Thursday, December 14, 2006

Rocky I and wait for the summit

1983 was the year the golden goose of Indian cricket hatched, commercially at least! In cricketing terms it was India’s finest hour in one-day cricket and since it came most unexpectedly, it was spectacular.

The precursor to the World Cup was nothing special, infact it was quite demoralising. India had taken a battering in the previous season at the hands of Pakistan first and the West Indies then. The captaincy had changed hands and Kapil Dev would have the honour of leading India to the World Cup.

The build up was very low key. India still did not consider one-day cricket very seriously. Albeit their results did not help matters to that end either! So in these circumstances India went to the World Cup with no hope and no expectations.

What happened that June has been chronicled in every conceivable media and the effects of that campaign had such a far reaching impact that we feel them even now, almost a quarter century later.

The Prudential World Cup thankfully was held during our summer vacations and when the World Cup began our first match was against the invincible West Indies. I remember catching the match on BBC and surprisingly India held the upper hand when the match ended on the 1st day unfinished. Though Garner and Roberts gave us the jitters next day India came up triumphs and every body slowly were awake to the possibilities. Still it was perhaps a flash in the pan I and my other friends thought. Kapil’s inspiring captaincy was being talked about. Then when India beat Zimbabwe we were getting serious. Matters got complicated when Zimbabwe astonishingly upset Australia in their group match and it looked India had a chance to make it to the semis. At this point Gavaskar who had had a poor run in the 2 matches was dropped for the next 2 matches against Australia and the return match against West Indies and India lost both. Gavaskar duly returned against the famous Zimbabwe match only to make a ‘duck’ and only Kapil’s ‘that’ famous 175 got India home and inspired the imagination of fans. Indeed for the first time my focus was more on India than on Gavaskar, probably it was because this was one-day cricket and I too did not take it too seriously! The last match against Australia was won and an un-fancied India met England in the semis. By this time Doordarshan decided to telecast India’s matches and this excited me and my friends as it did the whole nation. So by the time the semi-final started we all were in grip of World Cup fever. India held England for a reasonable total and in reply, Gavaskar played his most significant knock in this WC edition giving a 50 odd run opening partnership with Srikkanth. India coasted and unbelievably we were preparing for a final showdown with West Indies again.

25th June was not an ordinary day. It rained in Bhopal and by the time the match began I had no nails left. India batted first and we watched live the havoc that the West Indian pace battery could create. Garner and Roberts made Gavaskar hop and it was difficult for him to put bat to ball. He had never liked Lord’s and Lord’s did not like him either! He was soon gone for 1 and a miserable world cup campaign for him had ended. India fell apart for 183 the only memory was that squatted-flat-batted square drive of Srikkant of the bowling of Marshall. At lunch, it looked all over. In the span of the next 3 hours hours lives would be turning upside-down or vice-versa depending on who you were supporting. Sandhu’s claim to fame happened first and then came out King Viv for a walk in the park. At this moment the live telecast was suspended for News and we cursed. Bring on the radio and then there was a the din we could only hear that Kapil had taken a catch. Just then the telecast came back and we watched that now famous catch of Kapil Dev to dismiss Richards. Perhaps the great man had underestimated Madan Lal to be a mere club bowler. Slowly, but surely India kept on making inroads and the might of West Indian batting lineup kept disintegrating. For a brief while the Dujon and Marshall partnership was giving us the jitters and just as when we thought the match was slipping away Mohinder struck with an extraordinary dismissal of Dujon. Lady luck was on our side! And our joys knew no bounds when finally the son of Lala finally nailed Holding. The sprint of all the Indian players to the dressing room with the crowd behind still remains etched in my memory. Champagnes were being opened at Lord’s and in my friend’s home in Bhopal. Since me and my friend were still not adults we uncorked H2O bottles!

Indian cricket, especially one-day cricket will never be the same sorry state again. ‘Rocky I’ (the term coined by Sunil Gavaskar taking a pot shot at the India baiters) had been a roaring script at the turnstiles! Even today when I watch the video of that Final I get goose-bumps.

