Jun 26, 2008

Day That Shook Cricket

LONDON: A day before the commemoration of 25 years of India's World Cup victory, there was a lone figure lost in thought at one end of the Long Room at Lord's. I went up closer and discovered to my surprise that it was none other than Kapil Dev. One couldn't resist asking him something he must have been asked countless times ever since India lifted the World Cup on June 25, 1983: How did he manage to win the Prudential Cup with a bunch of unheralded players? The answer was vintage Kapil: "Simple. We just beat the West Indies." The Lord's ground is special for Indian cricket fans. It was here on a summer evening 25 years ago that Indian and world cricket was changed forever. The ground today is very different from the one in which history was made in 1983. The Natwest media centre, which identifies Lord's in the London horizon, hadn't been conceived and seating inside the ground, in some stands, wasn't numbered, allowing hordes of Indians to make Lord's their own with each falling West Indian wicket. But on Wednesday, the clock was turned back and the scene was the same as it was 25 years ago. In a special ceremony, Kapil once again lifted the World Cup on the Lord's balcony cheered by a crowd of journalists and invitees from the ground below. That evening in 1983 was not just a victory for Kapil and his team. It marked the beginning of a shift of the nerve centre of cricket to the Indian subcontinent, allowing the underdog to gradually become the arbiter of the once gentlemanly English pastime. Today, over 70 per cent of cricket's global revenue come from India. That's a far cry from 1983 when the Indian cricket board didn't even have sufficient funds to reward the winning Indian team. Lord's itself is very much part of that story. Glenys Williams, curator of many excellent cricket exhibitions organised at Lord's, says, "We are fortunate that India won the World Cup here at Lord's. It has created a special place for the ground in the Indian mindset evident from the fact that it is now a tourist attraction for almost every Indian who visits London." The museum will release a special first-day cover and stamp to commemorate the 25th anniversary celebrations of the 1983 win. The celebration, as wicketkeeper of the 1983 team, Syed Kirmani, points out, "marks the first occasion the entire contingent will visit Lord's as a team since we beat the West Indies in the Prudential Cup final". There's little doubt that it was only after India's triumph in 1983 that the game came to be perceived as a viable path to fame and income for middle and lower middle-class Indians. Kapil — who had not been to college — himself was a symbol of this change. Significantly, the creation of a national television network, with the introduction of colour TV in India during the 1982 Asian Games, coincided with India's epochal win. This was not Indian cricket's first great win. The 1971 victory of Ajit Wadekar's team against England perhaps ranks higher in cricketing terms, but the 1983 World Cup was different. Inexperienced in the one-day format and led by a 24-year-old captain, Kapil's Devils, as they became known, were seen by millions of Indians through their journey to winning the Cup. Indeed, cricket star Rahul Dravid remembers watching the finals as a 10-year-old and getting inspired by it. Kirti Azad sums it up well, "However much India wins at cricket these days the feeling of the Prudential Cup victory will always remain special. Nothing can replicate the sensation. Beating West Indies at Lord's on June 25, 1983 was incredible. It will always remain the best moment of our lives." The 1983 victory was followed by another victory in 1985 in the Benson and Hedges Champions Trophy in Australia. Again, television was the conduit as for the first time Indians saw the Australian tournament live and in colour. It is possible to precisely map the rise of cricket with the increase in television penetration. These victories paved the way for corporate sponsors to invest in cricket in anticipation of rich dividends. It also gave the media events to hype up and cricket proved a salve for a troubled nation. For world cricket too, June 25, 1983 remains a standout moment. Clive Lloyd, who led the West Indians that day, made this point in an interview: "Even when we beat the Indians convincingly in the winter of 1983, we knew that it was only a matter of time before India became a cricketing superpower. The self-belief the World Cup victory had given Indian cricket had little parallel. It was great for your cricket." Soon after the victory, efforts were initiated to stage the World Cup in the Indian sub-continent and Indian administrators began asserting themselves on the world stage. Within a decade, the English and Australian veto was done away with and the subcontinent got the rights to host the World Cup for a second time. In the two decades since 1983, the craze for cricket in India has become a veritable mania. This obsession with cricket was born at Lord's exactly a quarter of a century ago. The World Cup win transformed cricket into what a billion Indians now know it as. It helped mould a popular sport into a quasi-religion. (The writer is a sports historian.)

No comments: