It may not have been India’s "greatest achievement since Independence", as one over-enthusiastic cricket writer declared grandly at the time; but there can be little doubt that India’s triumph at Lord’s in the 1983 World Cup final ranks as one of Indian sport’s greatest achievements.
Picture this: in two previous World Cups, India had a sole win to their credit and that too against East Africa. The experts were convinced that the Indians were clueless when it came to the limited overs variety of the game. On his part, Kapil Dev is convincedthat the seeds of the miracle at Lord’s were planted at the Albion Sports Complex in Berbice, Guyana, three months before the start of the Prudential World Cup. It was at this nondescript ground that India beat West Indies by 27 runs—"the first great win for India," according to Kapil Dev, who was leading the team abroad for the first time.
Since making its one-day debut in England in 1974, India had earned the unenviable reputation of being the weakest team in the world. Even Sri Lanka—still three years away from full Test status—got the better of them in the 1979 World Cup. The Berbice shock result was carried on to the opening match of the 1983 World Cup. The West Indies had gone through two World Cups without losing a single match. But all that changed at Old Trafford. India beat the champs again and a pattern began to emerge. If it was Sunil Gavaskar who dominated the Berbice encounter with a brilliant knock, at Manchester it was Yashpal Sharma who played what his captain described as an "extraordinary innings".
A series of marvellous matches later, chapter one of Indian cricket’s greatest saga (with the possible exception of 1971) had been scripted. India were in the final against all odds. But surely their luck would run out now. What hope could they have against the reigning champions? Kapil says that a long meeting was held before the final: "Our hopes were high, though the fear of taking on the champions was there at the back of our minds." Despite the early fireworks from K. Srikkanth and the solidity of Mohinder Amarnath, 183 was a paltry total. The batsmen hadfailed. It was up to the bowlers to come to India’s rescue again. During the break between innings, Kapil exhorted his troops. He recalls: "I told the boys as we prepared to go out to field, ‘We have nothing to lose. Nobody expected us to be here. It is only a matter of three hours from now. Throw yourselves at the ball and try.’ Anything was possible and I was trying to be as positive as possible when we took the field."
The opening segment of chapter two had Balwinder Singh Sandhu and Gordon Greenidge in the lead roles. The West Indian shouldered arms and Sandhu’s inswinger knocked off his bails. Was it a miscalculation or just plain arrogance? Kapil described it as the first sign of hope. That glimmer turned into a sunburst. ‘I.V.A. Richards c Kapil Dev b Madan Lal 33’ read the bland scoreline. The crowd was already beginning to applaud another boundary from the King’s flashing blade when Kapil ran in seemingly from nowhere to pluck the ball out of thin air. In his own words: "That I managed to pouch the ball must have seemed something of a miracle from outside, but I was being driven by some kind of force which I cannot define."
The force was certainly with India on June 25, 1983. Ask Kapil Dev. Or 880 million other Indians. And they will all be praying for a repeat performance.