The Forgotten Team
Mumbai, 10 March: Anant Bhave was in a league of his own.
His beard distinguished him from his ‘news-reading’ colleagues at Mumbai Doordarshan in the 1980s. He read the Marathi news bulletin at 7:30 pm at least twice a week. Of the millions of ‘lines’ read by him over the years, one is rooted in my memory – “Australiayat honaarya Ek-Diwasiya Cricket Spardhesaathi Bharataacha Karnadhaar mhanun Sunil Gavaskarchi nivad (Sunil Gavaskar has been named the captain of India for the One-Day tournament scheduled to be played in Australia).
It was early 1985, and the Master hadn’t exactly been having a good time on the cricket field. We, his devotees, were pleasantly surprised, and his detractors outraged.
The euphoria of the 1983 World Cup win had first been punctured and then ruptured. Clive Lloyd’s marauders toured India a couple of months after losing the World Cup final, and extracted revenge. The Premier All-rounder lost the captaincy, and the sceptre was handed back to the Master. This, after he and his teammates were at the receiving end of a fusillade of rotten fruit, at Kolkata’s Eden Gardens. The Master reacted by doing what he did best, and overhauled the Don’s tally of twenty-nine Test hundreds.
The nation was excited when he led India to victory over England at Mumbai in November 1984, thus ending a three-year drought of Test wins, but the Poms hit back hard. India lost 1-2, and the Master was cornered. His own form had been poor. He averaged 17 in that series, if I remember correctly.
One of India’s saving graces in the series was the Future India Captain from Mumbai, who scored two hundreds in the Tests, and one in the ODIs (and hit six sixes in an over of a Ranji match in between). The young man had successfully transformed himself from being a left-arm spinner ‘who could bat,’ into a genuine all-rounder. Another feather in his cap was the comprehensive victory he had achieved as captain of the India under-22 side, over the tourists. It was England’s first loss in a three-day ‘side’ match in decades.
One of the members of that under-22 side who made it to the Test side for the Tests against England was a Wristy Wizard from Hyderabad. He responded to his inclusion in the senior Indian team with a century in each of his first three Tests. He was preceded in the senior side by another ‘under-22’ alumnus, a Leggie from Chennai. He bowled splendidly in the first two Tests. These three players apart, there was little for Indian supporters to rave about during the series against England.
The media had got into the act, claiming that - to quote Harsha Bhogle – ‘the two Superstars of Indian cricket were not exactly greeting each other like long-lost brothers did in the movies.’
The alleged ‘cold war’ between the master and his premier all-rounder had apparently ‘weakened’ the team beyond repair. When the team arrived in Chandigarh, the latter’s hometown, for the final ODI against England, it was reported that the Master had been confronted by protestors, who asked him to ‘go back.’
It was therefore ironic that the selectors retained the Master as skipper in a meeting held in the same city. The decision was anything but unanimous, and meant to be a secret until the very last moment. The outcome being that the Master was asked to leave the team hotel for the meeting not through the main exit, but by scaling the wall, so as to avoid the media!!!
The tournament had been grandly labelled the ‘World Championship of Cricket.’ It had been organized to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Australian state of Victoria, and it featured all seven Test-playing nations of the time.
Nothing, absolutely nothing was expected from the Indian team, its status as the ‘World Champion’ notwithstanding. The pundits, a fair number of them Indian, had dismissed the 1983 World Cup win as a ‘fluke.’
We were pleased when the news came in of the victory over Pakistan in the first league match. The opposition was bowled out for 183, after which our boys ran into the Pathan from Lahore, who was on a comeback trail. The scoreboard read 27-3 when the Master came in to join the Wristy Wizard. The Master, who had relegated himself to the middle order to enable the Future India Captain to open with the Kamikaze kid from Chennai, had at the back of his mind, his son’s instructions; “Dad, the first match is on my birthday, so you better not score a duck!”
The Master and the Wizard added a match-winning 132. Back home in India, we clapped, and then got on with our respective lives. Yours truly, who was eight then, had weighty stuff to handle, like the fourth-standard middle school scholarship examination. The quality of cricket photographs that were reproduced in the papers was appalling, not to mention them being B/W, so certain things did not register – like the coloured clothes, white ball, black sightscreens, and of course, the floodlights.
