It was June 22, 1983 when the Indian cricket team faced their mighty English counterparts at the Old Trafford stadium in Manchester. Continuing with their surprise spree, the Kapil Dev-led Indian team defeated England by six wickets with 32 balls remaining.
Despite the scorecard reflecting a seemingly one-sided result in India's favor, the match was a tense affair, with both teams vying for victory right from the start of the tournament. The turning point came when Kirti Azad, an unexpected bowler, secured the prized wicket of England's champion cricketer, Ian Botham. This shifted the momentum in India's favour, changing the course of the game.
In conversation with Joshua Thomas, The Core’s Executive Producer (podcasts), seasoned sports journalist Ayaz Memon shed light on the layers and nuances that made it an unforgettable sporting spectacle. Memon, who accompanied the Indian team to England for World Cup matches, spoke about how the thrilling semi-final match propelled India a step closer to victory.
He said Botham’s wicket was the turning point of the match. “The wicket of Ian Botham, who was England's champion cricketer and to get him out cheaply, actually was the turning point of the match. The guy who got him out cheaply was somebody who was not very highly fancied or regarded in the Indian team then. That was Kirti Azad,” Memon said.
Off the ground, the tension between the English and Indian cricketers was palpable. “You could sense from the body language that the Indians were almost kind of saying, we want to teach them a lesson. And then there was a drama being played out in the stadium at Old Trafford, where English and Indian fans, almost right through the match, were at loggerheads with each other, holding up placards, shouting slogans against each other,” Memon said.
Here are the edited excerpts from the interview as Memon delved into the finer details of that semi-final some four decades ago:
India hit the target about five overs shy of 60 overs, the full 60. Was it a close match?
The scorecards can also be misleading. In that sense, yes, it looks like a very one-sided result in India's favour. But it was not quite that way because it was a hard-fought match. It was a low-scoring match. And if you look at the finer details, you will find that a glut of runs came towards the end in about 3-4 overs that India played towards the end on their march to victory.
But before that, it was a really tense battle — right from the way the two teams were positioned at the start of the tournament on the eve of the match. And then, of course, as the match transpired, there were some key moments which India had to win to win the match.. That's true of all sports and all matches. But in this context, it became even more important.
For instance, the wicket of Ian Botham, who was England's champion cricketer and getting him out cheaply, actually was the turning point of the match. The guy who got him out cheaply was somebody who was not very highly fancied or regarded in the Indian team then. That was Kirti Azad bowling as a spinner, as an off-spinner. He was not really an off-spinner. He could bowl some slow stuff. He was essentially a hard-hitting batsman who could occasionally bowl. But in this match, he did the star turn by getting Botham out. And that really changed the match.
That is why I quote Mark Twain when he says, “There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.” So what the scorecard tells you is a very plain-vanilla interpretation of the match. But there were a lot of layers and nuances and lots of things transpired to give the kind of result that you see finally at the end of the scorecard.
What was the sentiment like in the stadium? Was India versus England a big rivalry?
I think the match was played with a lot of passion, especially by the Indian team who were at the receiving end of a lot of the media coverage of the World Cup that season, that year, or during the tournament.
David Fritz, editor of Wisden cricket monthly, before the tournament said he would eat his words if India won the tournament and he had to do it subsequently. After India won the tournament, he plucked out those pages and came and ate them in the press box. But he was a very well-meaning English journalist with a rich sense of history and tradition and an understanding of the topsy-turvy nature of sport and the glorious uncertainties of cricket. He was not very caustic or cynical about India's prospects. But a lot of the mainstream press generally was extremely dismissive of the Indian team, and that seemed to tell on the minds of the Indian players.
This is something that I experienced right through the tournament when I was in England and they could not fathom why the English press was so much against them. And my answer to that was that “England is the home country”. In fact, they were the second favourite team after the West Indies which was odds-on favorites to win the tournament. England was supposed to be, or was touted as the second best. So there was a lot of support for the home team, as it were. And they had a very good team.
Apart from the West Indians, who were kind of a couple of miles ahead of every other team, England boasted to have some of the best ODI cricketers then. All their players were playing in county cricket, and domestic cricket, where there were limited-overs tournaments being played. So they were more conversant with the format and therefore they seemed to have an advantage. And as I mentioned, there were players like Ian Botham, David Gower, Alan Lamb, and Bob Willis—it was a star-studded team. So the atmosphere on the ground was passionate.
