Revisiting history: India's 1985 World Championship win
‘Once’ could easily be translated as an unlikely miracle of a magical English summer. But when a fledgling team outwits the world a second time in three years, even the most seasoned observer cannot help but drop his jaw and sigh in admiration.
Over three decades ago, that is exactly what a largely under-rated Indian team accomplished when they won the World Championship of Cricket in Australia.
As the Indian team scythes through its group in the current World Cup, the pleasant taste of the fare on offer in Australia is enriched by a generous helping of memories from the past. Stories of the triumph in June 1983 and March 1985 don’t just garnish the plate, but add to the explosion of flavours invading the minds of Indian fans.
Out of the blue and unannounced, India turned world champions when Kapil’s Devils rode the miraculous 175* at Tunbridge Wells to reach the finals. And then lightning struck a second time, when a determined captain made that well-documented catch of Vivian Richards.
Running backwards to cover a seemingly interminable stretch, Kapil pulled off a stunning catch to end an innings that was threatening to take the match away from India. After all, they had barely made enough to defend in a 60-overs-a-side match. Soon after that, India were world champions and a burgeoning cricket nation was reborn.
Defying the odds
Still in its infancy and having won precious little after the World Cup, it was Sunil Gavaskar’s turn to carry the hurting unit to the unfriendly climes in Australia for a battle against the best cricket teams in the world.
Hardly anyone gave them a chance. The team had suffered rather badly at the hands of the touring Englishmen in both Tests and ODIs. The contingent was already bruised, and conventional wisdom dictated that more misery awaited them when they travelled Down Under.
But the young men in the team rose to the occasion with a verve and energy that was rarely seen in Indian cricket. Sadanand Viswanath, replacing the retired Syed Kirmani, was electric behind the stumps. He was quick on his feet and his brilliant flashy ways were beginning to filter back home through newly acquired colour televisions.
Meanwhile, Laxman Sivaramakrishnan and Ravi Shastri showed great purpose and guile to befuddle the batsmen, spinning a web around their wavering minds.
Early victories against Pakistan and England seem to have turned the mood in the team, filling it with a much needed dose of hope. When they defeated the hosts Australia in their last league match, by a whopping eight wicket margin, that hope seemed to turn into faith.
Shastri and Krishnamachari Srikanth were playing their roles to the hilt, in starkly contrasting ways, to provide India a solid foundation at the top and allow the middle order to prosper without fear. The team was also displaying a new resolve on the field that was adding to the spectacle, streaming early in the morning into delirious Indian drawing rooms.
It was rather amusing too that a man who burnt 174 deliveries for a measly 36 runs in his World Cup debut while chasing 335 for a victory, was at the helm leading his men with great intuition and conviction.
The business end of the tournament
The semi-final against New Zealand was far from a contest; the team from the Southern hemisphere struggled their way to 206. Shastri and Dilip Vengsarkar played with responsibility and Kapil Dev finished the innings with trademark flourish (54* in 37 balls) to take the team into the finals.
The occasion gained in weight soon as Pakistan overcame West Indies in the second semi-final to set up a mouth-watering clash of the neighbours in the final. The Indian team was riding an infectious wave of energy and Pakistan was eager to avenge their loss to India earlier in the tournament.
But India wasted no time in tying Pakistan down in knots soon after Javed Miandad won the toss and elected to bat at the regal Melbourne Cricket Ground. After falling to 33-4, Miandad and Imran Khan tried to restore dignity but only managed to set India a target of 177.
A century partnership between Srikanth and Shastri essentially sealed the deal as the team cruised to another famous victory on the world stage. It was a victory that helped underline the growing muscle of Indian cricket.
Laying the foundation for future successes
No matter what heights the team might have scaled in the years since then, the foundation for its emergence as a truly global cricketing power was laid in those heady summers when barely anyone gave them a chance.
As they journeyed from no-hopers to world beaters, a new benchmark was set for Indian cricket by teams that chose to believe in themselves when all around them saw no reason for hope. As Shastri drove his team around in the white Audi he won, the image fuelled a nation’s hunger for success.
The class of ’85 was unbeaten through that epochal tour and after winning five matches in a row, MS Dhoni’s men will believe that an encore is well within their grasp. It will take four good matches from this team to retain the trophy.
Only this time, should India bathe in glory on 29th March, not many will be surprised by their success. And if they really do win again, this team too could spark a new fire among a new generation of Indians that believe the sky is not the limit.