Ask any cricket fan to pick their choice of India’s greatest one day international (ODI) performance, and the answers will come thick and fast. And will vary. Many will point to the 1983 World Cup final, some younger ones would go for the 2011 World Cup victory, others will point out to the clinical demolition of the competition in the 1985 WCC, and a few will go for that amazing day when India defended 126 against Pakistan at Sharjah in 1985.
But perhaps the biggest win of them all came on this very date of the month almost 40 years ago. On March 29, 1983, India shocked the world champions, the world and perhaps even themselves.
David versus Goliath
The match was played at Berbice. India’s opponents were the mighty West Indies under Clive Lloyd – a team that was not just the holder of the World Cup but was indisputably the best ODI team not just at that time but perhaps of all time. India, on the other hand, had a very jittery ODI record – it had won only one match in the World Cup and while it had victories against England and Sri Lanka at home, the team was considered perhaps one of the worst among the Test playing nations, being above only Sri Lanka who had just joined the Test cricket fold.
Lloyd’s team was considered close to unbeatable and lost barely a handful of matches over the past few years. The batting line up comprised the likes of Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes, Vivian Richards and of course, Lloyd himself, while on the bowling front there was the fierce pace and accuracy of Malcom Marshall, Andy Roberts, Joel Garner and a still-maturing Malcom Marshall.
In comparison, India only had Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev as established world class performers. Of the famous spin quarter, only Srinivas Venkataraghavan remained. Gundappa Vishwanath’s career had ended recently and while Mohinder Amarnath had made an impressive comeback to the team in Pakistan, he was known to be inconsistent, as was Dilip Vengsarkar. India did have a few useful all rounders in its ranks like Ravi Shastri and Madan Lal, but all said and done, the team was on paper nowhere near the West Indies. Things were not made easier by the fact that Kapil Dev had just taken over as the captain of the team from Sunil Gavaskar, spurring talk of divisions and rivalries in the side. Yes, India had competed gallantly on the tour so far, but it was already 1-0 down in both the Test and ODI series.
When the two teams took the field on March 29, India was supposed to have as much chance against the West Indies juggernaut as a snowflake had of surviving in a furnace.
A Sunny start…
Clive Lloyd won the toss and invited India in to bat. India experimented with a new opening pair, Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri. No one expected the world from them, and the challenge was mainly to survive the opening burst from the super fast express delivery firm of Michael Holding and Andy Roberts. In the event, everyone was taken aback when the normally reserved Gavaskar launched into a fierce attack on the pace duo. The introduction of Marshall brought a semblance of sanity from his end, but runs continued to flow at the other. The man who was considered to have one of the most watertight techniques in world cricket suddenly was going for slashes and even the odd slog. Before they knew it, the West Indies were in a place where they had never been against India in an ODI – on the back foot.
Gavaskar raced to his 50 of a mere 52 deliveries and dominated an opening wicket stand of 93 with Shastri who got a relatively reserved 30. Shastri’s departure brought in Amarnath and he literally hit the ground running, ensuring India did not squander the early momentum. The pair of Gavaskar and Amarnath added 59 for the second wicket, before Gavaskar fell ten short of being the first Indian to score a century in ODIs – run out for 90 off a mere 117 balls (that was insanely fast in the days when bouncers were allowed and field restrictions were largely non-existent).
…capped off by Kapil
Spectators were surprised by the batsman who walked in to replace Gavaskar. Most were expecting Dilip Vengsakar to take the place of the Little Master, or maybe even Yahspal Sharma or Ashok Malhotra if a further acceleration was planned. Instead they were treated to the sight of the Indian captain, Kapil Dev, striding out to the middle, in a radical reshuffle of the middle order. Four years ago, Kapil had been promoted up the order four years ago by Venkataraghavan to chase a target against England at the Oval in 1979, coming ahead of Vishwanath and Yashpal Sharma. The young all-rounder had failed to bother the scorer, falling to a reckless stroke. This day was to be different.
For, if Gavaskar had seemed unusually fast in his run accumulation, Kapil Dev took the run rate to another level. The next hour or so saw the Indian captain unleash the kind of assault that had been rarely seen in a one day match. As it rained boundaries, even the normally unflappable Lloyd seemed a little disconcerted and kept his part timers, Gomes and Richards on for longer spells than usual. The Indians were not complaining. By the time Richards clean bowled Amarnath for 30, India were 224 for 3. Amarnath had scored just 30, but he had seen 131 runs added during his tenure at the crease. Seldom had a second fiddle been better played.
