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June, 1983, and Cricket: When Kapil's Devils Mesmerised India

Since then, watching matches live on TV has become almost a religious ritual for India fans.

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(This is part two of a four-part 'June' series that revisited significant historical events or policies and how the lessons learned from them continue to be of relevance in present-day politics and society. Read part one here, part three here, and part four here.)

India was desperately in need of some good news and cheer back then in 1983.

Khalistani terrorists were on a rampage in Punjab, killing people at will. Assam was in flames with a mob attacking a village called Nellie and massacring about 2000 Muslims. Violence, unrest, and disenchantment seemed to have permeated the Indian psyche. No wonder, tens of millions of Indians switched off their radio sets when the Indian cricket team slumped to 17/5 against Zimbabwe during a must-win group match in the 1983 World Cup.

That day, Kapil Dev redeemed Indian cricket and mesmerised his opponents and fans by scoring a magnificent match-winning 175 not out. Kapil’s Devils never looked back after that.

They comfortably beat England in the semi-final and caused the mother of all upsets by defeating the invincible West Indies in the finals to lift the World Cup trophy. After that scintillating victory, Indian cricket changed forever.

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India's Test Match Record Before and After 1983

The gentlemen pushovers who routinely shook hands after losing yet another test match and series started slowly becoming a formidable force. Despite the infuriating failure to win a major tournament since 2013, the Indian cricket team ranks number one in the world.

Even a quick look at the two charts clearly reveals how deeply and dramatically the Indian cricket team has transformed since that World Cup victory.

That was a one-day tournament. But the reverberations were felt even in test cricket, still considered to be the true test of talent, grit, and character.
Since then, watching matches live on TV has become almost a religious ritual for India fans.

India in Test Matches Till 1983

Source: Author

Since then, watching matches live on TV has become almost a religious ritual for India fans.

India in Test Matches After 1983

Source: Author 

India played its first test match in 1932 against England.

From then till 1983, India lost almost four out of every test match it played and won much less than two. Post-1983, India has won almost four out of every ten matches it has played. That is a dramatic reversal in fortunes for the Indian cricket team.

In fact, if you pick the test match data for the last 15 years, India has won more than five out of every 10 matches played. Data is always sacrosanct and the numbers here demonstrate how transformational that World Cup victory was.

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India's Clout in the Cricket World

Once dominated by England and Australia, the International Cricket Council (ICC) that used to ride roughshod over former colonies like India can no longer dare to not do what India wants. More than the performance of the Indian cricket team across all formats (Test, One Day, and T-20), it is the power of money that speaks now. About 70 percent of the revenue generated by the ICC comes from India.

So, when India says it will not play Asia Cup matches on Pakistani soil, the ICC is eager to oblige India with a “neutral” venue. The ICC happily obliges when India “requests” the rescheduling of some matches and events to ensure the multi-billion-dollar IPL can function smoothly.

This power and even naked greed were on full display in 2020 when the Board of Cricket Control in India (BCCI) insisted on going ahead with the IPL tournament even though the first wave of the COVID pandemic had hit India hard.

It is only when many players were infected with COVID that better sense prevailed and the IPL was abandoned. The greed is to be expected given the staggering sums of money involved. The brand value of the IPL has crossed $10 billion according to some estimates.

The brand value of the legendary English Premier League is estimated to be $18 billion. Media rights for the IPL for 2023-27 were sold for Rs 48,390 crores and digital rights were sold for Rs 20,500 crores. Think of it.

There is no record of the knock of 175 not out by Kapil Dev in 1983 as the BBC crew in the host country was on strike! While accurate records are not available, it is reported that the Indian cricket team was paid a princely sum of Rs 2100 for playing and winning the final against West Indies.

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The Middle-class Consumer Revolution

Of course, that victory did ensure that Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev became sought after for endorsing brands and made tons of money. Besides, the first major World Cup one day match watched live by tens of millions of Indians was the semi-final between India and England. Since then, watching matches live on TV has become almost a religious ritual for India fans and has enabled the BCCI to become the wealthiest cricket body in the world by selling telecast rights at ridiculously high rates. Indian cricketers were always loved by fans. The 1983 triumph did open for Indian cricketers to earn big money. Stars like Virat Kohli and M S Dhoni deal in tens of millions of dollars for endorsements.

It could be cosmic coincidence. But the middle-class consumer revolution in India was taking its first baby steps when Kapil’s Devils humbled the might West Indies led by “Big Cat” Clive Lloyd. Colour TVs had started becoming an integral presence in living rooms of middle class and affluent Indians.

The first Maruti Suzuki car rolled out of a brand-new factory in Gurgaon. Indo-Japanese joint ventures started offering extremely fuel efficient 100 cc motorcycles to upwardly mobile aspirational Indians. New brands like Maggi noodles invaded middle class households.

Around the time Kapil Dev and the team received a rousing welcome back home, Indians got a first taste of what lifting of stifling state controls could do. Indira Gandhi partly delicensed the cement industry. Back then, the government stipulated price of a bag of cement was Rs 30 while the actual (black) market price was Rs 150 per bag.

Within years of this 1983 decision, cement production soared and market prices crashed to about Rs 40 per bag. Back in 1983, installed capacity of cement in India was less than 30 million. Currently, the installed capacity is more than 500 million tons and India is he second largest producer of cement in the world. Incidentally, India is the largest producer of two wheelers in the world. It all started in 1983.

Today, Indians born after 1991 cannot even comprehend India of 1983. But in their own small way, Kapil’s Devils laid the foundation for a New India.

(Yashwant Deshmukh & Sutanu Guru work with CVoter Foundation. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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Topics:  Kapil Dev   1983 World Cup 

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