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Everything changed for India 37 years ago, when Kapil Dev’s motley crew—a mix of veterans, youngsters and journeymen—pulled off an improbable series of upsets to hoist the 1983 Cricket World Cup. No one expected the win, least of all the players—many, anticipating an early exit, had planned a tour of the US. But one stirring performance followed another, capped by the most famous victory in the history of Indian sports.

Nearly 70% of the current population wasn’t born then, and Indians now inhabit an altogether different world. That makes it all the more important—but also quite hard—to explain to those who weren’t around just how remarkable that win was, and the impact it had on the national psyche.

Here, it’s essential to recall that India was traditionally the weakest cricketing nation. Granted Test status in 1932, our team took two full decades to notch up its first Test match victory—against England in Madras in 1952. There were brilliant players, to be sure, but they generated few wins: only 36 from the first 196 Tests.

But it wasn’t just cricket. From the 1960s, Indian sports languished in an abysmal miasma. Every Olympics triggered debates about our supposed lack of “killer instinct". From Khashaba Jadhav’s bronze for wrestling in 1952 until Leander Paes brought home another bronze —for tennis—in 1996, India won zero medals in any discipline, except men’s field hockey. Thus, it was no surprise when, in the first cricket World Cup in 1975, India were thrashed by 202 runs by England, and also lost to New Zealand. Only cobbled-together irregulars representing “East Africa" allowed one face-saving victory (Gavaskar played a fine innings of 65).

In the second World Cup in 1979, there was no such luck. Not only were India badly beaten by the West Indies (by 9 wickets) as well as New Zealand (8 wickets), they were also bested by debutants Sri Lanka.

Those initial tournaments were won by the West Indies, in full flow of their imperious prowess. And the same bunch of superstars returned to England in 1983—Viv Richards, Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes, Joel Garner, Malcolm Marshall, Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, all led from the front by the regal Clive Lloyd.

As luck would have it, India’s first match was against the returning champs. It was 9 June at Manchester, and Kapil Dev’s team rallied to a historic victory.

This was an incredible turn of events. Like everyone else, veteran journalist Ayaz Memon—then 27 and on his first tour outside the subcontinent—had presumed on India’s defeat. “I didn’t even go to watch. New Zealand were playing the same day and I thought of checking out (batsman) Martin Crowe," he said. A roller-coaster tournament proceeded to unfold. India beat Zimbabwe, then lost to Australia and West Indies.

On 18 June at Tunbridge Wells, in their second match against Zimbabwe, India were on the verge of elimination with five wickets gone for 17 runs. That’s when Kapil Dev played one of the greatest captain’s innings in cricket history, slamming an unbeaten 175 off 138 deliveries. “That is the moment that sparked self-belief," Memon said. “The jigsaw puzzle began falling into place."

In retrospect, the 1983 team was, unusually, much more than the sum of its parts, with its identity epitomized by classy all-rounder Mohinder Amarnath. He took the crucial wickets of David Gower and Mike Gatting in the semi-final against England, while scoring 46.

“Cucumber-cool" amid high drama, in the memorable words of Memon, Jimmy Amarnath played the pivotal role in the final as well, where he tallied 26 in a low-scoring match before removing Jeff Dujon and Malcolm Marshall. And with the last ball of the tournament, he trapped Michael Holding, disrupting the balance of the cricket universe forever. Colour television had only just arrived in India the year before, when the 1982 Asian Games were held in New Delhi. This allowed millions of Indians to watch “Dev’s Devils" win the World Cup.

Among them was a consequential 10-year-old. On 25 June 2018, Sachin Tendulkar posted on Twitter, “My journey into the World of professional and serious cricket began today, 35 years back. Dreams do come true. Keep chasing them. #WorldCup83."

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