It was a couple of days later that all hell broke loose. The boys had beaten England!!!! Considering what the same team had done to us on our grounds a few weeks ago, this was huge. We were not so bad after all, were we???? The spinners had bowled well, after an electrifying innings essayed by the Kamikaze kid from Chennai. From being no-hopers, we were suddenly in with a chance to qualify for the semi-finals, with two wins out of two.
And then came Sunday, 3 March 1985.
The day began with my mother and grandparents, who had come over for the weekend, insisting that I ‘revise.’ The scholarship exams were only a week away, after all. I had just about started to comply, cursing the inventor of Mathematics as always, when the telephone, a recent addition to our household, rang. My uncle was at the other line. My grandfather dictated the question that he posed, “Are you watching?”
A few requests later, my mother’s resolve broke down, and the B/W TV set was switched on. Doordarshan had finally relented, and was showing our third league game against Australia ‘live!’
What a spectacle it was! The Melbourne Cricket Ground, about which we had only heard and read about, packed to the rafters, the action being captured from some fifteen different camera angles, slow-motion replays, a ball that looked white (as opposed to the red ball that looked ‘black’ on the B/W TV)!!!! Of course, all that was nothing compared to the scenes unfolding in the middle. What we Indians saw, on the day a cricket match from Australia was telecast ‘live’ in our country for the very first time, was a TEAM in action. The bowlers were on the mark, and the fielders were attacking the ball. The Aussies were in deep trouble, having lost seven wickets for less than hundred. At the helm of affairs was the Master, wearing a hat, and chewing gum. He seemed (in fact, was) in complete control. The new-ball pair of the Premier All-rounder and the Versatile Bangalorean had done the early damage, piercing the defences of the Aussie batsmen with monotonous regularity. The spinners then took over. 163 was all that we needed to get, and after an uncertain, but patient start, the Future Captain and Kamikaze kid put on 124, and finished it off.
We were pleased as punch, as much with our team, as with the TV coverage.
The action then shifted to Sydney, where we played the Kiwis in the semi-finals. We looked poised to dismiss yet another team for less than 200, when Cairns senior played spoilsport. A highlight of the Kiwi innings was the manner in which the ball kept chasing the Kamikaze kid wherever he went in the field, much to the annoyance, and subsequently, amusement of the Master.
207 was hardly a target to worry about. However, the Kiwi Knight had other ideas. He tied us down, as did the men who replaced him in the attack. The score moved at a snail’s pace, and we needed 106 at nearly a run-a-ball when the Future India Captain fell for 53. Back in the dressing-room, the master weighed his options – with three wickets down, it was a choice between him, the ‘immortal’ 1983 World Cup hero, and the Premier All-rounder. He opted for the last.
The Premier All-rounder came in, took guard, and got stuck into the Knight. The cuts and drives started flowing, as did his partner, the Colonel from Mumbai. The Knight went for twenty-six runs from two overs, and we galloped to victory, and into the final.
Ian Chappell predicted a ‘repeat’ of the 1983 World Cup summit clash in his post-match analysis, only for Pakistan to upset the Windies in the other semi.
For most people, 10 March 1985 was a dream Sunday - a final against Pakistan, to be played under lights at Melbourne, and play therefore starting at around 9:30 am IST and ending by 5:30 pm IST. But I had the scholarship examination on my plate.
I was part of my school’s group that had to write three papers – English, Q and Maths – during the course of the day, at Balmohan Vidyamandir in Shivaji Park, Mumbai. We had no clue of the happenings in Melbourne, till the break between the second and third papers. We were sipping coffee in the canteen when one of our teachers ran in to announce that the Kamikaze Kid had put us on course for a target of 177, with two or three sixes.
Everything that happened subsequently is a blur, until my mother picked me after we had been transported back to school. She informed me that the Premier All-rounder and Leggie had bowled magnificently earlier in the day, and that the Master had run the Pathan from Lahore out with a direct hit. We were on the threshold of achieving the target, and I couldn’t wait to reach home!
We made it when the boys were two runs away. Our keeper, the boisterous Bangalorean, was caught on camera, champagne bottle in hand, ready to be uncorked. The Colonel took the winning single, and all hell broke loose. Amazing scenes followed – the losing captain’s speech, the Australian Cricket Board official struggling to pronounce the Kamikaze kid’s name before presenting him with the ‘Man of the Match’ award, and then, the presentation.
