A new Bollywood film, 83, tells the story of India’s historic victory at the 1983 cricket world cup. Sports journalist Ayaz Memon, who traveled to England to cover the tournament, recalls India’s heady journey to the glory of cricket.
Sometimes facts can be more compelling than fiction. India’s victory in the 1983 cricket World Cup, which remains one of the biggest upsets in the history of the sport, is a case in point. It was similar to Leicester City winning the Premier League title in 2016, but even this example falls short as the Premier League is not an international competition. In 1983, India was considered a lost cause in limited overs cricket.
For the most part, India’s performances ranged from bad to gruesome, exemplified by Sunil Gavaskar’s infamous against England in the inaugural tournament in 1975, when he scored just 36 runs in 60 overs without going out. I was still a relatively new cricket writer when I was assigned to cover the 1983 World Cup. It was a highly regarded question, to be sure, but I was also concerned about how much coverage would be possible.
Unsentimental bookies often know the pulse of experts and amateurs in these matters. The starting odds put India’s chances of winning the tournament at 66-1, and even that seemed charitable. Disdain for India’s outlook was evident in almost every quarter. I remember going to the Lord’s cricket ground just before the tournament to get my accreditation as a journalist, only to be told laconically by officials that this would only be awarded to the scribes .
India is unlikely to be there so I wouldn’t mind,” was the clear message. On the eve of the tournament, David Frith, who later edited Wisden Cricket Monthly, wrote that he would “eat his words” if India won the tournament. Less dramatically, but no less cynically, I decided to skip India’s first match against the defending champions. West Indies at Old Trafford in Manchester.
Instead, I chose to watch New Zealand play England at the Oval. It is a mistake that I regret to this day. India made a determined move to beat the West Indies and I learned my life’s lesson: As a professional journalist, take nothing for granted and stick to the task, however boring or predictable it may sound. From then on, I firmly held onto the roller coaster of the Indian tournament. The team went through ups and downs, overcame fitness concerns.