Something changed irrevocably in the small world of cricket on the 25th June of 1983 -- 36 years to the day. In a mismatch of mythical proportions -- something akin to David meeting the Goliath – India slayed the mighty West Indies to lift their maiden World Cup.
Victory for West Indies was a foregone conclusion as India made surprise entry to the final. And when Kapil Dev’s men were restricted to 183 all out in 54.4 overs by the fearsome quartet of Roberts-Garner-Marshall-Holding, the third title for the Caribbeans appeared a mere formality. Their dressing room, it is claimed, was being stacked up with champagne bottles during the break, foreseeing the inevitable. However, after a dramatic turn of events over the next 52 overs (ODIs used to be of 60 overs-a-side then), the world had turned upside down. India had shot down the West Indies for 140 to script one of the biggest underdog stories across sports.
A bunch of people who landed in England with their holidays planned around the tournament, had sent an entire nation into delirium and had left the rest of the cricketing world in a daze. The day didn’t just end West Indies’ title run, it ended the imperial hegemony and changed the cricketing landscape. Cashing in on the popularity of the game post the title triumph, India emerged as the financial superpower of cricket. The power centre of the game shifted from England-Australia block to the Indian subcontinent.
India take on West Indies in the ongoing World Cup on Thursday as overwhelming favourites. While it won’t exactly come as a shock if Jason Holder’s blow-hot blow-cold men beat India, what’s unmissable is how the roles have reversed in the last three and half decades. Since that epochal moment on the hallowed turfs of Lord’s, India have entered the semifinal five more times of which two have been finals and one has resulted in title (2011).
On the other hand, West Indies have slipped down the ladder drastically. The attraction of youth towards other lucrative games like basketball and football, the shoddy administration of the game by the West Indies board and the emergence of private T20 leagues have all combined to cause cricket’s decline in the Caribbean islands. A sense of lost purpose, too, has contributed to its present state. As depicted in the movie Fire in Babylon, cricket was a means to uniting against their ex-colonials and asserting their pride and regaining their dignity that continued to be denied to them by the Englishmen and Australians. Today, the same fire in the belly is missing.
Every now and then, they do pleasantly surprise with a T20 title triumph, a Test win over England but soon they are back to being what they never wanted to be known as “Calypso Cricketers”. In the ongoing World Cup, they began as one of the contenders for the semifinal with some of the biggest hitters of the cricket ball in their line-up but after six matches they are out of contention with just three points.
As stunning as has been West Indies’ fall from grace, India’s rise as a top side has been remarkable. From a side being intimidated by others, they have developed into a group that commands respect. Whether it’s about skill sets or complementing fitness, they are second to none. From being 66 to 1 outsiders in 1983, they have become one of the strong favourites to win the World Cup.
While the ultimate moment arrived at Lord’s, India had fired the first salvo a fortnight before that had been completely ignored, even by their own supporters. They had beaten West Indies in the first match on June 9, handing Clive Lloyd’s men their first ever World Cup defeat. After posting 262/8 with the help of Yashpal Sharma’s 89 and handy contributions from Roger Binny (27) and Madan Lal (21) towards the end, the pacers, led by Binny (3/48) began the demolition job before Ravi Shastri, the current head coach of the team, completed it by polishing off the tail (3/26). West Indies had been bowled out for 228 in 54.1 overs, handing India a comfortable 34-run win.
On Thursday, here at the same Old Trafford, Virat Kohli’s men lock horns with West Indies with an eye on the semifinal. Even if India lose, they will still have their chances to make the knockouts while West Indies, notwithstanding the win, will still be out of race. And that’s gulf between the two nations at the moment.