The knock that inspired a nation
Every successful journey comprises a moment, an act of inspiration that leads to the final flourish. Those who scripted India’s 1983 World Cup triumph and those who witnessed it from a few yards’ distance are unanimous in picking the moment that transformed India’s fortunes in the tournament.
It was Kapi Dev’s miraculous 175 not-out against Zimbabwe at the nondescript Nevil Ground in Trunbridge. What made that knock special was not the number of runs scored but the situation in which they came.
Kapil won the toss and elected to bat. Zimbabwe’s new ball bowling pair of Pater Rawson and Kevin Curran wrecked the Indian top-order on a helpful wicket.
Openers, Sunil Gavaskar and Kris Srikkanth, departed without scoring. Mohinder Amarnath and Sandip Patil followed them and India were a precarious 9 for 4. In walked the captain at No.6 and saw the back of Yashpal Sharma leaving the team at 17 for 5.
What followed was 138 balls of sheers magic; in Gavaskar’s words, “It was the best World Cup innings that I have seen”. The legendary Indian opening batsman remembers Kapil’s innings like it happened yesterday.
“When Kapil went in to bat at the start, till about 80 to 90 runs he hardly hit the ball up in the air. Yes, he slashed the ball off the backfoot over covers, much like Virender Sehwag does, and it a very safe shot. That was the only shot he was playing up in the air,” Gavaskar recollected.
After getting to three figures, Kapil changed his bat and, with that, the game. “Once he went past 100, he was lofting the bowlers straight over long-on and long-off, and sent it over mid-wicket with the flick he played so well.
“He might have hit a few sixes earlier too but I don’t remember them. I remember the clean hitting – the bat-swing, the connection, the sweet sound of that connection and the ball sailing into the stands. In my view it was the best World Cup innings that I have seen,” Gavaskar gushed.
Along the way the Indian captain formed 60 and 62-run partnerships with Roger Binny and Madan Lal respectively before Syed Kirmani hung in till the end to build a record ninth-wicket 126-run unbeaten stand with Kapil. India finished with 266 for 8 in their 60 overs and eventually beat Zimbabwe by 31 runs.
Kapil’s innings was a stunning motivation for his side. For the batsmen what motivated them was guilt. As a result, that day Kapil had to eat his lunch alone. “As it was a 60-over game, we used to have lunch and tea breaks in ODIs,” Gavaskar recalled.
“During lunch when Kapil came in the dressing room, there was no one in there. Neither of us was in the lunch room as well. We were all hiding our faces from the man who had just showed us how we should have batted,” said the batsman who had piled up runs against the intimidating West Indies fast bowlers on the nasty Caribbean pitches in his debut Test series.
“I don’t think people really understand what an innings that was. It was remarkable. Your top-order isn’t able to lay bat on ball and here comes a man who starts hitting the same ball to the far distance of the ground and get such big score,” Gavaskar said with awe, adding that it was the watershed moment of India’s World Cup journey.
“It was from there that the Indian team took off and once again started to believe in themselves. Kapil was truly a leader. He was our inspiration and the backbone of our team. There is not slightest doubt it my mind that if it wasn’t for Kapil, India would not have won the 1983 World Cup.”
Another member of the squad seconds Gavaskar’s thoughts. “In Kapil Dev we had one of the finest cricketers of the world,” announced Ravi Shastri.
“He was inspirational. He had intuition that told him what needed to be done during a particular time. He was an absolute natural. He played cricket that way and he captained the team that way. I am sure he lives his life in that fashion too.”
Referring the 175, Shastri said, “It was that kind of inspiration that got India out of jail. We were gone against Zimbabwe. He transformed the entire game with sheer individual brilliance. Unfortunately that innings is not on tape. If it were, it would have been one of the hottest properties that ever existed.”
Yes, one of the greatest ODI knocks ever played hasn’t been recorded on tape. BBC, the official broadcaster of the tournament, didn’t cover the match. That makes it all the more special for those few thousands who cramped up in the small ground to watch two minnows take each other on.
For Kapil Dev, it was special for one reason. “That innings gave the team the reassurance that we have the ability to win a match in any circumstances and we can bounce back from any situation.” That win helped India qualify for the semi-final and eventually topple the invincible West Indians to take the crown of World Champions.
It is, perhaps, apt that the video footage of Kapil Dev’s 175 isn’t available on public domain. Mystery often enhances the value of a legend and protects the pureness of the tales that encapsulate it for centuries.