Mumbai: When Krishnamachari Srikkanth and a few other teammates left for England for the 1983 World Cup, it was meant to be a stopover for them. The plan was to head to the US from there for—besides a combined holiday—a belated honeymoon for the opener who got married in March.

It so happened, that on 25 June, India won the World Cup, beating West Indies in the final, scuttling Srikkanth’s plans. He had to return to India with the team to celebrate, cancel his ticket to the US and rebook again some months later.

The former India opener lamented, in jest, and said his captain Kapil Dev still owed him Rs10,000—the cost of cancellation of the tickets—for winning the World Cup.

Kapil Dev and 10 other members of that Indian team were in splits as Srikkanth, in his mix of accented Hindi and English, recounted the tale at the launch of ’83, an upcoming movie based on that famous triumph.

India captain Kapil Dev receiving the 1983 World Cup trophy. Photo: HT
India captain Kapil Dev receiving the 1983 World Cup trophy. Photo: HT

Actor Ranveer Singh will play Kapil Dev in the film co-produced by Phantom Films and directed by Kabir Khan. Singh was present at the film’s launch event at the JW Marriott in Juhu, Mumbai, on Tuesday.

For once though, the hyperactive actor, dressed in a three-piece striped suit, was put to shade as members of India’s most celebrated cricket team held centre-stage. Most of them are now thicker in the middle, many of them slower to climb up the stage, but the camaraderie of old was still visible in abundance as they collapsed into giggles with their teammates’ stories.

They pulled each others’ legs and paid tributes in equal measure as one after the other, the 11 players—and the team’s manager P.R. Man Singh, now 78—trooped up to the stage to recount tales from 1983—some of the stories better known than the others.

Only Sunil Gavaskar, Ravi Shastri and Syed Kirmani could not make it due to professional and personal reasons.

“Our ticket was Bombay to New York via a stopover in London to play," said Srikkanth, 57, explaining how no one in the team expected to win the title. “We (an Indian team) had been to the World Cup twice (1975, 1979) and had beaten only East Africa, which was basically a band of Gujjus (Gujaratis) put together."

India won that match against East and Central Africa in 1975 by 10 wickets, the country’s only World Cup match victory till 1983.

“Prior to 1983, we used to go to England only to see some blondes with their long legs," said 67-year-old Mohinder ‘Jimmy’ Amarnath, affording a smile.

In those days, the players said, there would be no coach with the squad, no team meetings, plans or strategies.

“So in a ‘meeting’ when Kapil Dev said we must win, we all thought he had gone mad," remembers Srikkanth. “Beat the West Indies? With their batsmen and four fast bowlers whose names we don’t want to remember? And this idiot says we will win?"

The team started the tour disastrously, losing its practice matches, playing “rubbish" and it was not until Manchester, said Roger Binny, 62, when something clicked. India beat West Indies in its opening match in Manchester.

All the players credited their captain for believing that the team could win and for inspiring the team. Of course, there was the old-fashioned ribbing of the then 24-year-old Kapil Dev’s English as well.

“The captain was obsessed with speaking in English," said Sandeep Patil, 61. “In team meetings he would say, ‘Sunil (Gavaskar), you have to bat. Srikkanth, you have to hit. Sandy (Balwinder Singh Sandhu), you have to become a tiger. Kiri (Kirmani), you have to keep...

“That was our team meeting. After he would leave, we used to ask around to decode what he meant."

Sandhu added: “He would say, ‘We will have a fielder there, there and there’. I would ask, ‘But where?’ I realized later that he (Kapil) had all this planned out only in his head."

“Cricket was played by cultured people, 15 years ago," countered Kapil, smiling. “They (his teammates) were cultured, I came from agriculture."

Almost all the players fondly remembered Kapil’s unbeaten 175 against Zimbabwe, an innings few people saw (it was not televised nor had it been recorded). They were unified in declaring that as the turning point of the tournament for the team. In the semi-finals, India beat England and Kirti Azad got the wicket of Ian Botham with a turning ball that stayed low. When Kapil asked him how he managed that, Azad told him it was his “secret weapon that he had been practising on. Frankly, I still don’t know how that happened," said 58-year-old Azad, who still holds on to a few £50 notes that pitch-invading fans had shoved into his pocket.

In the final, India scored just 183 and when West Indies batted, Kapil told Sandhu to bowl in such a way that the batsmen could not hit towards Patil—a notoriously poor fielder. “If the ball goes to him, we will lose the match, Kapil told me," remembered Sandhu, 61.

Sandhu famously bowled Gordon Greenidge out early and later, Dilip Vengsarkar recalled, printed his visiting cards with an image that showed three stumps flying and the batsman leaving the ball.

But with Vivian Richards (33 off 28 balls) going great guns, it seemed that the match would be over soon. Sitting in the stands, Gavaskar’s wife “Pammi" (Marshneil) told Patil, who was fielding at the ropes, to pass on a message to her husband: Meet me at the station in half an hour to go shopping.

Then came Kapil Dev’s other great act—running backwards to catch Richards off the bowling of Madan Lal.

“Dilip once told me he can’t watch a recording of the final. He is afraid that Kapil will drop that catch," laughed 66-year-old Lal, who took three wickets in that match.

Off the field, the happy-go-lucky bunch with little expectations had a blast.

Patil remembered sharing a room with the disciplined Gavaskar who “practised in the day and slept at night," while Patil and some others “practised" at night and returned to their rooms late.

Sunil Valsan, the only one from that squad who did not play a match, joked that he was the only other player—besides the captain, vice-captain and manager—who got his own room. His roommate Azad was one of Patil’s partners on the nocturnal rendezvouses and would return only in the morning.

Yashpal Sharma, 63, remembered running out of champagne during their celebration on the Lord’s balcony after the final because bottles were being sent down to the crowd. So the players started distributing milk bottles which they had plenty of.

While Sandhu said that everyone’s story should be taken with a “70-80% discount," only once did all 11 unanimously concur.

The question was, who should do the “item number" in the film. All hands pointed to Srikkanth.

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