The 1983 World Cup is an example of a perfect underdog story, not just in cricket, but across all sport. India had just as much chance of winning the tournament as Leicester City had of winning the Premier League in 2015-16. The odds were stacked against them and yet they brushed aside competition from all corners and eventually emerged victorious – much like India did in 1983.
India went into the mega event having won just one match in the competition – which came against East Africa in 1975. They had even lost to Sri Lanka in 1979, who were not yet given Test status. Safe to say that not many had expectations from India to do well in the tournament – let alone win it.
While West Indies shrugged off any competition that came their way for the better part of three decades beginning from the 60s, the 1983 World Cup was proof that they weren’t invincible. The cracks emerged just prior to the World Cup when India beat West Indies 2-1 in a three-match One-Day International (ODI) series and followed that up with a 34-run win in their first match of the World Cup.
While India were making progress, Zimbabwe were just about getting started in their quest to become a cricketing powerhouse. Zimbabwe attained the status of an associate member in 1982 and made an immediate impact by winning the ICC Trophy – beating Bermuda in the final - and thereby qualifying for the 1983 World Cup.
In one of the biggest upsets, a Duncan Fletcher-inspired all-round performance propelled Zimbabwe to a 13-run win over Australia in their first match. That’s as good as things got for them as they then went on to lose to India, West Indies and Australia, leaving their chances of making it to the semi-final in a lurch. India on the other hand were in a similar pickle, but had one win more than Zimbabwe at that stage.
The stakes were high and it was a must-win for both teams. A loss for Zimbabwe would confirm their exit, but a win for India could keep them alive in the competition.
That’s when India captain Kapil Dev went on to play one of the all-time great ODI innings. An unbeaten 175 at Tunbridge Wells took India to a competitive total after he walked in at 9 for 4 and then stood silently at the other end as they further reduced to 17 for 5. India’s campaign looked all but over, until Kapil smacked the ball around, scoring 16 fours and six sixes in his 138-ball marathon knock. He reached his hundred off just 72 deliveries – the first ever ODI century by an Indian – and further went on to take the match away from the opposition. He did not just get a hundred and get out, but as captain – a job he was still getting used to at 24 – he took the responsibility of giving India a competitive score.
He put on 60 with Roger Binny (22) and for the ninth wicket added an unbeaten 126 with Syed Kirmani (24*) a record that stood for 27 years until Angelo Mathews and Lasith Malinga put on 132 against Australia at MCG. India batted out their 60 overs and finished with 266 for 8, which they would have taken after being torn apart earlier.
This after new-ball bowlers Kevin Curran and Peter Rawson had ripped through India’s top-order, but then when they returned bowl to a set Kapil, they too were taken to the cleaners. As were the trio of Fletcher, John Traicos and Iain Butchart.
Zimbabwe in reply, never really got going. Barring a decent stand of 44 for the first wicket between Robit Brown and Grant Paterson, Zimbabwe never really had a significant partnership until it was a tad too late – a 55-run stand between Butchart and Curran. In fact, Curran was a thorn in India’s flesh as he eased himself to a half-century and for a brief time, threatened to turn the game in his side’s favour but once his 93-ball 73 came to an end, India could sniff victory and it eventually came when last man Traicos was dismissed fittingly by Kapil.
India went on to win by 31 runs and kept their hopes alive of making it to the semi-final. In fact, they beat Australia in the next match by 118 runs and made it to the semi-final where they beat England to set up a date with West Indies who were chasing their third World Cup title. The defending champs looked all set to do so, but an inspired bowling performance from the challengers saw them fall short and handed India their first World Cup title.
All of this wouldn’t have been possible had Kapil not played the innings of a lifetime. His innings was the highest individual score in ODIs until it was broken when Viv Richards scored 189 against England at Old Trafford the following year. Another interesting tidbit was that the innings by Kapil was neither telecast live nor was it recorded as BBC – the official broadcaster - was on strike that day and as a result no cameraman was present at the ground to record this historic innings. To this day, the world has not witnessed the spectacular, get-out-of-jail innings from one of India’s finest.