There was a lot of confrontation going on between the Indian players and the English players. Not overtly in the sense they were not wagging fingers at each other, but you could sense from the body language that the Indians were almost kind of saying, we want to teach them a lesson. And then there was a drama being played out in the stadium at Old Trafford, where English and Indian fans, almost right through the match, were at loggerheads with each other, holding up placards, shouting slogans against each other. They were supporting their respective teams, but it was quite heated. An Indian supporter held a placard that said “Kapil Dev eats Ian Botham for breakfast.” And that was the time when this great rivalry between the all-rounders was going on. Who's the best all-rounder in the world? There were four of them vying for that accolade. One was Kapil Dev. The other was Ian Botham. The third was Richard Hadley of New Zealand. The fourth was Imran Khan of Pakistan. But in this match, obviously, it was Botham versus Kapil. I mean, the atmosphere was electrifying.
During the match, how did the India strategy play out?
I think the strategy kind of evolved along the way, as it happens in limited-overs cricket matches. Things can change in an over, things can change in a couple of deliveries, or you may plan for a certain thing for 5-7 overs and say, let's do things differently now and make sure that we get the advantage. The advantage may not be imminent, but 5-7 overs later, it could be with us if we play in a certain way. And all of these things happened.
So just to give you a couple of examples. So when Yashpal Sharma and Mohinder Amarnath were batting, and Yashpal was trying to play strokes, a little more adventurous than Mohinder Amarnath who went up to him and cautioned him to just hold his horses and be a little steady. He told him to get the better of the situation in the next 5-8 overs and then see how they can get a little more aggressive or try some improvisations and so on. To which, of course, Yashpal Sharma did exactly what he wanted. Sometimes strategies can be left behind just as conversation. But this was an important phase and they struck together a partnership that became very crucial in the context of the match.
Then there was the wicket of Ian Botham, which I mentioned earlier. Kitri Azad coming in to bowl. It was a very interesting moment. India had got a couple of wickets—Alan Lamb getting run out, David Gower getting out and then Botham coming in. Now, Botham could have swung the match England's way. He was that kind of a player. He was a match-winning all-rounder and Kapil Dev brings Kirti Azad, not a very fancied bowler. But in the context of that match, he came up with a delivery for which Botham had no answer. It was almost what they call a grubber. A grubber is a delivery that kind of almost runs along the ground. It doesn't rise, it doesn't bounce much. So Botham tried to negotiate with that grubber and because he didn't expect it to stay so low, he got bowled. And that was the prize wicket. Everything kind of changed from there.
So England's total, which they may have thought might go up to 280-300 fell far short of expectations and left India with the relatively easier task of making those runs. Never easy in a tight match between two tough teams, especially in a knockout match like the semifinal. But it didn't put the match beyond India's ability.
Of course, England's batting had kind of not really flowered on that pitch because the pitch was not great for stroke play. The Indians also had to define their approach, and how they would chase down the score. Keeping that in mind that some kind of wear and tear might have helped the bowlers more. The pitch may play lower and slower. You have to make plans for those kinds of things. That's why you'll see that in the partnership between Mohinder Amarnath and Yashpal Sharma, suddenly Yashpal Sharma opens up with a few attacking strokes because the more defensive you get and say that I'll steer my way out of this through attrition, it can work for a while, but may not work for the entire duration.
And then Yashpal Sharma starts hitting. One of the great strokes of the tournament is how he hit Bob Willis, who was their fastest bowler at that point in time, over square leg for a six. It was a magnificent shot. It was a shot loaded with bravado and it worked. And that kind of deals a big massive blow to the bowler and the fielding team.
And then after that, you had Sandeep Patil coming in. And this is an interesting thing because a year earlier, Sandeep Patil was batting against England in a test match a year earlier in 1982, and he had hit Bob Willis all over the park in one over for 5 or 6 boundaries. And then he sensed at that point in time that Bob Willis, the great bowler that he is, is still a little vulnerable against me as a batsman because of the way I dealt with him a year ago. There's that little lurking fear that this guy will get after me again. And that's precisely what happened. Sandeep Patil got on Bob Willis's case again, and hammered him for boundaries left, right and center. And that shrunk the target so significantly, so substantially that only one result was then possible. And that was India winning the match.