(This story is being republished from The Quint’s archives on the occasion of the 39th anniversary of India's 1983 World Cup win)
Kapil Dev was always a positive cricketer. Be it with his bowling, his fielding or his batting – he was ever-ready and eager to perform at any given time and against any odds.
Our team at the 1983 World Cup was not a one-man-army but an army of 14 soldiers who wanted to climb Mount Everest. There were so many good performances during our journey to the final at Lord’s but one that undoubtedly is one of the greatest performance in the history of cricket is Kapil Dev’s 175 at Tunbridge Wells.
Though Zimbabwe were labeled as minnows, they performed pretty well in the tournament. For us, it was our second match and picking up points against them was our best chance of staying in the run for a place in the semi-finals.
Before the match, there was a discussion about taking a chance and scoring big to improve the run rate but finally, during the team meeting, everybody agreed to simply focus on winning the match instead.
The mood in the team was positive. Srikanth and Sunil Gavaskar opened the batting as the match started and Mohinder, Yashpal and myself were to follow.
Kapil probably thought his batting would come hours later and decided it was the perfect time to enjoy a shower but that was not the case. We lost the openers and then we lost Mohinder. It all happened so quickly that I found myself batting in the middle with Yashpal, in no time.
India was 6/3.
Sunil Valson ran down to inform us that Kapil was still in the shower. He was the next batsman to follow after me. I got out to Peter Rawson trying to flick one on the onside and the scoreboard read 17/5 in absolutely no time!
In the dressing room, Kapil Dev was helped by other teammates to get him ready to bat. He looked shocked as I crossed him while walking back into the pavilion. That was the first time I avoided eye contact with Kapil.
I remember, the Turnbridge Wells dressing room was one floor down in the basement. As I walked back and entered the dressing room, I saw Sunil, Mohinder, Yash and Srikanth sitting quietly. Their faces were blank with no emotions.
That was perhaps my worst dressing room experience.
We did not dare to go up to watch the match, we wanted to hide ourselves. It was after 20 minutes that we heard the roar of the crowd and it continued after every five minutes.
Was it for another wicket? A boundary or a six? We didn’t know, we were too scared to go up and watch.
The roar became louder and louder and the five of us just sat there, staring at each other.
Srikanth was the first to go up to watch the match and then, one by one, all of us followed.
What we saw was a miracle unfolding in front of our eyes.
The miracle-man was none other than our captain Kapil Dev. He had taken full control of rebuilding our innings and was ably supported by Roger Binny, Syed Kirmani and Madan Lal.
It started with 17/5 and but soon we reached 100.
Kapil Dev, the gentle giant, was having a true feast. It was one of the best-crafted innings of cricket history. It was like a testament of the saying – the slow and steady wins the race.
He took time in settling down. He looked cautious, but in control of the situation.
Kapil managed to score 175 in that game, showing controlled aggression. It was the perfect example of how to pace an innings.
That day, unfortunately because of industrial dispute in the UK, BBC did not cover the match on TV. But those at the ground and those who watched the innings will remain the blessed ones. It was a real treat for our eyes.
Only true champions like Kapil can play such a miraculous innings.
From down and out, we were back on our feet in the dressing room, cheering our captain.
That 31-run victory over Zimbabwe on 18 June 1983 not only put the Indian team in the race for the semi-finals but it also gave us a special belief of being able to win against any odds.
That innings of Kapil’s lifted the morale of the side. We experienced an extra bounce in our strides.
Till then, we were running in the race. But after this win, we wanted to win it.
Cricket is a game of timing, confidence and self-belief and we had ticked all three. I won’t be wrong in saying that it was this Kapil knock which changed Indian cricket.
Late madam Indira Gandhi, after winning the World Cup, said that it affirmed her slogan: “India can do it.”
But for us, it was Kapil Dev who did it.