Historic. Miraculous. Unbelievable. These three words sum up India in the 1983 World Cup campaign. It was a tournament and year that changed the entire cricketing landscape. The achievement boosted the popularity of the sport in India. The victory came against all odds. Consider these two statistics. India had won only one out of their previous six World Cup matches. They had crashed out in the league stages in 1975 and 1979. The 1979 edition was the lowest point with India losing even to Sri Lanka, who had not gained Test status at that time. West Indies were the two-time champions and were at their dominant best. Heading into the tournament, India’s odds of winning the tournament were placed at 33-1.
Before the World Cup, India had toured the West Indies for a Test and ODI series. Kapil Dev, who was the captain then, was under pressure having lost the Test series and the first ODI. In the second ODI at Albion, Sunil Gavaskar’s 90 and the skipper’s 72 helped India 282/5 in 47 overs. In response, West Indies were bowled out for 255 and India had won by 27 runs, a huge feat at that time. However, the win was dismissed as a one-off.
In the tournament, India showed the win at Albion was not a one-off. India defeated the two-time champions again in Manchester by 34 runs but suffered a crushing 162-run loss to Australia. After losing to the West Indies, it seemed their campaign was done but then Kapil Dev, a man known for big moments, stepped up and played a knock which turned India’s fortunes around.
Reeling at 17/5 in the game against Zimbabwe at Tunbridge Wells, Kapil produced one of the great knocks by smashing 175 and helping India reach 266/8. The recovery from India and the knock played by Kapil has gone down in cricketing annals as the greatest ever. It was a tragedy that the match was not telecast as the BBC was on strike that day. India got the better of Australia by 118 runs in Chelmsford and they entered the semi-final.
In the last four, Kapil Dev took three wickets to restrict England to 213 all out. In response, Yashpal Sharma and Sandeep Patil smashed attacking fifties to help India win by six wickets and book their place in the final against West Indies, who got the better of Pakistan in the other match by eight wickets.
In the final, India was inserted in on a Lord’s pitch tailor-made for fast bowling. Andy Roberts, Joel Garner and Michael Holding were at their best and Krishnamachari Srikkanth’s 38 was the saving grace for India. Some late contributions from the lower order helped India reach 183. West Indies lost Gordon Greenidge for 1 but Viv Richards was on song, racing away to 33 off 27 balls and putting the two-time champions on course.
However, Kapil chose his moment and changed the game dramatically again. Madan Lal bowled a short ball and Richards top-edged the pull to deep square leg. Kapil ran back, kept his eyes on the ball for a long time and completed the catch close to the boundary. The catch was taken and Richards fell for 33. Kapil’s catch indeed proved that ‘catches win matches.’ West Indies lost momentum and Mohinder Amarnath’s 3/12 helped India bowl West Indies out for 140 and seal a famous 43-run win as India won the title for the first time.
The win had massive ramifications. The cricketing landscape had changed. Cricket became THE game in India. The surge in popularity was unprecedented. If cricket is a religion in India, it is because of Kapil’s 175 and that catch of Richards which changed the game permanently.