Cricket in India is not just a sport, its an emotion, love, devotion, and more importantly it’s a religion. In an interview of Imran Khan recently claimed that India’s win of 1983 was a higher achievement than his team’s (Pakistan) 1992 victory in Australia. The simple reason he gave was that the quality of opposition in 1983 was higher. This Khan is not someone who will praise an Indian achievement easily. This should give you some idea about the magnitude of this achievement. And how important this man Kapil Dev was to Indian cricket!
The way Indian cricket developed since the British Raj will give you an idea that they were basically docile cricketers who played on docile wickets against strong and aggressive opponents. The test record of India around independence is terrible and I believe they played not to win but to not lose too badly. I think Pataudi Jr. with a positive head to head record was the first captain that sort of instilled a fighting spirit in the team and a desire to win. Not to say that there were no aggressive players in the Indian team. In fact, India’s first captain was C K Naidu who was a big guy and a big hitter. He flayed the MCC
team in an innings of 153 in 2 hours that people still remember. He hit 11 sixes in the innings. He must have scared the living daylights out of the MCC bowlers. But winning in cricket consistently is not just about one man’s heroics. Those were different times and possibly it was a different scenario. The transition of Indian cricket team continued with Sunil Gavaskar who although not aggressive by nature was an excellent thinker of the game and took the Indian cricket forward with quality batsmanship and captainship.
In came Kapil Dev in 1979 and a world-class aggressive pace bowler and all-rounder arrived giving India the aggressive edge that it lacked.
WIndia played in the 1975 world cup but the only match they won was against East Africa. The next match they won was in 1978. Of course, there wasn’t much one-day cricket played those days. This was followed by another terrible world cup in 1979 where they failed to win a single match. But slowly with the support initially from Karsan Ghavari and Roger Binny onto Madanlal, Sandhu and Mohinder Amarnath, Kapil found pace bowling partners. Not life threatening quick bowlers but accurate and they could swing the ball. Now in the 1983 world cup team, except Sandhu all these bowlers were all all-rounders; this was another plus. Kapil himself had several qualities. Apart from being a world-class all-rounder, he was a great motivator. And that unbelievable hitting ability which can be matched only with Vivian Richards from his generation I think. Different batsmen mind you and Kapil as less reliable as a batsman than Viv but, when he came off, very effective indeed. This man, out of nowhere, when everyone was ridiculing the Indians, installed a belief in the team that they could win. And they actually started winning matches in the Prudential Cup 1983. That innings against Zimbabwe and the catch of Viv Richards in the final tells you that this man was awake and was game to the possibility of a world cup win when mere mortals would have given up.
He was supported wholeheartedly by the team in 1983. Boy, if the opponents had stepped into the Indian dressing rooms and, understood the good old Hindi, they would have realized who was going to win. The press and the opponents just kept thinking Indian victories on the road to finals were a fluke. Just about everyone in the team contributed to the team cause in one way or the other. This world cup win came against sides that were truly great such as West Indies and Australia. Other good teams such as Pakistan, England put their claim forward but there was no stopping the Kapil’s devils.
Like after every great victory the team had a lean period and Kapil lost captaincy as well. But the great man kept performing either with the bat or with the ball and sometimes both. There was a term for him in Indian cricket called “Dada” cricketer meaning he was like a big brother of the team. He could win matches from hapless situations just with his cricketing abilities alone. The way Kapil played his game, free of care and with just the goal in mind brought the team together to give the country its greatest sporting triumph till date!.