A fan embraces Kapil Dev during India’s historic win over West Indies, Berbice, 1983. pic.twitter.com/8ywwJoFx1P
— Rameshwar Singh (@RSingh6969a) December 16, 2020
Kapil meanwhile flayed and flashed and slogged and slammed like there was no tomorrow. He was finally bowled by Andy Roberts for an astonishing 72 off 38 deliveries, with seven fours and three sixes. Yashpal Sharma and Vengsarkar ensured that the momentum was not squandered. Even though the West Indies were unable to finish their quota of overs in time, India still closed at 282 for 5 in 47 overs. It was the highest score ever made against the West Indies in an ODI. The confusion which this batting display caused in the West Indies ranks can be gauged by the fact that the only bowler to have finished his quota of ten overs was part-timer Larry Gomes who went for 64 in his 10 overs. Richards went for 44 in his six. Meanwhile, none of Roberts, Marshall, Davis and Holding finished their quota of ten. Marshall in fact finished as the best bowler with 1-23 off seven!
King Viv threatens….
Which left the West Indies needing to set a new record to win. Scoring at slightly over six an over was a challenge even for a batting line up that had Greenidge, Haynes, Richards and Lloyd in it. And the world champions got off to a bad start, with India’s Balwinder Sandhu trapping Haynes leg before with not even double figures on the board. Kapil Dev, of whom the Windies must have been heartily sick of by this stage, now added some bowling salt to the batting wounds he had inflicted a few hours earlier when he dismissed Greenidge for 16. The scoreboard read 22-2, and a massive upset seemed on the cards.
Viv Richards had other ideas. Considered by many to be the best batsman in the world in any format of the game, he had spearheaded an insanely fast run chase in the first Test with an astonishing 61 off 36 deliveries, and seemed in the mood for a repeat performance. Cutting with customary arrogance and driving with brute force, he put the Indian bowling to the sword, threatening to win the match single-handedly. It was too good to last, however. Although he raced to a blistering 64 off a mere 51 deliveries, no one else seemed to stand with him. When Madan Lal clean bowled Richards, West Indies were scoring rapidly but were 94-4, Lloyd having fallen cheaply.
…but Shastri cuts it short!
Faoud Bacchus and Gomes then got together, and replaced Richard’s madness with some old fashioned method, with Gomes being surprisingly aggressive for a change (he even hit a six!). The pair batted steadily enough, putting away the odd bad delivery, and although the run rate kept climbing, there was a feeling that something might happen here – after all, this was the West Indies. What happened was a surprising spell of bowling by India’s bowling hero of the day.
Ravi Shastri had made his debut in 1981 as a bowler who could bat a bit. He had since been caught amid those two roles, to the extent that many wondered whether he was a bowler who could bat, or a batsman who could bowl. On this day, he did both. Having helped India get off to a good start, he now played a crucial rule in slamming shut the door that Gomes and Bacchus were trying to open. The West Indies fell from 154 to 4 to 192-7, with all three wickets – the dangerous Bacchus, Gomes and Marshall going to the young Indian left armer, who would be India’s most successful bowler with 3-48 off his eight overs.
Although Jeffrey Dujon refused to give up the ghost and struck out bravely and Roberts threatened briefly, it was never really on after that. The run rate kept going up, with Kapil Dev (2-33 off 10) and Sandhu (2-38 off 10) being particularly difficult to score off at the death. When the final delivery of the match was bowled, the West Indies were 255-9, with Dujon being unbeaten on a brilliant 53. India had won by 27 runs. It was the first time they had beaten the West Indies in an ODI. It remains one of the biggest ODI upsets in history.
A precursor to Lord’s, 1983?
The West Indies hit back in the matches that followed, winning the deciding ODI and also taking the Test series 2-0. But chinks had been shown in their armour that day in Berbice. India and West Indies would meet three times again in the 1983 World Cup, and this time India would win twice, most memorably in that final when they defended a mere 183. Interestingly, in that final too, an Indian opener top scored, Balwinder Sandhu got the first West Indies wicket in the chase, and Richards tried to single handedly blast his way to victory before being dismissed by…well, Madan Lal.
The West Indies who had never lost a match in the tournament, would never win a World Cup again. India who had never beaten a major side, would win two of them. No one could have seen it coming on the morning of March 29, 1983. But by the evening, as India’s players celebrated and Kapil Dev collected his man of the match award for a superb all round performance, the balance of one day cricket showed the first signs of shifting gently.
Which is why for all the titles and series that India has won in the shorter version of the game, that match at Berbice remains special. It showed the world that the West Indians could lose. And more importantly, that India could win!