Why My Family Remembers the 1983 World Cup Victory More Fondly than Most

Sports

Why My Family Remembers the 1983 World Cup Victory More Fondly than Most

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

T

he year is 1985. A two-year-old girl is flashing a toothy grin as she is being rocked on her grandpa’s legs. “Repeat it, and this time in the order in which they come to bat,” says the chuckling grandfather as he tirelessly tosses the little girl, much to her glee. And she begins rattling, “Seekaanth, Sastree, Assar, Vensaakar, Gavaskar, Moindar, Kapil Dayyy!” That toothy girl was me and even though I wasn’t even born when India lifted the World Cup on 25 June, 1983, I had already memorised the squad’s batting line-up of the World Championship even before I could rattle nursery rhymes off. Sports, particularly cricket, were the rite of passage to be a certified member of my family. 

I still remember what it was like on 25 June, 1983, an odd thing to say about an event that occurred before one’s lifetime. But pieced together from coffee table conversations, passing remarks, and anecdotes told over innumerable lunches and get-togethers, I know exactly how it all happened.

Mom was pregnant, and my parents had been married barely a year. She was in Mumbai with her folks and father was by himself in Jamshedpur – a quiet, green town whose imagery belied the dusty stereotype of Bihar. They were both anxious, not only for the impending birth of their child, but because Kapil Dev’s indomitable Indians were to face the seemingly unbeatable West Indies led by Clive Lloyd in the final.

Most middle-class homes crackled with the sound of radio broadcasts. Only the well-off could afford a television back then. One of my uncles recalls being jealous of those friends who got a chance to watch India lift the trophy on TV; he had to settle for a radio in his hostel room like everyone else. Radio was the lifeline those days in my family, and the soundtrack to my childhood. Strains of suprabatham to wake us all up, news bulletins at the breakfast table, Hindi songs to mark the lazy afternoons, and the house would come alive in the evening with sports. For my father and many of my uncles, cricket was heard more than seen. My dad still talks about John Arlott and Tony Cozier painting a picture of what a cricket match looked like with only their words.

All of India celebrated the 1983 World Cup win, including my family

Alone in Jamshedpur, my father heard all the World Cup matches with such rapt attention, it’s almost like he’s seen them. “Garner was making the ball swing that day. I could hear it. Gavaskar was getting beaten repeatedly,” he says. Meanwhile, in Mumbai, my mum was uncharacteristically distracted from the proceedings in the World Cup. June 25 was supposed to be her due date, but there were no signs of her going into labour. She was getting her World Cup updates via a huge white radio set that her uncle was listening to. At first, news of the match only added to her considerable discomfort.

“When we heard Viv [Richards] going crazy, we thought, ‘Ye final gaya,’” says my uncle, who was in listening in from his hostel. “The commentators were so certain it was all but over and we had to believe those voices. I was scared that Viv Richards would finish off the match,” says my father. Though the situation seemed dire, nobody dared turn off the radio.

My uncle’s hostel room erupted in jubilation at the wicket of Vivian Richards. “We were on the edge of our seats listening to the way the commentators described that catch to dismiss Viv. It felt like forever and seemed like Kapil Dev had to run a kilometre before he could catch the ball, and then all of us realised it was game on,” says my uncle.

Today, the superstitious rituals of sports fans are so well-documented they are almost a stereotype, but on that day, they seemed all-important. “A friend of mine was peeping in from one window, another was almost dangling out from the other, a third was holding on to the door, and we decided to just stay in those very positions until the match was over. It was the worse for me though. I had to go to the toilet,” says my uncle, often to peals of laughter from my father and a reproachful look from my aunt.

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Kapil Dev’s indomitable Indians were to face the seemingly unbeatable West Indies led by Clive Lloyd in the final.

Bob Thomas Sports Photography/Getty Images

The rest, as they say, is history. India defended the seemingly paltry target of 183, and gave the country a miracle win that would sustain cricket in the country for the next three decades. Uncle and his friends rejoiced with a candle-light victory march through the college grounds, waking up anyone who might have slept through that win. He talks about how for that one day, everyone was a cricket fan and a patriot. Father talks about firecrackers being burst late into the night outside his house. Of course, he went back to sleep because he was to travel to Mumbai to be with his wife.

There were parades in Mumbai and Delhi once the players returned. And just days after that win, with the country still buzzing about the most historic moment in India’s sporting tradition, I was born in a small hospital in Matunga, Mumbai. Everyone had gathered around mum and me in the hospital and were excitedly reliving the World Cup win in their own ways. My grandmother stitched sweaters just like the sleeveless ones the cricketers wore while playing in England for her three sons, and even bought each one a chain with a cricket bat-shaped pendant. Thinking back on those heady days, mum says, “Your father was the first to come in right after you were born and looked at us both, all smiles. He was scared to carry you, so he just touched your cheeks and tried playing with you. But the first words out of his mouth were, ‘We won the World Cup!’”

That very year a television set entered my home. I have the fondest memories of watching cricket matches, tennis games, and the Olympics with my folks. The ladies would finish up in the kitchen and everyone would sit around the TV set. My dad would patiently answer any and every question that my grandmom or my mum would ask him. Grandpa was the impatient watcher, cursing if things did not go India’s way. Years later, my little brother would mimic Sachin at the crease with his tiny toy cricket bat. My uncles were raucous and they had their own little debates going with my father during a match. Those scenes, snatches of conversations, and tea-time chats were all what set off my lifelong sporting obsession. All of India celebrated the 1983 World Cup win, including my family. We just had even more cause to celebrate than most.

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