Thirty five years have passed, since18 June 1983. Even today, the memories of that cloudy, typical early monsoon, Saturday afternoon, continue to drive me to the edge of excitement. Barely a couple of months into the dreamy teens, I was quite excited about my first experience of being a part of the Baraat party (of a relative). As the bus carrying us moved, everyone, enjoying the occasion, looked forward to the 200 odd km journey- from my village, a suburb of Odisha’s capital Bhubaneswar, to the bride’s place, in Berhampur, the biggest commercial hub of the southern part of the coastal state, known for its silk- on the then, Calcutta-Madras NH 5.
In an hour, as we halted for a tea break, a fellow, young baraati with a sleek, black Nelco transistor, clinging on to his ears, informed, “India’s dreams are almost, over.” Suddenly, moods of many youngsters like me, who were crazy about Cricket, turned gloomy.
Television was yet to invade into the country’s drawing rooms; it adored a place of pride only in the houses of the rich, living in the metros. Those days, games-Cricket, Hockey, and Football etc- were more listened to than watched, the listeners emotions changed with the voice of the commentators. Cricket of transistor days was, no doubt, pure romance.
Coming back to the story, as some elderly ones were busy sipping tea from the small tea- glasses at the Dhaba by the highway, my father, looking a bit worried and searching for his favourite, round shaped, Swiss made watch that had fallen off his wrist, asked me, “Have you seen it?” I failed to respond, for my mind was somewhere else: thousands of miles, and continents away, at Tunbridge Wells, England, where India were at dire straits against the new baby of international Cricket, Zimbabwe. It was a league match of the third edition of Cricket’s biggest extravaganza-The Prudential World Cup.
The famed opening pair of Sunil Gavaskar and K Srikkanth had been back in the pavilion without troubling the scorers, Sandip Patil and Yashpal Sharma had joined them as well. India’s hopes rested on Mohinder Amarnath, who was fresh from back to back ‘man of the series’ performances against the strongest bowling attacks of the day, West Indies and Pakistan, upon his comeback to the team barely six months ago.
Even, he had been dismissed. At 17 for five, all that India desperately needed was a miracle- to stay alive in the tournament. At this juncture, strode in all-rounder Roger Binny to join his skipper Kapil Dev. Kapil, Binny, and the rest to follow- Madan Lal, wicket keeper Kirmani and last man Balwinder Singh Sandhu- had a huge task ahead: to survive another over 45 odd overs (those days World cup matches were 60 over a side games) against a spirited Zimbabwe attack.
As we proceeded, the Indian innings paced along, slowly though. Binny, Madan and Kirmani did exactly what the doctor had ordered- defended deliveries aimed at the stumps and left alone those outside; in between they scampered for singles and an occasional two, but more importantly helped build crucial partnerships, with the 24 year old skipper at the other end.
From around the 40th over, Kapil, closing in to an amazing century, started playing his shots, but exploded as his team entered the last ten overs, hitting the leather at will, to all parts of the ground. And over it. By the time we reached our destination, a beaming Kapil and Kirmani headed for the pavilion, as the commentator described, to a standing ovation from the crowd. The scoreboard read: India 266 for 8. Kapil 175 not out. The rest is history.
The second half of the crucial match was still 35 minutes away, but wild celebrations had begun. We danced in sheer ecstasy, as if India had won the trophy. By any yardstick, it’s the greatest innings in a limited overs game by an Indian, and certainly one of the all time best the game has witnessed.
In reply, the Zimbabweans, despite all rounder, Kevin Curran’s terrific effort with the bat-he had wrecked havoc with the ball too- surrendered to the same men who had tormented them with the bat, earlier in the day: Binny, Madan and of course Kapil. India won the game by 31 runs.
The impact of Kapil’s knock not only made the world sit up and take notice of the arrival of India as a dominant force in the international limited overs cricketing circuit, it also set the tone for the game’s future course in the country. Kapil’s heroics had its impact off the field as well. A couple in Bhubaneshwar always celebrate their wedding anniversary with Kapil’s heroic innings.
Moreover, Without the heroics of Kapil and his men, Cricket wouldn’t have been where it is, in India today. It saved, Cricket- from going the Hockey way -and us from reading the shocking reports in newspapers: bones with hardly any meat on the plates. Of our players.