For anyone associated with Indian cricket June 25, 1983 is the day to remember: There have been numerous great days when the Indian team notched up a significant triumph. These have intensified during the past couple of decades when Indian cricket has touched new heights in all three formats of the game.
Winning the 2011 Fifty50 World Cup, emerging victorious in the 2007 Twenty20 World Cup, rising to No 1 status in the ICC Test rankings are just some of the notable events in Indian cricket.
And yet the triumph in the World Cup held in England exactly 30 years ago has to be something very special in that it was a path breaker. Any pioneering achievement, anything that breaks new ground has to be right up there ahead of anything and everything else and that is why June 25, 1983 has to be the greatest day in Indian cricket.
Those were the days when Test cricket still ruled the roost, when the crowds flocked to the traditional format of the game, when limited overs cricket was regarded as its poor cousin. The Indian players too seemed to treat ODIs with lukewarm interest and this was reflected in their overall record which had them well below other teams.
Sure, the Indians had defeated England 2-1 in a three-match series at home in 1981-82 and about a year later came a remarkable win over West Indies at Berbice. But the defeats far outweighed these few victories and the Indians were still feeling their way around in limited overs cricket even as the other teams had embraced it clearly seeing it as the future of the game.
When the Indians landed in England in June 1983 for the third edition of the World Cup they were ranked 66 to one outsiders to take the trophy. This was no surprise for in the previous two World Cup campaigns they had notched up just one victory and that over East Africa in 1975. Four years later the Indians even went down to then associate member Sri Lanka. Moreover they were placed in a strong group along with two time champion West Indies and Australia. Zimbabwe were the other side in the group.
And yet there was a sensational start to the World Cup and both the shock results came in this group. First Zimbabwe stunned Australia by 13 runs and then India upset West Indies by 34 runs to hand the Caribbean side their first ever defeat in the World Cup. A victory over Zimbabwe made it two out of two but then the Indians faltered losing to Australia and West Indies and their campaign seemed to be running out of steam.
The events at Tunbridge Wells have been well chronicled. How Kapil Dev rescued India from nine for four and 17 for five to a challenging total of 266 for eight with his memorable unbeaten 175. This was the supreme example of a captain leading from the front and galvanized by his once in a lifetime knock which spurred them on to a 31-run victory over their gallant opponents the Indians now saw an avenue for a semifinal spot.
For this they had to beat Australia and they did so comfortably enough to make it to the last four. I well remember how the English newspapers rejoiced at the victory for they reckoned that the home team’s chances of making the final had become that much easier with the ``weaker’’ Indians and not the ``tougher’’ Australians being the next opponents!
England having topped the other group were firm favourites to win the semifinal but by now this was not just another defeatist Indian squad. Their confidence level was an all time high and knowing fully well that the pressure was on England the bowlers lured the batsmen into mistakes and suddenly England were restricted to 213 after a good start.
Presented with a realistic chance to make the title clash India did not falter and a six- wicket victory meant that they would meet West Indies for a third time in the competition.
Naturally the Indians despite having performed so superbly were still the underdogs against a side that had topped their group and then handed out an eight-wicket drubbing to Pakistan in the semifinal. A West Indian hat trick of triumphs seemed well and truly on the cards when India, put in to bat, were all out for 183.
It became even more certain as West Indies were cruising at 50 for one with Viv Richards on the rampage. What followed is I am sure familiar not only to those around at the time but also to the much younger Indian cricket fans some of whom were probably born after 1983. Kapil pulled off that catch, Richards was on his way, there was a middle order collapse and some late defiance could only delay the inevitable Indian victory, the margin being 43 runs.
Unforgettable as the triumph was the impact it had on the players, the fans worldwide and the administrators was tremendous. The cricketers themselves acquired a sense of self belief, the fans accepted the fact that the West Indies were no longer unconquerable, Indian cricket followers woke up to embrace limited overs cricket and the officials coming to terms with the popularity of the one day game quickly lined up a number of such contests.
West Indies might have swept the ``revenge’’ series in India a few months later – the matches being watched by unprecedented crowds – but some 15 months later India added the World Championship of Cricket trophy in Australia to their bag and the ODI juggernaut was on its way. And that is why the significance of June 25 1983 can never be overemphasized.