It remains a very special moment

Published : Jan 11, 2003 00:00 IST


BEFORE the distinction of being the greatest Indian cricketer ever was bestowed upon Kapil Dev, the honour he cherished most was being credited with having taken cricket to rural India. They called him rustic even though he grew up in Chandigarh, which boasted of one of the most modern shopping centres in India. They called him a Haryanvi jat when he was a proud Punjabi. He never protested, smiling at the ignorance of the people. It hardly made any difference to this man who lived cricket day in and out and it did not really matter if he was urbane or rustic. That he was unique was never a doubt.

Winning the 1983 World Cup was dear to him; breaking the record of Richard Hadlee was a big motivation for him to keep pushing himself to great heights; there were many glorious moments in his glorious career which lit up his lonely moments after he quit the game. But I know what moved him was the fact that thanks to the success achieved by him, youth in small towns now dreamt of donning the India cap.

Even Kapil was pleasantly surprised when told how he had fired the imagination of kids who would only watch cricket on the television. They were now looking out for cricket fields to test their skills. Seeing Kapil conquer the cricket world, there was a big surge in the number of youngsters wanting to emulate him. He was the best role model for a generation which had not known Indian successes on sports fields.

And Kapil traces the roots for this success to the memorable English summer in 1983 when his team caused the greatest upset in the history of the game. The World Cup triumph was the turning point in his career and of course in the way the game was played and organised in India.

"It was a great feeling, beating the West Indies," was Kapil's initial reaction when he returned from the epic win. The country was celebrating the achievement and Kapil, along with his team, was feted all over the land. The victory was seen by Kapil as the first step towards making the players realise their potential.

As Kapil had rightly pointed out, the victory at Lord's had helped the team change its attitude. Like `Tiger' Pataudi in the 60s, Kapil too had stressed home the point that "India could win" and the third Prudential World Cup confirmed his faith in a set of players who now looked at maintaining the status.

Sadly, the euphoria of the World Cup win was burst by a determined West Indies when it toured India a few months later, thrashing India in the one-day internationals. Kapil was fuming at the way his team was belted and gave vent to his anger by lashing out at his mates. "Money is on their minds'' he was quoted and that led to a needless controversy which pitted two superstars of Indian cricket against each other — Kapil versus Sunil Gavaskar. The controversy died soon but the scars remained for some time.

Going back to the 1983 World Cup, the tournament saw the progress of Kapil as a cricketer. "It was a big stage and I was keen to do well," he had confessed. And he dominated the big stage with a colossal performance.

For some time, it was a "dream" for Kapil. "It took time to accept the truth that we had begun to beat the big teams," was how he looked at victories against the West Indies and Australia in the league stage. Kapil also was honest in admitting that the conditions helped India.

"Kapil was a fantastic captain. He was so easily approachable and also keen that we give him ideas. He made us feel comfortable at all times and it helped us all," recalled Madan Lal, who played a vital role in the key matches, especially the final when he insisted on bowling one more over with Viv Richards on a rampage. Kapil confirmed Madan's resolve and confidence to snare a batsman like Richards. "Madan was keen" said Kapil and the rest was history. Richards was foxed into pulling a ball which gained pace on pitching and the mishit was held by Kapil, the magnificent athlete making the difficult catch look so easy. That catch was the turning point of the final, as was Kapil's 175 not out against Zimbabwe in the league the turning point of the tournament as far as India was concerned.

The World Cup was actually Kapil's greatest cricketing hour. "It was a special moment for me and the team," he admitted. There is something about Kapil that tells you something extraordinary would happen when he is in the middle. With the bat or the ball, he kept contributing consistently and his was a highly motivating performance.

From the time he expressed his belief that India could make a fight of it, the team rallied around him. "We had the right men for the job" Kapil remembered. One of the stars of the World Cup, Yashpal Sharma, agreed. "We had the best combination and importantly we had the right man at the helm. Kapil set examples and it was such a joy as we all raised our game to realise the dream of winning the Cup. Kapil deserved lot of credit for making it happen."

It was this camaradarie among the players that stood out as the binding factor. Mohinder Amarnath remembered how Kapil supported the players at every step and brought about a remarkable change in the manner in which they looked at things. "Every evening all of us would get together and go out for a meal. I never experienced that kind of team spirit earlier or later."

