India’s win in the World Cup at Lord’s on 25 June 1983 is part of cricketing folklore. What happened just before the match, despite seldom being discussed in as much detail, had results more far-fetching.
BCCI president NKP Salve had requested two extra passes. When he was denied that, Salve – a Union cabinet minister – vowed to wrest the World Cup out of England, who had hosted the first three editions.
Until this point, England had been challenged, even humiliated, on the field, but their authority had seldom been questioned off it. Salve set out to change that. He met Air Marshall Noor Khan, head of the Pakistan board, on the day after the final. Along with Gamini Dissanayake, they formed the Asian Cricket Council.
At the ICC meeting that year of 1984, Salve promised to double the guarantee money for every participating nation to clinch the deal. India and Pakistan co-hosted the 1987 World Cup.
Salve had set into motion the greatest power shift in the history of cricket. Less than a decade ago, Kerry Packer had done the same, but even the might of his wallet had failed to move England from the centre of the cricketing world. England, even with the support of Australia, would no longer be calling the shots.
England toured India later that year, months after being demolished 0-5 by West Indies at home. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had been assassinated on 31 October. On 27 November, a day after hosting the English cricketers for dinner, Percy Norris, the British Deputy High Commissioner in Bombay, was shot dead the next day, half a mile away from the team hotel.
The England team not only stayed put but came back from 0-1 to win the Test series 2-1 – a feat they would repeat 28 seasons later. However, in the return tour, India beat England 2-0, their largest margin of victory on England soil.
Barring a highlights package, the Indian fans did not get to see any of this – or the 1990 tour of England.
Despite the success of the 1987 World Cup, the BCCI was clueless about the fact that it owned the media rights to matches played in India. Its only source of revenue was from on-field advertisements. It sometimes even paid Doordarshan to cover matches.
In November 1991, Dr Ali Bacher paid the BCCI a sum of USD 120,000 for the television rights of South Africa’s ODI series in India. Just over a year later, England toured India. India thrashed them 3-0.
Ahead of the tour, England had sent Keith Fletcher to South Africa to observe the touring Indian cricketers. "I don’t believe we will have much problem with him," Fletcher reported about Anil Kumble. '
Kumble took 21 wickets in three Test matches. Fellow spinners Venkatapathy Raju and Rajesh Chauhan shared another 24. India won the first Test by eight wickets and the other two by an innings.
England faced all sorts of problems on that tour. They made bizarre selections (including playing four seamers on a rank turner). Graham Gooch went down with food poisoning. Easy catches went down. The bowling was so toothless that Graeme Hick finished as the leading wicket-taker.
And then, there were the excuses.
Ted Dexter, England chair of selectors, blamed the pollution level for the Calcutta Test match. He would have gotten away in another era, but now, Kamal Nath, Indian Forest and Environment Minister, promised a report on the ‘effect of pollution levels upon the trajectories of India’s spinners.’
For their defeat, the England camp blamed Indian cuisine, Indian Airlines, the facial hair of their own cricketers, their manager’s t-shirt and shorts, and Gooch’s personal life – everything but the cricket.
A battered, bruised Phil Tufnell commented, "I’ve done the elephants and I’ve done the poverty. It’s time to go home." The remark would almost certainly have been racist by the standards of 2022.
The BCCI sold the television rights to TWI for USD 1 million to show the matches to Indian fans. It made a profit of USD 600,000.
Doordarshan took on TWI, but they were fighting a lost battle. The fans no longer cared for Doordarshan’s archaic coverage. They had been wooed by Channel Nine’s coverage of the 1992 World Cup, played under lights in coloured clothing. With TWI, they now knew that cricket telecasts in India could attain the same quality.
A 1995 court order ensured Doordarshan lost any exclusive rights whatsoever on cricket in India. And the Indian subcontinent won the rights for hosting the World Cup for a second time, in 1996, before it could return to England.
Hell broke loose in England. In The Telegraph, Christopher Martin-Jenkins wrote that England’s "advantages cannot be matched by rival bidders from a vast and frequently unruly sub-continent." But none of that mattered, for in the same meeting, England and Australia had lost their long-standing veto rights at the ICC.
Amidst all this, for the first time, ESPN began to broadcast Test matches from outside Asia in India live. Fans did not have to wait until morning to learn about how their heroes fared away from home.
This was also the era of Sachin Tendulkar, who took off in full bloom from the mid-1990s and not merely with his on-field performances. He united India as no one had before.
Worshipping Sachin Tendulkar
In the 1980s, the Indian brands used to classify the two cricketing superstars according to the market. While Gavaskar, the Mumbaikar who epitomised technical correctness, endorsed Dinesh Suiting, small-town Kapil featured in commercials for a Spoken English course by Rapidex. It is difficult to say whether the images had been deliberate, but they existed without a doubt.
Tendulkar’s appeal was universal. What was more, the fans could see him perform his heroics in faraway lands. By the end of the decade, his feats gave birth to a tag even a naturally religious country like India had hesitated to assign to any cricketer.
Cricket in India had become no less than a religion.
India lost the Test series on the 1996 tour of England, but in 2002, they drew the series honourably. Rahul Dravid scored three hundreds to be named Player of the Series in the Tests, while Sourav Ganguly caused a stir by taking his shirt off in the Lord’s balcony after India won the NatWest Trophy.
Long before that, the English broadcasters had promoted 2002 as the Indian summer. Lagaan, fresh from the Academy Awards, had a significant run in England. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Bombay Dreams premiered at the Apollo Victoria Theatre in London; it ran for two years. The cricket perfected the Indian flavour.
However, the tour might not have taken place at all. In the aftermath of the 9/11 bombings, some English cricketers were not too keen to tour India in 2001/02. BCCI president Jagmohan Dalmiya responded by threatening to call off India’s 2002 tour of England.
In the end, both tours went ahead. This was a crucial juncture in the history of cricket, for England had realised they needed an Indian tour more than the other way round. The power had shifted.
India returned to England in 2007 to win their first Test series in 21 years and their last to date. But as with 1983, what had been transpiring behind the scenes that year would turn out to be far more significant.
(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor of CricketNews by day and biryani demolisher at night. He is the co-author of Sachin and Azhar at Cape Town, and tweets @ovshake42.)