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MEMON | The Indian Summer of 1983 Like it Was Yesterday

It’s 35 years to the day since India won the Prudential Cup. Advancing age and information overload are playing havoc with my memory, but Kapil Dev’s team beating the mighty West Indies at Lord’s and turning the cricket world upside down remain vivid.

Ayaz Memon |Cricketnext |May 17, 2019, 4:53 PM IST
MEMON | The Indian Summer of 1983 Like it Was Yesterday

It’s 36 years to the day since India won the Prudential Cup. Advancing age and information overload are playing havoc with my memory, but Kapil Dev’s team beating the mighty West Indies at Lord’s and turning the cricket world upside down remain vivid.

June 25, 1983, I recall, was a balmy day in England. The entire month, in fact, had been temperate compared to the previous few seasons according to locals. Subsequently – and essentially because of this famous win -- the season was to be enshrined in history as an `Indian Summer’.

But that’s getting ahead of the story.

From a personal point of view, the 1983 World Cup was life-changing too. I’d had a wavering four years as a journalist, unsure whether this was to be my career or not. A law degree offered a splendid option, and there were some proposals from the corporate sector too.

However, cricket still tugged the heart and filled my imagination far more than the Civil and Criminal Procedure Codes. As for a corporate job, while financially more rewarding (several times over!), it was a clear no-no. You were either that kind of animal or not.

Most importantly, reporting on the World Cup was a long-standing dream. If this was to be the swansong as a cricket writer, so be it, the dream had to be realised one way or the other.

The best way to get an assignment, obviously, was from the media establishment where I was working. But overseas travel was expensive, and tours were few and far in between. The short answer to my request was `No’.

Happily, this was changed to `Yes’ when I promised to raise part of the funds myself. Clubbing this money with payment for every article submitted, the trip was made possible. What had been a flight of fancy for several years was finally to be actualized.

This was my first visit to England and I was like Alice In Wonderland -- bewildered, bemused, and often stumped. Travelling by Underground Tube in London boggled the mind. Machines vending chocolates, chips, cigarettes, and what have you, seemed from another world altogether.

Going to pubs, fast food joints (yes, that was a novelty then), theatre and live music concerts between matches provided relief for entertainment between assignments that was not common in India, where a movie would be the usual default activity.

What also impressed me thoroughly was the evident respect for rules and laws in people: from disciplined queues for services to common courtesies in the form of `please’, `sorry’ and `thank you’ that came without compunction or restraint.

All of this was a culture shock, yet affording great convenience and rich experience. But more gratifying than anything else was visiting the various cricket grounds of England.

Weaned on Wisden Almanack, Playfair Cricket Annual and other repositories of cricket information and opinion, having devoured Neville Cardus, Alan Ross and their ilk through my growing up years, each ground – Lord’s, The Oval, Trent Bridge, Old Trafford et al – was more than just a venue.

Each told a magnificent story. I’ve always lamented the poor sense of history that we have in India. Traditionally, this has been passed on from generation to generation verbally, without lasting documentation. How many published works are there on Mumbai, Delhi or Karnataka cricket for instance?

As a practicing journalist too, the experience in 1983 was eye opening. There were obviously no laptops or cellphones then. The technological revolution was still a decade and more away. Most of us – at least Indian journalists – still worked on manual typewriters.

Non-Indian journalists relied on electronic typewriters that looked snazzy, had inbuilt editing functions, hummed when in use, and spouted out sheets of paper with words without fuss.

Most such journalists also `faxed’ their stories. This was a still a relatively new technology gaining popularity worldwide and even available even to us. But came at prohibitive price when every sterling pound mattered.

The cheaper, but time-consuming, option was typing out the story immediately after the match, and handing it over to the telex machine operator at the ground or Central Telegraph Office who would `cut a tape’ in code which would then be transmitted to a similar machine at the office.

The hitch, of course, that telephone lines to India were not easily available, leading to a great deal of nervous anxiety in meeting deadlines, apart, of course, from competing with other journalists to get priority over the machine. How we coped leaves me incredulous today!

The other big departure from today’s environment was the relationship with players. In 1983, it was excellent, I remember, without compromising on the functions of either. There was the necessary divide, but also a confluence.

This could be because there were so few of us from India – only six if I remember correctly -- with a couple of others joining in when the team reached the semi-finals. This made rapport easier – between players and journalists, and among ourselves.

The India cricket environment between players and the media in the early 1980s was hardly as sanitized as it is today. Of course, differences existed – which is actually a healthy sign – but there was less suspicion of motive on either side.

