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Wisden ex-editor says why he ate his words after ’83 win

Wednesday, 25 June 2008 - 3:12am IST
David Frith writes there was no malice in his words when he said India should withdraw from the World Cup since it could not adapt to one-day cricket

David Frith writes there was no malice in his words when he said India should withdraw from the World Cup since it could not adapt to one-day cricket

Well, that quarter century went fast.  Was it all of 25 years ago that India amazed everyone by winning the third World Cup? The memories are so vivid that it could have been last year.

There is a special reason for this.  In 1983, Indians were not pleased with me at all.  I had written in Wisden Cricket Monthly that unless India knuckled down to the one-day game it might be better if they withdrew from future World Cups: “If their pride is not important enough to spur them to wholehearted effort this time, they might as well give way to other would-be participants in 1987.”

There was no malice in this thought.  I have always been fond of India and Indian cricket.  It was, I suppose, sheer frustration that persuaded me to write those words.  India’s drab performances in the two previous World Cup tournaments (both in England) could have been seen as a defiant statement of belief that it was only Test cricket that really mattered.

That certainly seemed the most likely explanation for Sunil Gavaskar’s extraordinary innings of 36 not out in 60 overs against England at Lord’s on the opening day of the first World Cup in 1975.  India lost two qualifying matches and won against lowly East Africa.  In 1979 they lost all three qualifiers before going down 0-1 against England in the four Tests.  Any wonder, then, that people were concerned.

You know the outcome well enough: with Kapil Dev at the helm, India took the 1983 Cup tournament by storm.  A month after my editorial they beat West Indies and Zimbabwe before slipping up against Australia. The rising glow of satisfaction in this grieving editor’s heart then came close to extinction when India went down for a second time as West Indies took the Oval match. 

Then just as India seemed doomed again at Tunbridge Wells — five down for 17 against Zimbabwe — came the famous turning point.  Kapil Dev smashed a phenomenal 175 not out to lift India to 266 in their 60 overs, enough to secure ultimate victory by 31 runs.

They were not quite there yet.  They had to beat Australia at Chelmsford to reach the semi-finals.  And with a steady all-round performance this is what they managed to do.  My oh my, the World Cup weaklings were proving to be mighty mice.

When Kapil’s men beat England in the Old Trafford semi-final, people sat up and really began to wonder.  But that same day their opponents in the final became known too, and it was to be Clive Lloyd’s all-conquering West Indies combination, the side whose batsmen habitually smashed bowling to all corners and whose own fast bowlers smashed cheekbones and forearms with impunity, with no umpire brave enough to intervene.   

What possible hope could India now have?  Well, at least they had shown critics such as myself that they had it in them to fight through a World Cup campaign.

And in the final the outcome seemed all so inevitable when India, put in, managed only 183, falling short of their 60-over allocation. West Indies lost Greenidge early but were 50 for one and well on their way to a hat-trick of World Cups when Viv Richards disdainfully hooked Madan Lal high towards the Lord’s grandstand.  I can still picture Kapil Dev loping towards the descending ball and wrapping his fingers around the catch.

That shouldn’t have spelt the end for West Indies, of course. They were 50 for 2.  But the Indians kept plugging away, and the batting side’s embarrassment deepened. Now they were an amazing 76 for 6.  Dujon and Marshall fought back — until “Jimmy” Amarnath’s innocent dobblers winkled them both out.  The contest was sealed when Amarnath trapped Holding lbw with West Indies 44 runs short of their expected victory, and Lord’s was in joyous uproar.

It was one of those evenings you wanted never to end.  I went over to the hotel later, where the foyer was packed with people — mainly Indians of course — and the centre of attention was the captain himself.  Kapil Dev was dancing a banghra, and in due course I managed to get all the players to sign my programme.  I was a very contented man.

Contented, that is, until I received a letter from an Indian gentleman who was based in New Jersey, USA.  He had taken exception to my earlier harsh views (in the Cup preview) on India’s past performances.  India, he said, had taken time to adapt to one-day cricket, “an English invention”.  He had delighted in India’s “demolishing” of England in the recent semi-final.  And now he challenged me to swallow my “lousy paragraph”.

Whatever else I may be, I’ve always prided myself on being a sportsman, prepared to amend my views.  India’s ascent to these dizzy heights meant only one thing: I had to make a meal of that paragraph. 

So I sat in the press-box at Lord’s, with a glass of red wine at hand, and devoured the offending words, risking poisoning by newsprint but glad nonetheless to cleanse my soul.  I was actually genuinely delighted for India, and began to realise that probably my words had been penned in the hope that they would now take their task seriously. Why else would I have attempted to do a discreet banghra of my own in the hotel foyer? 

The pleasant tailpiece to all this came with a letter from my correspondent: he referred to me now as “a gentleman and a sportsman”.  He had not even expected his first letter to be published. He even apologised for the intemperate tone of some of his words, and invited me to join him for a drink if ever I was in New York. I still hope that day may come. A decent drink is hopelessly spoiled when mixed with printed paper.


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