Meet Sunil Valson - The only cricketer to win a World Cup without playing a single international match
Imagine being part of a world cup winning squad, and not playing a single match, Sunil Valson holds cricket's most unique record.
The 1983 cricket World Cup victory is by far one of the most significant moments in India’s modern sporting history. Winning a tournament of such stature as underdogs against West Indies placed the initial building blocks for cricket to become the religion it is today. Names of the 11 players, who lifted the trophy at Lords have been etched into cricketing folklore, but we tend to forget that there were 14 Indian team members, who travelled to England that year.
Sunil Valson might not be the most popular name in Indian cricket, but he holds a unique record. The fast-bowler is the only cricketer in history to have won a World Cup, without playing a single international match.
A popular question in India’s sports quizzing circuit, this particular ‘tag’ has stuck with Sunil, his entire life. However, he has a different way of looking at things. Now Associate Vice President GMR Sports (Delhi Daredevils), he spoke exclusively to Sportskeeda about life before and after the 1983 World Cup.
With an average of 25.35, Sunil was one of India’s deadliest Ranji Trophy pacers
“Whenever I meet a journalist or at times even a cricket enthusiast, I’m asked this question because it’s now become a popular fact. But, I don’t look at it as a missed opportunity, I was part of a team that defied the odds as major underdogs. We were ranked below Zimbabwe then, so to be a part of a squad that beat the mighty West Indies is an honour in itself.”
India lost several of their warm-up matches, including embarrassing outings against county sides such as Yorkshire.
However, Sunil’s selection originally was not to make up just the numbers. A quick glance over his domestic record is indicative of capabilities with the swinging delivery. Having played 75 first class matches, the ex-Delhi bowler took 212 wickets with an impressive economy rate of 3.25. Boasting an average of 25.35, he is among one India’s elite Ranji Trophy bowlers.
The Andhra Pradesh-born pacer’s selection came after a series of good performances for English County outfit Seaham Park. Three five wicket hauls, and the added advantage of possessing environmen adaptability led to his selection.
He said, “I left the Delhi Ranji team because I was looking to participate in foreign conditions. I played for other states as well, but I knew if I wanted to become an all round bowler I had to apply myself on foreign conditions. We didn’t have structured a domestic season then, just Ranji and Deodhar. The bowlers in the national setup would play abroad to hone these skills.”
International domestic cricket experience
Sunil believes that good performances in foreign conditions earned him a place in the 1983 squad. He added,”I feel it’s very important to know the line and length of all conditions and that could only be done if I played abroad.” Such prolific success in domestic tournaments across the world didn’t guarantee him a World Cup slot. The presence of bowlers such as Kapil Dev and Mohinder Amarnath, also at the peak of their form made it exceedingly difficult for permanent place in the team.
He said, “I still remember I was in England only when I got a call from Kirti Azad telling me that my place was confirmed. I was ecstatic and was looking forward to bowl on some of the grounds as AI knew them well.”
During one of the warm-up matches against New Zealand, Sunil cleaned up both their openers John Wright and Bruce Edgar with spectacular deliveries, yet he didn’t get a call-up He added, “I’m not disappointed at all that I missed out, I still remember Zimbabwe Captain Ali Shah saying India is the easiest team to beat at the World Cup. Hence being a part of that team makes me feel honoured.”
Having scored only 375 runs with the bat in his 11-year domestic career, Sunil was not fond of batting. He said, “I used to bowl for almost 8 hours a day, so I made my priorities clear early. I was never in the team for my batting, nor was I interested. But, I did hit a few fifties during my school days.”
Sunil would end his professional career in 1987, by ending the Ranji season as the highest wicket-taker for Railways. A prolific career, which saw him participate amongst the crème de la crème of Indian cricket.
From cricketer to administrator: The Delhi Daredevils role
During his entire career, he played for three teams in Delhi, Tamil Nadu and Railways. Even during his domestic years, he easily landed a job with Steel Authority of India. Nowadays, it’s much more difficult for junior cricketers to get jobs. He added, “For me it was very difficult financially during the University level. Plus, there is no monetary backing in junior cricket. Hence, Delhi Daredevils is organising camps across the state to financially assist young cricketers.”
During that time, cricket in North India was booming. The likes of Kapil Dev were a part of these college squads, highlight the depth of talent prevalent.
Now with Indian Premier League (IPL) outfit Delhi Daredevils, Sunil is pioneering grassroot level camps across the city. He said, “Delhi is now heavily focussing on its structure, so that we can churn out top level players, this will help us grow our talent pool as well. When I was young there were tournaments like the Vizzy Trophy, which would get you jobs. But that is not the case anymore.”
To many, Sunil not playing for India is one of the most tragic moments in Indian cricket history. That being said, he didn’t let that fact deter him from transitioning into one of the top private sports administrators in the country.