Berbice, March 29, 1983. The venue and the date might not ring a bell with the younger cricket enthusiasts but they will make the older and middle generation’s eyes sparkle with delight even 30 years after the event. What happened on the date in an ODI played between India and West Indies set off a chain of events that revolutionized the game in this country.
India were on a tour of the West Indies and came to Berbice one down in both the Test and the ODI series. This was along expected lines for the West Indies were then the No 1 team in the world in both formats of the game. India were way down in the list when it came to Test cricket and even further down when it came to the limited overs game. They had played ODIs for a few years but the players were still to come to terms with its intricacies and the overall record was abysmal.
West Indies on the other hand had won the World Cup twice and had outplayed all their opponents in a format that seemed tailor made for them. In Indian cricket Tests still ruled the roost as far as the spectator and TV audience was concerned. Perhaps because of the poor performances of the Indian team, limited overs cricket had yet to catch the fancy of the followers.
Against the backdrop of what Indians teams have achieved over the last decade in particular, it might be easy to shrug off the victory in an ODI in the West Indies exactly 30 years ago as one of no particular significance. On the contrary it occupies – and will continue to occupy – a very special place in Indian cricket.
Put in to bat India led off with an unthinkable total of 282 for five in 47 overs. Leading the run charge was most unexpectedly Sunil Gavaskar. Eight years before he had gained notoriety for scoring 36 not out off 174 balls in a World Cup game against England. This time around he galloped to 90 from 117 deliveries after reaching his 50 off 52 balls.
With Ravi Shastri (30) he put on 93 runs for the first wicket and when Gavaskar after hitting eight fours was second out at 152, Kapil Dev rightly promoted himself in the batting order and proceeded to make mincemeat off the West Indian bowlers. And what a line-up it was! The four pronged fearsome pace attack of Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Malcolm Marshall and Winston Davis supported by the spin of Larry Gomes and Vivian Richards.
The Indian captain slammed 72 off just 38 balls with seven fours and three sixes. The other batsmen all chipped in with Mohinder Amarnath getting 30, Yashpal Sharma a bright 23 off 26 balls and Dilip Vengsarkar hitting 18 off 19 balls in the slog overs. The Indian total compiled at exactly six an over was the highest any team had made against the West Indies.
Even a star-studded West Indian batting line-up that started with Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes and continuing with Richards, Gomes, Clive Lloyd, Jeff Dujon and Faoud Bacchus was going to find it difficult to get the formidable target and so it proved.
The openers falling with just 22 runs on the board made things even tougher. Richards however kept West Indies in the fight batting in the manner as only he could. But after getting 64 off 51 balls with eleven fours and a six he was bowled by Madan Lal.
The middle order tried to keep the ship afloat. Bacchus got 52, Gomes 26 and Dujon an unbeaten 53 but it was always going to be a losing cause and the West Indies were restricted to 255 for nine in 47 overs leaving India shock winners by 27 runs. Kapil, Madan Lal and Balwinder Sandhu all took two wickets while Shastri did even better finishing with three. Needless to say it was India’s first victory over West Indies in an ODI.
Back home the result was received with utter disbelief. How could the Indians, novices in this format, get the better of the mighty West Indies? Suddenly cricket fans started to take keener interest in limited overs cricket and even though India lost the third ODI to go down 1-2 in the series it did nothing to dampen the new found confidence of the touring squad.
The third World Cup was to be staged in England in June and even though hardly anyone gave the Indians a chance (they were predictably ranked 66 to one outsiders) Kapil Dev and his men went on to pull off one of the biggest upsets ever in the history of cricket.
They first defeated West Indies in their opening match to hand the defending champions their first-ever defeat in the competition, endured a few anxious moments thanks to two successive defeats midway through the campaign, unexpectedly made it to the semifinals, stunned England and then, biggest surprise of all, shocked the West Indies in the final at Lord’s on June 25 (now that’s a date which even the younger fans will be familiar with!).
The World Cup triumph was generally traced to the victory at Berbice three months before - a view that even Kapil concurred with, saying it gave them a lot of self-belief. Most important it gave one day cricket a tremendous fillip in this country. No more was the interest just lukewarm.
The fan following increased manifold, spectators thronged the stadium to see the matches against Pakistan and West Indies held during the 1983-84 season and the greater interest and the historic event at Lord’s brought in sponsors, advertisers and specialized television coverage. It was only a matter of time before ODIs became more popular than Test cricket, a trend that stayed for nearly quarter of a century before Twenty20 took over in the new millennium.