It is the shot that changed the face of cricket forever. It is June 1983, and the World Cup final at Lord’s is going to a relentlessly pre-ordained script. India have surprised themselves by even making the final.
In two previous tournaments they had won a single game, against East Africa. Now their luck is running dry. Facing West Indies, the greatest collection of cricketers of their generation, they have been dismissed for 183. West Indies are 57 for 2, Viv Richards is on 33 and all but five have come in boundaries.
When, during the group stages, he last faced this modest Indian attack, Richards hit a century at The Oval. In the previous World Cup final, four years before, he had struck 138. Today should be no different.
Now, he pulls Madan Lal’s medium pace off the front foot, the BBC cameras pan towards the Grand Stand expecting the ball to scatter the crowd like a shell but Richards’s timing is fractionally off. Kapil Dev takes the catch. There is a pitch invasion. Clive Lloyd has already pulled a hamstring and needs a runner. His West Indies side panic and India find themselves improbable champions of the world.
It electrified and unified India like no other sporting event before or since and bred the culture that led to the Indian Premier League, where a fringe international could earn a million dollars for a few weeks’ work. The staging of the World Cup was wrested from England’s control. Only in spirit would Lord’s remain “the home of cricket” as India became the richest and most powerful cricketing nation on earth.
When the 1983 World Cup opened, India were 66-1 to win a trophy that only 20 per cent of Indian cricket fans were aware was being contested. The state broadcaster, Doordarshan, only considered televising the games live once India reached the semi-finals.
India had never done one-day cricket. Their great spin attack of Bishen Bedi, Bhagwath Chandrasekhar and Srinivas Venkataraghavan was simply not in the business of keeping run rates down. In the opening match of the 1975 World Cup, Sunil Gavaskar had infamously batted through a full 60 overs against England for 36 not out. The team that reached the 1983 final contained not a single spinner.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India had so little expected to be at Lord’s for the final that they were late in applying for passes and did not receive their full allocation.
The BCCI president, N K P Salve, was so angered by the snub that he ended the convention whereby the World Cup was always staged in England. A huge sponsorship deal with the insurance company Reliance ensured the 1987 final was staged at Eden Gardens, Calcutta. Only once has it come back to England and in 1999 the hosts were eliminated in the group stages before the official World Cup song had been released. By then the BCCI had successfully campaigned for England and Australia to lose their veto on decisions taken by the world governing body, the ICC, whose headquarters moved from Lord’s to Dubai.
Perhaps none of this would have happened so quickly had Richards not mistimed his pull. Kirti Azad, one of the Indian bowlers, recalled: “I saw Kapil coming across, Yashpal Sharma was running in from fine leg and there was a guy running in from the crowd. I feared a collision and turned my back on the scene. Then I heard shouts of: ‘Well done, great catch!’ Such a jittery moment. I fast-forward that scene whenever I watch the game.”
Colour television had come to India only the year before to coincide with Delhi’s staging of the Asian Games and, though the satellite link from London was sometimes lost, the World Cup final was the first live sports event broadcast across the country from Kashmir to Kerala. It was around midnight in India when Kapil Dev was presented with the trophy but the nation was still tuned in.
It was to endure some desperate times in the 18 months that followed. The Golden Temple at Amritsar was bloodily stormed. Thousands died in the Union Carbide disaster at Bhopal. Indira Ghandi, the prime minister who had welcomed the cup home, was assassinated. Through it all, the boys of ’83 remained an untarnished symbol of a better nation.
In an essay entitled “Watching, Hoping, Praying”, the novelist Mukul Kesavan called it “a national communion”. He wrote: “This perfectly-timed, nationally-televised victory created a massive captive audience for any company that had the sense to advertise its wares during the course of a cricket match.
“Pepsi moved in at the end of the decade and began recruiting actors and cricketers for its campaigns because they were the key to India’s consuming classes. First Kapil, then Mohammad Azharuddin and then Sachin Tendulkar and his generation became rich and the BCCI became powerful. Once it became clear that India owned the largest and most lucrative market for cricket, the balance of power changed. For good or ill, India became the pivot of world cricket.”
It came at a price. In January 1982, some 400,000 watched a tedious drawn Test against England at Eden Gardens. In a little over a decade, those vast audiences for five-day games would become memories. Other sports were starved of funding. India finished 55th in the medal table for the London Olympics, between Venezuela and Mongolia.
Writing in the magazine Outlook, the historian Ramachandra Guha imagined what would have happened had Richards’s pull finished among the crowd: “Hockey would still be our national game. We had won the World Cup in 1975 and gold at the 1980 Olympics. It was the game we thought we excelled at.”
Something was lost as well as won at Lord’s. India have never made a world hockey final or won an Olympic hockey medal in the 30 years since Madan Lal turned at the Nursery End and began running towards the remorseless bat of Vivian Richards.