The much-maligned Master then made his way to the podium, accepted the trophy, and then shocked as he spoke; “Ladies and gentlemen, first of all, I would like to thank the Manager, and the members of my team, for having given me this wonderful present ON MY LAST DAY AS CAPTAIN OF INDIA. I don’t think I could have asked for a better gift than this superb trophy, and I am truly thankful to my colleagues for making it possible for me to finish MY LAST DAY AS CAPTAIN on a winning note. I would like to wish the Victorian Cricket Association, and the people of Victoria, a very happy 150th anniversary!””
What a moment at which to abdicate!!! That was the Master for you!!!!
The Master was followed by the Future India Captain, who was granted the keys of the Audi 100, and within moments, you had him at the wheel, the Master seated alongside him, the premier all-rounder on the boot, the 1983 World Cup hero and the boisterous Bangalorean on the bonnet, and the leggie and the ‘1987 World Cup Hattrick’ man hanging from the sides.
As the car made its way around the ground, we in India cheered like there was no tomorrow.
It was at night that I saw the highlights – the Premier All-rounder making the early strikes, one of them courtesy a first-ball ripper, and then the Leggie taking over. People talk about Warne’s leg-break that dismissed Gatting, and while it was a great delivery, the one that the Leggie produced to dismiss the Fighter from Karachi, was not very far behind. Moreover, Gatting had just come in to bat when he received that magic ball. On the other hand, the Karachi Fighter, one of the best players of spin of all time, had got his eye in, and was looking to cut loose with forty-eight runs to his name, when the Leggie lured him to his doom. The ball floated, dipped, landed, and then spun away, leaving the Streetfighter stranded. The Boisterous Bangalorean did the rest behind the stumps. It was a memorable – and yet unsung – moment in cricket history.
That one delivery is a microcosm of the entire tournament, as it turns out. Like the ball that got the Karachi Fighter out, India’s triumph in the World Championship of Cricket has been forgotten.
The record-books will tell you that we played five matches in the tournament, bowled the opposition out in four of those, and won each and every game by huge margins. Indeed, the ‘closest’ margin was six wickets!!!
But then, should we really be surprised? We Indians have always hated history, been indifferent to the achievements and vision of our own people, and glorified those of others.
Indians joined the world in praising New Zealand and England for packing their 1992 World Cup sides with all-rounders. We forgot that it was the Indian team of the mid-1980s that first showed the world the benefits of this approach. Mark Greatbatch, Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana were almost deified for their slam-bang batsmanship at the top of the order in the 1990s. But what about the fact that it was an Indian – the Kamikaze Kid from Chennai – who had demonstrated that the ‘spectator-stands were the limit’ in the 1980s itself?
Australian and Sri Lankan captains of the modern era have been hailed for ‘using spin as an attacking option in limited-overs cricket,’ and rightly so. But they were merely following the footsteps of the Master, whose use of the Future India Captain and the Leggie was a highlight of the tournament. He did that at a time when spinners were considered to have ‘no place’ in limited-overs cricket. Indeed, every Amar, Akbar and Anthony had lampooned the Master and selectors for including the Leggie in the squad. How ridiculous does that seem today?
Has the World Championship of Cricket been forgotten because it came about ONLY eighteen months after the 1983 World Cup win, which of course, represents Indian cricket’s ‘limited-overs’ apogee? Probably it is a case of people remembering only Neil Armstrong and not Edwin Aldrin. However, the fact is that winning the World Championship of Cricket was no less a feat than winning the World Cup. Why? Simply because it is more difficult to stay at the top than to reach there!!!!
Eight members of the WCC-winning team had been a part of the 1983 World Cup side. They proved, along with the new recruits, that the 1983 World Cup win was anything but a ‘fluke.’
The relationship between the Indian masses and One-Day cricket, which commenced during the 1983 World Cup, was consummated during the 1985 World Championship of Cricket. The rest, as they say, is history.
The very least the nation could do on the twenty-seventh anniversary of that triumph would be to salute the individuals who constituted its greatest limited-overs team ever, with due respect to the 1983 and 2011 World Cup winning squads.
Devendra Prabhudesai is Manager – Media Relations and Corporate Affairs, BCCI. He has written five books, including ‘SMG, A Biography of Sunil Manohar Gavaskar.”