It was another era, another generation. When the men were still in white and television just emerging from the black-and-white era. But the national obsession for cricket endures, bridging the 28-year gap and bringing back sepia-tinted moments of that historic summer day at Lord’s when India, led by the flamboyant Kapil Dev, brought the World Cup home.
As India makes another effort at winning the World Cup in Mumbai Saturday, it’s as if the decades have telescoped in time.
In that 1983 summer, satellite television had made a technological leap into Indian homes just the year before when New Delhi hosted the Asian Games. Rajiv Gandhi, who was keen that the country did not ‘miss the bus’ of the technological revolution, had liberalised the communication regime, made TV sets cheaper.
And for the first time, Indians had the benefit of live coverage of important events from within the country and around the world.
As Team India brought off a stunning upset over a West Indies team that seemed invincible, firecrackers exploded across the country in celebration of a victory whose timing could not have been more appropriate.
Here was an India emerging from decades of an economically repressive socialist regime that made not just modern technology but modern goods and services virtually unknown to the average Indian, cut off from the wider world not just economically, but in the communication and information sense as well.
The 1983 triumph was in many ways a twin triumph for middle class Indians who not only had the privilege of watching live cricket sitting thousands of miles away – an unthinkable situation those days – but got to see the Indian team snatch a dream victory in the home of cricket.
The opening up of the airwaves suddenly gave Indian access to a whole new world in entertainment and instant information. But TV was still within the reach of a privileged few, timings were still restricted to certain hours and viewer choices were limited to Doordarshan’s basket of two or three channels and what government mandarins deemed was fit to watch.
Nearly three decades later, India stands on the threshold of a second World Cup victory, and that too on home soil. Millions of Indians in India and abroad are going to watch the same match literally in the palm of their hands as television undergoes a generational leap that makes it accessible anytime, anywhere through mobile phones which have now empowered almost two-third of its population.
A generation of middle class Indian youth used to getting what they want – and when they want – may find it difficult to believe that diehard cricket fans had to go to the homes of a still privileged minority to watch live action of an event that others would read about only in the next day’s papers.
India were no favourites of bookies when they began their campaign with their opener against the mighty West Indians in their four-team group that had Australia and Zimbabwe as well. But they shocked the then Goliaths of world cricket with a 34-run victory before being thrashed by the Australians.
The results were reversed in the return matches, with West Indies defeating India and India getting the better of Australia. But what people remember from that memorable summer of 1983 was the heroic captain’s display by Kapil Dev, dubbed the Haryana Hurricane by the media, who brought back India from the brink of defeat against Zimbabwe with whirlwind 175 after India had lost half the side for just 17 runs.
But the best of Kapil Dev was to be reserved for the final. West Indies, led by ‘King Viv’ Richards, were widely expected to plough through the Indian batting, which they did as India were shot out for 183 runs in the face of a hostile pace attack from the fiery foursome of Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Joel Garner and Malcolm Marshall.
However, when it came to their turn, the West Indian batsmen collapsed in the face of some determined bowling by the Delhi duo of Mohinder Amarnath and Madan Lal, each of whom bagged three wickets, to set the calypso charmers crashing 43 runs short of the winning target set by the Indians.
And the freeze-frame moment – one that has remained etched in memory of all those who watched that game on a muggy Indian summer evening – was provided by Kapil Dev who ran 20 yards to cup a skier by Richards at a time when he seemed to be singlehandedly blasting his team’s route to victory.
Jubilant Indian fans went wild with celebration, in England and back home, as news filtered through into the streets and markets.
Television had arrived, India had broken through the communication barrier and cricket took a mighty plunge into people’s psyche as a trans-denominational religion whose devotion has only got more fevered and intense with the passage of time.
(Tarun Basu can be contacted at [email protected])