Kapil’s Devils - the greatest underdog story

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25 Jun 2021 | 06:00 AM
authorShubh Aggarwal

Kapil’s Devils - the greatest underdog story

On this day in 1983, India won the World Cup for the first time and, here, we look back at how the biggest fairytale in Indian cricket came about

Imagine planning a vacation to the US with an all-expenses paid stopover in England. But during the stopover, you win a World Cup and now the trip is cancelled because you have to celebrate with the team. 

This is what happened to Krishnamachari Srikkanth. Married at the end of March 1983, he was eyeing the World Cup as a stopover to a second honeymoon in the states. A lot of other players in the squad, including Sunil Gavaskar, were also a part of this expedition. Likewise, the newbies in the side were excited for sightseeing on their first trip to England. 

In the previous two editions combined, India had only one win - against East Africa, now an extinct identity in cricketing history. They lost to Sri Lanka in 1979, an associate nation back then. Overall, India had an ordinary 20 percent win record in ODIs till the beginning of the World Cup campaign on June 9. No one, including the team themselves, gave India a chance to even reach the semi-finals. 

The Campaign

However, India kicked off their campaign with a resounding win over the tournament favorites, West Indies at Old Trafford. Middle-order batsman, Yashpal Sharma scored a resilient 89, propelling India to 262. The bowlers did their job efficiently (Ravi Shastri and Roger Binny taking three scalps each) bundling out West Indies for 228. But India still did not believe. It seemed more of a one-time upset until they heard the result of another World Cup game from 100 miles away in Trent Bridge. Zimbabwe had defeated Australia on their World Cup debut which meant the Indians now had a chance to sneak into the semis. They defeated Zimbabwe in their next game at Leicester and suddenly a non-existent dream was alive. 

But that also made the team conscious. Where they were expressing themselves earlier without anything to lose, Indians were humbled in their subsequent games by Australia (lost by 162 runs) and West Indies (lost by 66 runs in the second round-robin match). 

During all these ebbs and flows, one man who believed that the World Cup trophy was attainable was their skipper, Kapil Dev. He was only 24 years old, in his first season as captain replacing the legendary Gavaskar in the role but managed to motivate a side of youngsters to march ahead. All it took was an innings arguably considered as the greatest ODI knock of all-time and certainly one of the best in Indian cricket history.

In a virtual knockout game at Tunbridge Wells against Zimbabwe, Kapil walked in to bat with four wickets down for only 9 runs on the board. It soon became 17 for five. India’s campaign, after beginning on a high, was staring at a miserable end. Kapil pulled off a miraculous 175* off 138 balls, launching India to 266 for eight while batting with the lower order. It was also the first time an Indian batsman had reached triple figures in ODI cricket.

With three more World Cup fixtures on the day, this contest between two minnow nations gained minimum attraction. BBC did not bother to telecast it; hence, keeping the world bereft of any video footage of Kapil’s devilry. 

Kapil had lit up India’s campaign. The tonic of belief the innings served to his teammates was just what the doctor ordered. India won the game by 31 runs and romped Australia by 118 runs in the subsequent game. 

Playing the hosts, England, in the semi-final, the middle-order trio of Mohinder Amarnath (46), Yashpal Sharma (61) and Sandeep Patil (51*) saw India over the line in a run-chase of 213. 

The Final

Whether it was the supremacy of that West Indies side or the underdog tag laid against India, the final was considered a formality with odds heavily in favor of Clive Lloyd’s team winning their third title.

India lost the toss on a green track and were put in to bat first. Kapil turned away gulping the disappointment of losing the toss while Lloyd chuckled with the prospect of his bowling attack comprising Andy Roberts, Joel Garner, Michael Holding and Malcolm Marshall making the first use of the grass cover. 

To Kapil’s fear, the Indian innings never took off. Gavaskar was the first man out for 2. Srikkanth, whose initial plans would have had him in the US by now, was the highest contributor to the innings scoring 38. There were no heroics from Kapil this time who played one shot too many trying to up the ante against the spinners. He ended up giving catching practice to the long-on fielder for 15. 

When Madan Lal got out with the score reading 161 for nine, the legendary Richie Benaud on air said, “They are about to commit the greatest sin in limited-overs cricket to be bowled out in their available 60 overs”. India were bowled out for 183 in 54.4 overs.

Down again, India had only one option and that was to give their best. Balwinder Singh Sandhu gave India a start which is part of cricketing folklore - an inswinging delivery to the impregnable Gordon Greendige who lost his off stump while shouldering arms. 

The new man, Sir Vivian Richards began in his typical fashion pulverizing the Indian bowlers. He struck Madan Lal for three fours in an over. However, the allrounder sensed an opportunity, pressurizing the captain that he should be persisted with for one more over. Richards mistimed a pull shot. Kapil, who had failed to create magic with the bat did that in the field. Having stationed himself at mid-wicket, he ran back to pouch the ball and making a tough catch look ridiculously easy. The score read 57 for three. 

Luckily for India, Lloyd injured his hamstring on the first ball of his innings. India used it to their advantage keeping the ball up to him and soon, Lloyd played a loose drive straight into Kapil’s hands at extra-cover. 

The defending champions further slumped to 76 for six when Syed Kirmani took a diving catch, ending Faoud Bacchus’ stay at the crease. Jeff Dujon forged a brief 43-run stand with Marshall but it was too little too late in front of the Indian seamers with their tails up. 

Quite fittingly, it was Amarnath who scalped the final wicket. He was the man-of-the-match in the semi-final taking 2 for 27 and scoring a crucial 46. In the final, he picked up the man-of-the-match award again with another all-round show contributing 26 to India’s modest total and then snaffling 3 for 12 with the ball. He along with Roger Binny - who was the highest-wicket taker in the tournament (18 wickets) - were two of the most consistent performers in the side around whom everyone else chipped in. 

As soon as umpire Dickie Bird raised his finger at the fall of the last wicket, Amarnath ran towards the pavilion. On his way, he tried to take a stump with him as a souvenir but failed to uproot it and ran past it in jubilation. Yashpal from square leg and Binny from point picked a stump each before the ground was swarmed by Indian fans within seconds. 

What followed?

Kapil popped the champagne on the Lord’s balcony before replacing it with a bottle of milk in his hands. At 24, he was a World Cup winning captain. But it was only when they returned home they realized the impact of their victory. At the Mumbai Airport, they were welcomed to unprecedented scenes in Indian cricket - thousands of fans at the airport, people jumping over each other to catch a glimpse of the team bus and jam packed stands during the team's victory lap at the Wankhede stadium. 

Moreover, the win inspired the Indian population to look at cricket with adulation. At the same time, it fed youngsters with the desire to take up cricket, setting the foundation for future India cricketers like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and many more. Witnessing how the celebrations had gripped the nation, the big money-spenders realized the potential the game holds in the country and money flew in through different routes that made BCCI the richest board in the world in two decades’ time. 

Back in England, David Frith, the editor of Wisden Cricket Monthly, who had given the Indian team no chance in his preview for the tournament was asked by a reader back in USA to eat his words. In a sporting act, Frith did the needful and was photographed by WCM ‘eating his words’ with a glass of wine in his hands to clear his throat.

Cover image credits: ICC

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IndiaWest IndiesAustraliaEnglandZimbabweRamlal Nikhanj Kapil DevMohinder Amarnath BhardwajYashpal SinghSunil Manohar GavaskarRoger Michael Humphrey BinnyKrisnamachari Srikkanth

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