1983 Cricket World Cup group stage match.
India Vs minnows Zimbabwe at the Nevill Ground at Royal Tunbridge Wells in the English county of Kent.
When a 24-year-old Kapil Dev walked onto the pitch, India was already four wickets down at a measly nine runs.
It wasn’t quite a last chance saloon for the Indian team, but on 8 June 1983, Dev played, arguably, the most important innings in Indian cricket history marking a turning point.
“As a player and as a commentator, [I have] never seen a better innings (than Kapil’s 175),” said Sunil Gavaskar.
It was a true captain’s innings, which funnily enough, wasn’t televised because cameras were at the match between West Indies and Australia. There was also no radio commentary of the match because employees at the BBC were on strike.
Yes, some may argue that it was just Zimbabwe, but they had already beaten the mighty Australians and weren’t to be underestimated. Just ask Sunil Gavaskar, Kris Srikkanth, Mohinder Amarnath and Sandeep Patil, who lost their wickets in quick succession to seamers Peter Rawson and Kevin Curran before the scoreboard even struck 10.
Rawson would, eight runs later, snap up Yashpal Sharma’s wicket, leaving India reeling at 17/5.
“When India lost their fifth wicket at Tunbridge Wells on Saturday morning with the score at 17, the day’s main issue appeared to concern the fate of the picnic lunches,” wrote David Lacey in The Guardian. “Was it worth fetching them from the car park or might it be better to enjoy them at leisure a little later, on the North Downs perhaps or by the sea?”
Dev and Roger Binny began the rebuilding process with a steady 60-run partnership, before the latter and Ravi Shastri lost their wickets in quick succession, leaving India at 78/7.
Through all this chaos, Dev never lost his head, slowly accumulating his runs. He reached his 50 in the 26th over, but went into high gear to smash the next 50 runs in just 10 overs.
Through this journey, he was ably assisted by Madan Lal, but it was the 126-run partnership with Syed Kirmani which saw the crowd running for cover under the barrage of sixes.
Of the 126 runs, Kirmani scored 24 runs and remained not-out. Kapil Dev, meanwhile, scored 175 of the teams 266 runs, which, among a whole host of fantastic strokes, also saw the famous ‘Natraj’ shot captured by Bollywood actor Ranveer Singh who plays the champion cricketer in his upcoming film ’83, based on India’s historic 1983 Cricket World Cup triumph.
The last 75 runs came off 38 balls, a T20-like innings more than two decades before the format had even come into existence. However, it was another shot which captured the eyes of journalists on the day.
“Of his six sixes, the best was the lofted drive that dispatched a ball from Curran to the top of the tall stand at long on,” wrote Lacey.
Despite Dev’s historic innings, the game wasn’t a foregone conclusion with Curran’s fine 73 taking Zimbabwe close. However, they eventually lost by 31 runs. Without Dev’s innings, India would have definitely lost the match. The ‘175 not out’ by Dev gave the Indian team the belief that they could overcome any adversity.
They followed up the Zimbabwe win with a crushing 118-run win against Australia, followed by a semi-final victory over hosts England.
They shocked the mighty West Indies by 43 runs in the final to win the 1983 World Cup. This triumph changed the face of Indian cricket.
It was a victory that inspired millions and gave birth to subsequent generations of Indian superstars who would embed the game into the national psyche. It was quite literally the spark that lit the fuse.
Prime Minister Indira Gandhi congratulated Dev and his men for the World Cup win with, “My slogan is ‘India can do it’. Thank you for living up to it.”
This World Cup triumph, which brought nearly every Indian together, nearly never happened.
“No one could foresee then [when India were 17/5] that a week later India would be winning the whole tournament; indeed, qualification for the semi-final was in grave doubt,” reported Wisden.
But not on Kapil Dev’s watch!
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)