The most memorable one is Kapil Dev’s tongue-in-cheek reply after his 175 versus Zimbabwe.
Virat Kohli’s team, one of the favourites to win the recent 2019 World Cup in England, floundered in the semifinal, losing to New Zealand. So Kapil Dev’s 1983 squad is the only Indian team to have won a limited overs World Cup trophy on foreign soil. Winning the 1983 World Cup in England as rank outsiders remains unique and a turning point in India’s cricket history. The recovery from 17 for 5 against Zimbabwe at Tunbridge Wells and the remarkable 43-run win against twice champions West Indies in the final at Lords were seen as miraculous achievements. Nikhil Naz’s book is indeed aptly titled.
A renowned sports anchor on TV, Nikhil’s book is fascinating to read, thanks to his meticulous research, dollops of cricket humour and racy style of storytelling. In the final, with the imperious Vivian Richards in full cry (three boundaries in an over off Madan Lal), Gavaskar’s wife Marshneil tells Sandeep Patil fielding, closest to them, at third man that she, Annu Lal and Romi Dev were going shopping to Oxford Street as the match would get over in a couple of hours and they did not want to see Indians getting outclassed.
There are other amusing instances, too. When Kirti Azad bowls Ian Botham with a slower delivery in the semifinal, the Indian fans make their way to the centre and stuff currency notes in Kirti’s pocket, ranging from one pound coins to 20 pound notes. Yashpal Shama, a vegetarian, would bring almonds from the hotel to have at lunch.
Kapil Dev nearly took off Madan Lal in the final but the Delhi all-rounder pleaded, “Kaps give me the ball. I got Viv in Berbice (references to India’s first ever win in a one dayer versus West Indies), I’ll get him here too.” Kapil agreed that when Richards is in full flow he was also vulnerable. Nikhil describes in detail how Kapil at midwicket turned around and chased the miscued pull from Richards and plucked a remarkable catch, which was the turning point of the final.
But he also writes about how the Indian cricket team was caught watching a porn movie by the highway police, while travelling by luxury bus after the win against Zimbabwe. The ethos of that era is well-documented. Inside the luxury bus, Roger Binny is the designated keeper of a fridge which is stocked with pints of lager.
The book is the outcome of several conversations that Nikhil had with the players. The most memorable one is Kapil Dev’s tongue-in-cheek reply after his 175 versus Zimbabwe. He was asked if India would ever produce another player like him. The poker-faced Kapil replied, "Never. My mother old, father no more".
Perspective-wise, the opening chapter is innovative. It is called Cricket Crush and shows how India’s upset win over West Indies in the 1983 World Cup got a 10-year-old Sachin Tendulkar, then a John McEnroe fan who can’t forgo listening to the radio commentary of the champion’s third round Wimbledon match against Brad Gilbert, addicted to cricket.
In his opening chapters, Naz provides the background that led to Kapil Dev replacing Sunil Gavaskar as captain for the World Cup, the way the team was selected (only three selectors Ghulam Ahmed, Chandu Borde and Bishen Bedi attended), the Delhi-Bombay rivalry and the attitude of many of the Indian players, who thought selection for the World Cup was just a holiday in England as India had little chance of winning.
Only skipper Kapil Dev had the confidence that India could do it. Many of his bowling changes were instinctive. Before the semifinal against England the skipper rallied his troops by saying, “Yes, we never beat England in one day in England. But there is always a first time.” Or his instructions to Mohinder Amarnath, “Jimmy pa you stay.”
After losing the toss in the final, Kapil tells his teammates in the dressing room, “We will never get another day like this. Forget about winning just enjoy. At least we’ve reached this far.”
As openers Gavaskar and Srikanth walk out to bat, Kapil suggests, “The pitch is 70 per cent for bowlers and 30 per cent for batsmen so be careful against their fast bowlers. Just wait for the part time spin of Richards and Gomes to score off.”
Written in a flowing style, the crisp narrative provides not just descriptions of cricket matches, on-field strategies, dressing room disagreements (the media felt Kapil Dev and Gavaskar had a feud) but also numerous sub-plots. These side-stories give the narrative a human touch.
An intriguing, emotional story is that of Jiten Bhai Parekh, another Indian expat, whose shop is ransacked by a gang of four white teenagers. A bold Parekh, who is living in a mortgaged apartment, wagers the £600 he receives as insurance money, on India clinching the title, and ends up winning a handsome £39,600 for his efforts. He even gets to watch the final, towards the end of India’s innings, as his daughter Pooja procures him a ticket, from an Indian fan who left the Lords as the batting collapsed.
The narrative of the matches is provided through the travel adventures of Ayaz Memon, then a greenhorn reporter with Mid-Day. News anchor Rajdeep Sardesai, who was playing club cricket in England at the time, is one of several fans who tried every trick in the book to gain match tickets. The book is entertaining and full of such riveting acounts, which will thrill both historians and fanatics.
The writer is a sports journalist, columnist and commentator