The 1983 World Cup: A view from behind the stumps

Syed Kirmani was India’s wicketkeeper when the team stumped the cricket world in the 1983 World Cup.

Syed Kirmani displays his winners’ medal on the Lord’s balcony.   -  The Hindu Photo Library

It’s the final of the Prudential World Cup 1983. At the hallowed turf of Lord’s in England, India — an unlikely finalist — has been shot out for 183 even as Clive Lloyd and his cavalry aim for a third consecutive title. And then it happened.

“Jawano, let’s put our best foot forward,” India captain Kapil Dev egged his team on. “Midway through, when Viv Richards came in — the way he started off — we felt he would chase down the total inside 20 overs. But as soon as he got out, we felt we had the upper hand,” former India wicket-keeper Syed Kirmani, part of the victorious ’83 campaign, told Sportstar.

“And the West Indians simply crumbled after that — (Clive) Lloyd, (Jeffrey) Dujon and (Malcolm) Marshall all got out in quick succession — it was just (Andy) Roberts and (Michael) Holding trying to hold the fort and that’s it.”

The pre-tournament situation, though, was pretty interesting. One-Day matches at the time were few and far between. India was a rank outsider and had barely left a mark in the previous two editions, with just one win — in six attempts — against minnow East Africa in 1975.

Compounding its woes was the lack of experience in the squad — save Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev, the others were featuring in their maiden World Cup. It was India’s tryst with destiny, the outcome of which was unknown.

“The first turning point of the tournament was the opening encounter against World Champion West Indies,” Kirmani said.

“They were ruling cricket for more than two decades. Going into the game, we had nothing to lose since we were the fourth weakest team in the tournament after Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka and East Africa. But we beat them (West Indies) very convincingly.

“And while we were sitting in the dressing room — I can recall this very well — after the match (against West Indies), one of our teammates screamed his lungs out from the washroom in absolute ecstasy — ‘Hey, we’ve beaten the world champions, man!’ I think the majority of us inside the dressing room then went into a chorus ... can’t recall who all were there, but that win gave us the confidence to surge forward,” Kirmani said.

Asked how the 24-year-old Kapil Dev, who had replaced Sunil Gavaskar as the captain only a few months ago, handled things, Kirmani said, “There were seven players senior to Kapil Dev in the team. In our very first team meeting, it was really great of Kapil who said: ‘Gentlemen, I’m lucky to have seven experienced players by my side and I don’t have to tell you what your responsibilities are. You’re going to guide me.’ For a captain to say such a thing with seniors around him, I take that as a big compliment.”

Recalling Kapil’s match-changing — and tournament-defining 175 against Zimbabwe — Kirmani noted, “We were 17 for five. The conditions at Tunbridge Wells were not very well read (laughs) — no team would’ve batted first after winning the toss, but Kapil did just that.

“Normally, I never got to bat in limited-overs cricket. So, I was relaxing with my towel on after the warm-ups. I had a toast in one hand and was about to go in for a nice shower.

“Suddenly I heard someone screaming, ‘Hey Kiri, pad up!’ I obviously took that as a joke. Nevertheless, minutes later, there was another shout ‘Kiri, what are you doing man? Put your gear on!’

“At that point, I thought there was something wrong somewhere, so I peeped through the window to look at the scoreboard and I saw 17/5. My towel dropped! (laughs). By the time I went in to bat, we were reeling at 140 for eight.

“I told Kapil, ‘Maar ke marna hai apne ko.’ The plan was for me to take a single off the first ball and let Kapil retain strike for the remaining deliveries.

“From thereon, what followed was absolute carnage. I’ve never seen such a devastating innings — in that situation — from any batsman of my era. Kapil either smacked a four or a six ...". Kapil ended up hitting 16 boundaries and six sixes. And India beat Zimbabwe by 31 runs.

Thirty-five years later, Kirmani talks about the scenes that were unfolding outside the ground even as he went about stitching a crucial partnership with Kapil.

“The entire team was outside watching our partnership building. (Balwinder) Sandhu was shivering in his pants. Team manager P. R. Man Singh was watching the proceedings with all those who had gotten out before us... the manager had apparently instructed the players to stay put in their respective positions; no one moved an inch,” he recollected.

“(Kris) Srikkanth, who was training, wanted to use the loo urgently but Man (Singh) asked him to do it there itself! The superstitions went to that extent!! It was an unimaginable moment for Indian cricket,” said Kirmani.

The 14 motley men then proceeded to give a generation of cricket fans their teenage obsession!