West, South, North, East and Central. One might question why the selectors could not have come from the same region. The rationale behind having zonal selectors was that they would be more acquainted with the players from that region. That was the logic applied and it is similar to what prevails now.
However, we now have talent scouts who go out on behalf of the selectors, spot young talent, and then report back to the state and then to the zone selectors and so on. But in 1983, prior to the World Cup, the selectors met and picked a squad that would play in the World Cup to be captained by Kapil Dev.
In the first episode, you mentioned how we were sort of the no-hopers when we went into the World Cup. Were there any wildcards in the squad that were finally selected? Were there people that they were unsure of?
Usually, a squad would have anywhere between 15-17 members. During the pandemic, we even had 18-member teams being chosen for a tour. Coming to your question on whether there were players whose selection was completely unexpected, there would have been the odd contentious selections on some occasions. I am not sure whether it was so 40 years ago. Actually, I cannot think of many. The two selections which people could have wondered about were Sunil Valson, a left-arm fast bowler and Kirti Azad, a batsman who could also bowl — both from Delhi. Having said that, let me also say that they had been performing well in domestic cricket. So they were not wildcards in that sense.
Also, as I mentioned last time, India's record in ODI cricket was poor, at least in the previous World Cup before 1983. So there was a need to look at some young, fresh players. Yes, there were the regulars—Kapil Dev who had played in 1979, Gavaskar who had played in 75-79, and Mohinder Amarnath a veteran who had made his international debut for India in 1969. He had been around for 13-14 years. Syed Kirmani, and Dilip Vengsarkar. These players had a fair number of years in terms of experience. Then there was a younger crop. Ravi Shastri was just about 23 or even younger. Krishnamachari Srikkanth was around the same age. These were the young brigades coming up in Indian cricket at that point in time.
Sandeep Patil — as experienced as Dilip Vengsarkar – and Balvinder Singh, a fast bowler who had played for Mumbai for a couple of seasons but did not have much international experience were also part of the squad. Obviously, there was a need to have enough players with rich English experience and also a need to infuse some young blood into the team. Especially since the Indian team had not done too well.
The central debate amongst the selectors, in my opinion, would have been about how these players fare in England. And that aspect clearly clinched the issue for some players who were chosen to go on the tour. Players like Roger Binny, and Madan Lal had international experience and were also thought to be adept in bowling and playing in English conditions. Balvinder Singh Sandhu, again a swing bowler and therefore would enjoy English conditions.
Even Sunil Valson, left-arm fast bowler from Delhi; was a swing bowler and was successful in India in domestic cricket. Therefore that was the choice — swing bowlers and then a player like Kirti Azad, who was a hard-hitting lower order or a middle-order batsman who could play the big shots, which is so essential in one day cricket.
So, if you asked me if there were rank outsiders in the team, I would say no. A lot of them had done extremely well in domestic cricket and therefore, were demanding attention. Then there were a set of players who had done well in international cricket over a period of time and one could not really ignore them. The situation in 1983 was very different from the situation in 2023 — India is flush with talent. There is abundant talent in batting and bowling — whether it is swing, fast or spin bowling. As a result, it is far more difficult to choose a team today than it was at that point in time.
During the 1983 Cricket World Cup, which players in the squad really showed their mettle and were shining by the end of the tournament?
Almost everybody did their bit in the tournament. When I say did their bit, some obviously did a bit more than others. Players such as Kapil Dev made the first century ever for India in the World Cup. At that point in time, the highest score in the World Cup tournament was made by Kapil Dev, a 175 not out against Zimbabwe. Mohinder Amarnath was the man of the match in the semi-final as well as the final. Roger Binny was the highest wicket-taker in the tournament. Syed Kimani was voted as the wicketkeeper of the tournament. So there were lots of players who excelled and there were some players who pitched in — Srikkant had a terrific knock in the final and made the highest score in the low-scoring final. Madan Lal came up with wickets whenever it was most needed, notably the wicket of Viv Richards in the final.
In the semi-final match against England, Kirti Azad managed to dismiss Ian Botham just as everyone was wondering how he had managed to make it to the team as a spinner. He was made a part of the playing 11 as a spinner because Ravi Shastri did not have a good time. Remember, the pitches or the conditions were loaded in favour of the swing and seam bowlers that you did not need to play two spinners. So Ravi Shastri, though he was an all-rounder, was out of the playing 11 as he had not made too many runs either.
Dilip Vengsarkar had got injured against the West Indies in the second match and therefore not in contention.
So they had to make some quick changes in playing 11 during the course of the tournament. When you look at it in retrospect you could say that Dilip Vengsarkar did not make as many runs as expected. Neither did Sunil Gavaskar, though he came up with some decent cameo knocks, especially in the semi-final and then he fielded superbly in the final. Sunil Valson, unfortunately, did not get to play in a single match.
So there was no rank failure. Yes, there were some who couldn't hold on to their places for different reasons—injury or because somebody else was needed at that point in time as a better option because of the conditions.
On the other hand, there were lots of players from Kapil Dev, Mohinder Amarnath, Yashpal Sharma, Syed Kimani, and K Srikkant—all of whom played extremely well. For want of a better phrase, one can say that you had a team that kind of clicked, the combination worked, especially in the knockout matches towards the end. Starting from the match against Zimbabwe where Kapil Dev turned things around and then you had various players coming good in the match against Australia, and in the semi-final even if it meant contributing not too many runs, but it all added to the consolidated effort and helped India not just reach the final but win it.