Cricket has long been a national obsession. Until recently, winning was not. The 1983 win in the World Cup, one would have thought, would change things. But the subsequent tour of India by the West Indies, whom India had beaten twice out of the three times they played against each other in the World Cup, showed that that was not to be. The Windies thrashed India repeatedly. True, India also won the championship in 1985 in Australia, held to commemorate 125 years of cricket in Victoria. It was a sort of mini-World Cup. But that was about all. Since then, until India won the 20/20 ICC championship, it has been a drought in fully contested, multi-team events. This puts the 1983 win in perspective. It was the first ever, and for 24 years, it was the only one where India won a championship of genuine significance. And it beat the world’s best team to do it. Since 1983, two other Asian teams have won the Cup: Pakistan in 1992 and Sri Lanka in 1996. Like India, both came from behind to win it. But neither was as complete a minnow as India was in 1983.
Reams have been written on India’s run in that tournament, from its recovery against Zimbabwe when it was 17 for 5, to the final wicket by Mohinder Amarnath that won India the cup. In cricketing terms, India’s group win against Australia, when Sandeep Patil played a major role, was a better match. It was more closely fought; the contest level was higher; and India themselves were not in the same do-or-die mode because they had no expectations when they went in that they were about to make history. That sensation, “Hey, may be we can win”, came only after Viv Richards had gone to that memorable catch by Kapil Dev. As cricket goes, therefore, it was a pretty ordinary match. Since then, there have been hundreds like it.
Everyone seems agreed on two things now: when it came to the crunch, two things won India the trophy: team spirit (despite the tension between Kapil Dev and Gavaskar) and team balance. When one examines the 1985 championship, one finds exactly the same thing: it was camaraderie and balance (between different skills) that brought victory. Consider the number of all-rounders in the 1983 team: Kapil Dev, Mohinder Amarnath, Roger Binny, Ravi Shastri, even Madan Lal; and Kirmani as a keeper-batsman. If you look at who carried the load in most of the matches, it was these players, not so much the specialist batsmen. If India has not won major tournaments between 1985 and 2007, it is in part because Kapil, Mohinder and Shastri have no replacement till now. Dhoni’s striking power, Irfan Pathan’s ability to bat a bit, and Sehwag’s to bowl a bit, have created depth in batting and variety in bowling. But, today’s team is well short of the number of all-rounders in 1983. The 20/20 version of the game is not a strict parallel because of the emphasis on big hitters, of which India has quite a few. Yuvraj,Dhoni,Rohit Sharma,etc.