‘First love’ – how 1983 World Cup win triggered India’s obsession with cricket


Kapil Dev led India to World Cup glory in 1983.
Kapil Dev led India to World Cup glory in 1983.

“First love cannot be forgotten,” is how one member of Kapil Dev’s team describes India’s debut cricket World Cup win in 1983 — a victory that aroused passions so fierce they would change the game forever.

When ‘Kapil Devils’ stunned the West Indies at Lord’s, the traditional home of cricket, it triggered an obsession with the sport in India and created its biggest market — ultimately making India’s board the richest and most powerful in the world.

India was previously a hockey-loving nation, owing to their five Olympic gold medals between 1948 and 1980. But on June 25, 1983, India’s cricketers became world-beaters.

Nobody saw the victory coming, after India came into the one-day tournament with just one win — against East Africa — in the previous two editions.

“We never, ever imagined we would reach the quarter-final or the knockout stage,” Syed Kirmani, the team’s flamboyant wicketkeeper-batsman, told AFP.

“A few of my colleagues in that team had expressed themselves that ‘we are going to have fun, enjoy ourselves and that’s it’.

“But we laid a very strong foundation by winning the Cup. It is like the first love cannot be forgotten. Thirty-seven years have gone, people still remember our victory.”

He added: “The younger generation are also keen to know when we won the first World Cup and who were the players. Oh God, it is a fantastic, nostalgic feeling.”

– Watershed moment –

India’s run to the title is soon to get the Bollywood treatment, with popular actor Ranveer Singh playing Dev.

MS Dhoni later led India to the inaugural Twenty20 World Cup title in 2007 and their second ODI world trophy in 2011, but the victory in England will always remain a watershed moment.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India is now the wealthiest association in the game and players like Sunil Gavaskar, part of the 1983 team, Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli have been instrumental in taking Indian cricket to greater heights.

“The board started getting commercial benefits only after the World Cup win and for us it was a game-changer,” Sunil Valson, who was part of the 14-member squad, told AFP.

“Understand nowadays whenever the Indian team goes for a World Cup the expectations are so high on them. But in ’83 nobody expected it, but the way we played was just amazing.

“’83 will be ’83, that changed the passion, the trend. Money came into the sport much later, but certainly it was a great victory that came against any expectations.”

– ‘One man’s genius’ –

India were reeling at 17 for five in a crucial group match against Zimbabwe when Dev’s unbeaten 175 won the game and proved to be the turning point for their campaign.

Kapil’s Devils outplayed hosts England in the semi-finals and then defended a modest total of 183 in the title clash.

Roger Binny, who sent back West Indies skipper Clive Lloyd for eight in the final, said Dev’s leadership and India’s all-rounders were key to the team’s success.

“I think it has got be the all-rounders. If you see the scores in all the matches, contributions came from the latter half of the team,” Binny told AFP.

“Definitely one strong point was (Dev’s) captaincy. Also when we beat the West Indies in the first game in Manchester, that lifted the spirit of the guys.”

Veteran journalist Ayaz Memon, one of the half-a-dozen Indian journalists that travelled to the World Cup’s third edition, said optimism was non-existent at the start.

“Expectations were zero when we went, because India’s past record in the World Cups had been dismal,” Memon told AFP.

“I did not even see the first match, India v West Indies, because I thought they would lose easily, but a lot of things conspired to make it India’s tournament.

“I was witness to Kapil Dev’s innings at Tunbridge Wells (against Zimbabwe). BBC was on one-day strike, so there was no radio or TV commentary. One man’s genius gave India the direction to go for glory. It lifted up the self-belief in the team.”

He added: “In 1983, what India did was turn the game upside completely on its head in the power matrix. Suddenly you found India were champions, therefore their participation in the sport became greater and bigger.”