Kapil, when discussing his captaincy once, had remarked "a captain has to get the best out of the players by setting examples." As a result of this healthy competition in the team, Indian cricket gained in a big way.

Kapil's robust batsmanship was unrivalled in splendour. There was grace even when he blasted the ball in a show of brute power, even in cross-batted swipes. Fielders dare not put hand to stop his drives and some of his stunning strokes defied the coaching manuals but proved to be quite effective when it came to demoralising the opposition.

"I enjoyed batting in those conditions, especially when the situation was challenging," was how Kapil looked at his batting exploits at the World Cup. Two elements distinguished themselves during Kapil's sensational batting against Zimbabwe at Tunbridge Wells _ his confidence and his range of strokes.

Those who watched Kapil perform were convinced that he was a champion at decimating an attack. As he once remarked, he was always aware of his batting potential and his good form at crucial stages helped the team at the World Cup.

It is true that sportsmen dream of climbing the podium to wear the gold medal but then it is also true that only the determined reach the top. It is one thing to dream and another to realise it. Kapil not only dreamt but also transformed his ambitions into reality. There never was an athlete so delightfully poised to carry his game to such great heights. His strength came from his self belief and just look at the decisive moments in the World Cup when he helped India change the course of the game.

It was amazing the way Kapil went about his job as if it was just another day in office. The second World Cup had been disastrous for India as it lost its matches against West Indies, New Zealand and Sri Lanka. So, Kapil had made up his mind that the 1983 essay had to be different. One of the key contributions came from Bishan Singh Bedi, who was a National Selector and he convinced his mates to pack the team with players who could bat and bowl. Obviously the selectors also kept fielding in mind and here again it was Kapil who was the most outstanding athlete on the field. "I had long realised the need to be a good fielder and I must say that this was one department we had no worries about in 1983," Kapil had said of the strong points of his team. True, there was no passenger on the field in the Indian team then.

There was another point that Kapil had stressed when asked once about how the team maintained its focus. The concentration on the field was the result of the players striking a decent balance between playing and relaxing. "We were a great bunch off the field. There were guys in the team who livened up the spirits on and off the field and that was a big plus." Even Kapil, according to many of his mates, made things easy by never imposing his views on the rest. The final brought the leader out of Kapil. The Indians had set their opponents a fairly gettable target of 184. The challenge was great considering the batting line up of the West Indies but Kapil, as he wrote in `Cricket My Style' was not going to let the opportunity go by. "We've nothing to lose. Throw yourselves at the ball," he said in a short inspiring speech. Kapil's words had their impact and India was a team possessed. The team made every Indian proud. At the end of the contest Kapil's beaming face said it all.

The strength of the team, apart from the cricketing abilities, was the professional manner in which Kapil dealt with the players. As he wrote in his autobiography "the performance was not a miracle. It just came from a feeling of self-belief and self-confidence." He wanted to share the glory with every member and gave credit to the support that came from Sunil Valson, who did not get to play any match but chipped in with some useful inputs at various stages.

Kapil, the very name brings to mind the image of an athlete, untiring and amazingly gifted. "Much of it was natural but I worked hard too," he had told The Sportstar. It was a privilege to work with Kapil on a couple of projects_a book which he had brought out to celebrate his record of highest number of wickets and a special edition of The Sportstar dedicated to one of the greatest cricketers of all time.

I know how much Kapil valued the 1983 triumph. It was an achievement that was close to his heart and he could relive those moments any number of times, remembering every little detail, every team meeting, every development that carried the team forward. His face would light up at the mention of players like K. Srikkanth, Madan Lal, Mohinder Amarnath, Yashpal Sharma...To state the truth, like a true leader, he never rated one better than the other. "It was a win for all of us and each had played a role. None of us had this feeling of having done better than the other," was how Kapil looked at it many, many years later.

It was Kapil's inspiring deeds that saw India begin the World Cup on a sensational note, beating the West Indies in its campaign opener and sign off in greater style with another victory over the same opponent in the final. In his opinion, proper selection and impeccable execution of the responsibilities by the players was the highlight of India's greatest cricketing triumph at Lord's in 1983.

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