An upset of the first magnitude

Published : Jan 11, 2003 00:00 IST


FOR Indians the highlight of the 1983 World Cup was their victory over West Indies in the final, made sweeter because it was so unexpected.

On that memorable day a combination of Kapil Dev's fast medium bowling and his athletic fielding and the persistent, but hardly life-threatening medium pace of Roger Binny, Madan Lal and Jimmy Amarnath left Clive Lloyd's men 43 runs short and the cricket world in shock.

The final has been described as the biggest upset in the 27 years and seven World Cups. Even an Indian, will find it difficult to disagree. West Indies were the outstanding side of that era. Yet they lost.

India won it. But how and why? Certainly not by great and glorious batting. They totalled just 183, off 55 of 60 overs and meagre in any circumstances, especially since they had been trampled underfoot by brutal innings from Gordon Greenidge and Viv Richards only a few days earlier at the Oval.

Is that the key to the whole mystery? That game at the Oval, on a fast and bouncy pitch, was completely different from the one on a slower pitch at Lord's, ideally suited to the fiddly seamers who filled the Indian ranks.

There is another explanation for the sudden collapse of a West Indies batting line-up that you would choose to score runs for your life.

There is a suggestion that Lloyd promoted himself in the batting order so that he would be present when the winning run was scored; that he would be there to accept the plaudits and bathe in the glory. But the West Indies batting order was always flexible and he had batted No. 4 at the Oval.

Who would blame him? He had transformed a rag, tag and bobtail outfit into the finest team of their generation, led them to victory in the first two World Cups and, if he could not see further than another triumph, it was hardly surprising that he wanted to be the man at that moment.

What effect that had on the rest of the team is not known. They were all proud men, all sure that they were as important to the overall success as any other. If they resented Lloyd's move up the order they have never given any indication. And I know many of them well.

They must all have thought that victory was automatic, that nothing save the intervention of a deity could prevent their hat-trick of success. So complacency may have set in. The oldest rule in cricket — don't leave to anyone else, go and get the runs yourself — may have been forgotten in the rush to victory.

If Richards and Co. forgot that rule the cost was dear. They have not won the World Cup since. They lost more than that match. They mislaid their inheritance. The situation in the interval between innings was summed up by a friend of mine who suggested we spend the rest of the day with another pal on the far side of London.

"What are you and I going to learn by watching West Indies score 184?'' he asked. It sounded so reasonable, and I had so little work to do, that I went along with his plan. We all make mistakes.

By this time my friends and I were watching the game on television, open-mouthed as the innocuous Indian bowlers, the sort who in recent years have been scorned by experts like Geoff Boycott, grabbed one wicket after another.

Afterwards the celebrations spread far and wide. We were caught up in the joy of every Indian in London as we tried to make our way back to the team hotel near Lord's.

At the beginning of the tournament, played in England for the third time in a row, India were no-one's favourites.

Bob Willis, the England captain then, now Sky's television commentator, believed his side would win. "We were a good team and we played some excellent cricket right up to the semi-finals. We thought we were going to win it. Unfortunately for us the Old Trafford pitch suited India. They played better than us on the day but the key factor was that the pitch was made for their medium pacers and we wanted something quicker.''

David Gower, then the finest left-hander anywhere, recalls getting out in that semi-final. "I got in, got settled and got unsettled. Jimmy Amarnath's slow medium, I tell you. There was no pace in that Old Trafford wicket. Not like now. We would have been better suited by the modern pitch there. But you have to work with what you get.''

For the first time in England there was a major pitch invasion by their fans as India won. Umpire Don Oslear used a stump to defend himself a little too vigorously for the authorities who seemed more concerned about his actions than the hordes trampling across Old Trafford.

Australia thought they might win the tournament too but there was a rift; half the players backed the captain Kim Hughes, the rest were not so enthusiastic. They were beaten by Zimbabwe, then a side from beyond the Test arena, led in every sense by their captain Duncan Fletcher, now the England coach.

He ran the whole game. When Zimbabwe batted he made an undefeated 69, when they bowled he took four for 42; he also outthought the Aussies at every turn. I met two of the most famous Australians the following morning as they arrived at Headingley for their next match against West Indies.

They were haggard and bleary-eyed and when a television cameraman stuck his big lens close to their faces the language reflected their feeling that justice was not on their side. That match against West Indies killed their World Cup hopes because young Winston Davis, on a helpful pitch and aided by advice from the older players, finished with seven for 51.

Davis is now in a wheelchair following a fall from a tree. He must also feel that justice is on the other guy's side.

Richie Benaud is one of the few Australians to have seen the World Cup in those long-ago days when travel to foreign lands was beyond the imagination of many fans no matter how well off.

"I don't have many memories of that 1983 World Cup,'' he said as we thumbed through the matches. "In fact, you might just sum up by saying that Richie Benaud cannot remember much about it, certainly from an Australian point of view.''

"I do have one regret. I am sorry that the BBC, for whom I was working that summer, did not cover the match at Tunbridge Wells in which Kapil Dev made 175. I would love to have been able to tell you all about that innings. It must have been very special.''

Just in case there is a cricket fan alive who does not know the details I will spell out what Benaud missed.

India went in to bat and within half an hour five of the best batsmen in the world were back in the pavilion. Gavaskar 0. Srikkanth 0. Amarnath 5. Patil 1. Sharma 9. . . 17 for five and the game seemingly over.

For an hour or more Fletcher's men must have thought they were about to record a second sensational victory. Then in came Kapil and laid about him to such effect that India totalled 266 and, after more magic from Madan Lal, won by 31 runs. None of the Indians scored 25; Kapil's runs came from 137 balls.

It is still the eighth highest one-day score ever but its merit rating is even higher. Only the 189 by Viv Richards against England at Old Trafford the following year was not just a great innings but also a rescue effort in the Kapil mode.

During the course of my interviews for this article I chanced to meet Ian Botham. He also has a regret that clearly still rankles.

Corbett: "Do you have a particular memory of the 1983 World Cup?''

Botham, scratching his jaw: "No, not really. Ted, it's 19 years ago.'' Suddenly his tone changes. "Oh, yes I do. I was run out on my own ground at Taunton. My ground for 16 years. Yes, run out. I'm not likely to forget that, am I?'' And off he went.

An hour later I was back in the Sky television box to talk to David Gower and Bob Willis. I had looked back through the Internet archives and discovered that not only was Botham run out first ball, but that he was batting with David Gower, his fellow commentator, who had been involved in a run out with Mike Gatting off the previous ball.

I was barely inside the commentary box when Botham turned to me. ``Yes, and there's the man I was batting with,'' pointing to Gower. "First ball, on my own ground; a yes, no interlude; and out I go. On my own ground.'' It is sometimes difficult to know with Botham whether his anger is genuine or simulated; my guess is that on this occasion he was goading Gower.

The two have been close friends for 25 years and it takes a lot to ruffle Gower. He sat at the back of the box grinning to himself but David Lloyd, another former England player, who is keen on a bit of fun, could not resist the chance to join in.

"Ran out his mate, did he, Ted?''

"I'm not sure who was to blame, but Gatting had been run out off the previous ball. Bit of a coincidence, or what?''

Then I left them to their memories but not before Gower — still grinning — suggested that if Gatting and Botham could not bat briskly it was his duty to get rid of them. He made 130 out of 333 against Sri Lanka in that easy England ride to the semi-finals.

So the 1983 World Cup was not just about the shock of West Indies failing to live up to their reputation, or India starting on the climb that now makes them a team to respect.

It was also about vivid action that still makes those who took part want to argue 20 years after.

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