June 25, 1983: The day India changed history

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They were so snooty at Lord's in those days. It was a different world then. There was a luncheon invitation for me with the MCC official who also gave me my media pass - a medallion with the MCC crest. Only, that lunch, a banquet before sending the teams on their way to various venues at the start of the World Cup in 1983, was over several hours earlier.


If the miscommunication was a minor hitch, consider being told that the medallion would not be valid for the final unless India qualified. Writing then as I was for a broadsheet that would expect to get invited even to the Buckingham Palace, I couldn't possibly not be at the final, regardless of who was playing.


The venerable sage, John Woodcock, cricket correspondent of the Times, had promised me that I would be welcome in the press box, which I could access with his messenger's pass. As it transpired, we held our heads aloft as we got our medallions validated for the final by right.


June 25, 1983 - It did not seem a particularly bright day but then even London summer days begin like that, on a dull note, giving way to the warm sun much later than in our equatorial days that seem to blast us with heat the moment dawn breaks. The taxi ride from King's Hotel on Queensway off Bayswater Road was a short one, miraculously costing just two pounds.


Clive Lloyd did the predictable in asking India to bat. There's always plenty of movement to be had in the morning, even in an 11 am start, and the big man had the finest fast bowling attack that ever graced a World Cup final, or a Test match arena for that matter - Joel Garner, Michael Holding, Andy Roberts and Malcolm Marshall.


A memorable moment for India while the ball zipped around early, missing bats and whizzing past chins was the square drive on bended knee by Krish Srikkanth, the bold opener who was always unfazed and who fancied himself against the quickest. When a batsman keeps sniffing and goes on a walkabout to near the square leg umpire after hitting the ball like that, how can a fast bowler even stare him down?


Much as the team had fought on from day one and two of the World Cup, on which the West Indies had been beaten at Old Trafford, and then passed so many hurdles to get to the final, it did seem India had strayed into the big league. The batting collapse of a side far from being steeped in the nuances of limited-overs cricket was predictable.


Lunch was said to be a sombre affair. Kapil took the opportunity to make an impassioned plea about there being only half a day of cricket left in which the team could throw themselves at everything and hope for a miracle. His men were listening intently that day. Otherwise, they were known for throwing themselves under the table in those days at team meetings because Kapil would insist on speaking in English and his language skills then were nowhere near what they are now.


Victory was still remote from their minds even after Sandhu's big inswinger got through Greenidge, who padding up stood like the statue of Liberty watching ferries go past. In fact, Roger Binny and Kris Srikkanth were laughing at each other as they chased, in vain as Richards' drives that seemed destined to end the match before tea (yes, there was a tea time too in those 60-overs a side matches) thudded into the fence.


The match turner was the Kapil Dev effort to take a ball that seemed headed for Father Time on the square leg boundary as Richards hooked. Sprinting as if he were Milkha Singh at training, leisurely yet measured, the skipper pouched it without fuss to make an enormous moment look like the simplest thing on earth.


Hope was born. Woodcock disagreed with my assessment but I had to write up some early copy because we had to put the stuff on a telex queue and hope it would get through in time to Madras.


As wicket after wicket fell, Woodcock said to me 'Not yet, not yet, Mohan. This is not over,' but I had to disagree vehemently even as I began writing up the winning moment I was certain would come our way. Sunil Gavaskar may have failed on tour as a batsman but he helped marshal resources like a true team man that day, ordering field and bowling changes, and taking catches at slip with the certainty of night following day.


A late surge is never to be discounted with that West Indian team looking for a hat-trick of wins that would have given them the Prudential trophy for good. I knew with the ball wobbling the tail would be easy meat. The moment came not long after as Jimmy ran for the stumps at the batsmen's end on having Holding adjudged leg before. There was mayhem as the crowd invaded. Srikkanth smoked 10 cigarettes at the trophy presentation.


Those days were such easy ones for the media (apart from sending the telexes recording the greatest moment in Indian cricket history) that we could meet up with Kapil Dev 10 minutes after the presentation, not at some formal conference but at the sponsor's tent for a glass of wine.


He made to us his famous earthy comment that cannot be reprinted in a family newspaper. Roughly translated, his words were — 'We did the kalas (blacks) and the goras (whites) in'. Yes, indeed.


Republished with permission from The Asian Age