It was respectful co-existence, both sides acknowledging the compulsions of their respective jobs. I reckon things have changed as both factions have evolved over time, and as the `industry of cricket’ has grown.

The media has become more demanding, largely driven by competition within, while players – far more vulnerable because of the huge stakes involved -- have become more diffident to the media depending on where and what they think can lead to loss or gain for them.

This wasn’t the case in 1983 certainly. Speaking for myself, I must admit to some advantages. Syed Kirmani, oldest in the squad was seven years older, Ravi Shastri the `baby’ of the team, seven years younger. Being in the middle of these age groups was a big help.

The two totem poles in the side were Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev. Both superstars, which meant that an invisible `handle with care’ tag always accompanied them. But I found neither `hung up’ on status.

Both were different personalities, of course. Gavaskar could be moody, Kapil Dev was always earthy but could be flip, and one had to know how to deal how with whom.

Familiarity with some players helped a great deal, especially with those from my city, Bombay. Sandeep Patil was one of my earliest interviewees when I started work. Dilip Vengsarkar was contemplating a book which he would frequently discuss. Balwinder Sandhu, shared a birthday with me. Shastri, barely 21, always wanted to know more about cricket lore and history.

As the tournament developed, a rapport with all the others in the squad from different parts of India was struck too: Kirti Azad, Yashpal Sharma, Mohinder Amarnath, Roger Binny, Kirmani, but the one who I found most engaging was the ebullient Krishnamachari Srikanth.

We were both heavy smokers then and apart from bumming cigarettes off each other would end discussing all things under the sun. He was a blithe spirit, and kept the mood lively and optimistic – in the dressing room too I believe -- which was endearing.

Since many players were on their first (like me) or second trip to England, there was a lot to share and discover together. I can recall landing up in some situations with players that would be impossible today.

All said and done, however, it is the cricket played by India that is paramount to the 1983 Prudential Cup story. How did a team of no-hopers (remember, India had won only one match in the two preceding tournaments, and that against lowly East Africa) pull off such a stunning upset?

I don’t know if there is a logical explanation. I only have a narrative.

Beginning with the unexpected win over the West Indies in their first match at Manchester (which I skipped foolishly, thinking it would be a no-contest and watched England v New Zealand instead) Kapil and his merry band embarked on a jerky but kaleidoscopic ride of victory, defeat, despair and finally remarkable triumph.

What helped?

In conditions helpful to swing and seam bowling, India’s disregarded pace bowlers – none express but all with skill to get the ball to move in the air or off the pitch – emerged hugely successful, compensating for the lack of runs from a shaky batting line-up.

The fielding, in a dramatic improvement from earlier times, rose to great heights. Srikanth, Azad, Madan Lal, Yashpal & Binny, were outstanding in the deep to prevent boundaires or in the infield to stop free supply of singles and twos.

In the slips, Gavaskar’s sure catching carried a certificate of guarantee with it, while Kirmani was truly brilliant behind the wickets match after match. Phlegmatic Mohinder Amarnath seemed an unlikely hero in the hurly-burly of instant cricket, but he was man-of-the-match in the semi-final and final.

However, the biggest contribution clearly came from the captain himself. A high-voltage, incredible 175 not out at Tunbridge Wells (unfortunately not available to future generations because BBC was on strike that day) against Zimbabwe pulled the team back from the brink of being ousted.

And in the final, Kapil Dev was to take a catch running back 20-25 yards to dismiss a rampaging Viv Richards when everything, except hope, seemed lost. These are the two most influential moments in any World Cup still I believe.

Indeed, in my estimation, Kapil’s 175 ranks as the greatest ODI innings ever. Yes, there have been double hundreds in the last decade, and before that Javed Miandad’s last-ball-six-century at Sharjah in 1986, Viv Richards’s 189 not out against England in 1984 to name only two, but none compare with Kapil’s effort.

Think about it. India, reduced to 9-4, then 17-5 on a seaming pitch. Out walks Kapil, not a top order batsman, with defeat and ouster from the tournament staring his team in the face. What nerve, what strokeplay, what a knock in the circumstances!

And who can forget the catch to dismiss Richards in the final? India bowled out for a paltry 183. Gordon Greenidge falls early, but Richards is in a menacing mood, smashing boundaries at will.

Then he hits Madan Lal in the air. The ball seems to be soaring over mid-wicket (as it appeared from the Lord’s Press Box then situated at long leg) when suddenly Kapil comes into view and completes a wonderful catch that was not only to seal the fate of the final, but also redefine the future of the sport with India at the centre of its power matrix.

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