On a chilled, December 2003 morning- it was around 10am- as I reached the tiny shopping complex in South Delhi’s Katwaria Sarai, across the Qutub institutional area, for a cup of tea, Manik, the Bengali paanwalla, pointing to a grey haired man, ambling along the narrow road flanked by old DDA flats, whispered to me in Bangla mixed Hindi, “Dada, Woh Aadmi Lala Amarnath ka Chhele,”-he is the son of former India captain Lala Amarnath. (Many said, Lala, lived in the apartment just behind that shopping complex). Unable to resist my curiosity, I hurriedly walked past the person- to find, much to my delight, Mohinder (commonly known as Jimmy) Amarnath, my childhood hero. As I greeted him, Jimmy responded warmly, and we exchanged pleasantries.
Exactly then, a well dressed, forty-something lady- who, I came to know from her visiting card, was the principal of a south Delhi public school, came near us and greeted Mohinder. “I am a great fan of you, sir”, she said, adding, “I and my students would be extremely happy to have you as the chief guest at our school’s annual day function. I will send you a formal invite”. With his eyes on the visiting card of the principal, Jimmy replied, politely, “Madam, I am here for a few days, there are a number of engagements to attend. However, if I am free even for 15 minutes on the day of the function, I will definitely visit your school.” As Jimmy left, the principal, still in awe of his simplicity, murmured, “He is so down to earth, I am really surprised”.
Incidentally, the entire cricketing fraternity was surprised, rather- stunned- at Lords, London, on June 25, 1983, when Kapil’s boys- Jimmy was the prince among them-galloped into the finals of the Prudential World Cup, crushing superpowers- Australia, West Indies (WI) and England on the way. And scripted history.
That day, India, put into bat, lost Gavaskar very early. Srikkanth, scored a breezy 38, including an audacious hook for a six and some lovely fours, while Jimmy played a composed knock (26) before being done in by a Holding beauty. Sandeep Patil (27) too played a gutsy innings. The fearsome foursome Holding, Roberts, Garner and Marshall ran though the Indian middle order. However, the last three of the Indian line up didn’t give up without a fight though; more importantly they added 41 invaluable runs before India were bundled out for 183. Prior to the match, the cricket pundits had predicted that India stood no chance against a fierce WI side.
However, post the break, the unfancied underdogs, proved the ‘wise men’ wrong. On a pitch, that seemed to suit the Indian medium pacers the most, they persisted with line, length and swing, which overpowered the flamboyant WI batsmen. A late in-swinger from Sandhu clipped the dangerous Greenidge’s off bail; WI: 5 for 1.
Viv Richards and Haynes built a 50 plus partnership and WI were on course. Richards-with his trademark chewing gum in mouth- was toying with the Indian bowling and was severe, particularly on Madan Lal’s military medium pace; he hit Madan for three boundaries in an over. Suddenly, Haynes, tried to copy Richards and perished, and a few minutes later, the master blaster- after a quick fire 33- played an extravagant pull of Madan. With his eyes fixed on the ball, flying high in the air, Kapil sprinted back at his fastest- as if it was the last 100 meter race of his life-and pulled off a spectacular catch (but made it look easy). WI: 57 for 3.
As an utterly devastated Viv walked back, it was celebrations time: on the ground and back home as well. For, Indians believed they could achieve, what till a moment back, seemed unachievable. In the first two editions of the cup, India had won once, that too against a lowly East Africa in 1975.
Thereafter, wickets tumbled fast. Madan sent Gomes back while Binny’s swing snared the dangerous Clive Lloyd. Amarnath with his lazily swinging run up and amiable, and almost apologetic medium pace, finished off three of the last four wickets for 12 runs. Standing at the slip, Gavaskar snapped two difficult catches. It was a complete team effort.
As the last man, Holding was adjudged LBW, and India won by 43 runs, ecstatic fans invaded the ground and the players ran back, wading through them-to the dressing room. It was indeed Indian cricket’s finest moment. “India’s cricket” as WI captain Lloyd had said after the match, “had arrived.” And it’s stayed on since then.