The euphoria lasted a long while and then in September it was down to business as usual with Pakistan touring India and the focus shifted back to the magic figure ‘29’. Now thanks to India’s success at the World Cup, cricket was becoming bigger in the media too and the cash was beginning to pour in and live telecast of matches on Doordarshan were going to be a permanent feature from here on.

Pakistan was going to be led by Zaheer Abbas as Imran was injured and the bowling line-up was made of rooky pacemen like Azeem Hafeez, Tahir Naqqash and the recalled veteran spinner Mohammad Nazir.

India won the series opener which was the 1st ODI where Gavaskar got into some form before getting out, but the eagerly awaited stage was to follow.

The 1st test match was going to be in Bangalore and though I was over the moon with India’s glorious World Cup campaign I was worried that Gavaskar was no where near his best form. I prayed he would come into his own in this vital season ahead and get over and done with the record. All of Gavaskar fans which were probably as much in number as India fans were all agog at this possibility.
Now this test was going to start mid-week and I was a little frustrated at the prospect of missing out on the telecast being beamed live across the nation. I did the next best thing, carrying the transistor to school, where I heard that the test was going to start late due to bad weather. The match began just about the time when I got home and there it was Gavaskar batting in front of me. It was clear that he was still trying to find form and when India ended the day he was still there. On the next day which was again rain-marred he got out in the 40s. Rain was the spoilsport till late in the 5th day when I came back from school. The match was going to be a draw but I was delighted that since Gavaskar was still in his 40s he could get some batting practice. But, suddenly he picked up tempo and started getting his trademark flicks and drives going. The master was getting back into form. Could he get his 28th today, I thought. Then suddenly we saw Zaheer having an animated discussion with the umpires and taking his team off, he could have forfeited the match if he had done so 23 years before Oval 2006 happened! Anyway better sense prevailed, and the Pakistani players returned and Gavaskar duly completed his ton. It was a relief, I thought since he had begun the season on a positive note. This must augur well for the rest of the season.

The 2nd test was to be played at a new venue at Jalandhar and fortunately it was to begin on a holiday and I was toying with the possibility of the 29th already. What a bore the test was. Firstly, Kapil winning the toss, put Pakistan in which robbed me of watching Gavaskar. Then when India batted the next day, Gavaskar with his new accompaniment, the fiber-glass ‘skull-cap’ opened with a spanking square drive of Naqqash, but in the next over he was gone bowled by Hafeez. After that it was a slow grind and the only things I remember of the test match was the ‘runathon’ of Gaekwad and a spat on the TV between the expert Lala Amarnath and Kapil Dev the captain, the former admonishing the skipper for carrying on with the drudgery of the slow batting and finally watching Gavaskar bowling an over in Abdul Qadir style!! Duly the test ended in a draw.

We finally came to the last test at Nagpur and I was hoping that SMG would touch “base-camp” here since he missed out in the previous one. It was again rain-marred and the first day beginning after tea when I just got back from school (in a way it got lucky for me for not having missed action on any of the first days of the test matches!!). The master was back in his groove batting splendidly and was almost nearing 50 at the end. The next morning, just as in the first test, he went early after completing the half-century. India did not get a huge score and Pakistan got a handy lead. When India batted the second time, it was luckily the weekend and I got to see Gavaskar again and there he was playing a fine innings and luckily got to 50 that evening. I prayed hard that night, thinking over and over how the celebrations are going to be. Surely, this time he will not let it get past him. But listening to the match the next day is school I couldn’t concentrate on anything else. He slowly inched into his 60s, the track was already turning and Nazir Junior was spinning it square. I concentrated as hard as the little master must have on the crease. Just then, my mind went numb, Gavaskar gone caught at short-leg. My dream had vanished in thin air. The series was over for him and to top it India almost gave us jitters before the tail saved the day comfortably.

A dull and dreary series marred as much by rain as by the kind of cricket we saw was a let down. The only bright spot was that Sunil Manohar Gavaskar was just one step away from the pinnacle, having rediscovered his form. Would he get to touch and then cross it against the might Windies quartet who were his bete-noir in the previous series six months back? I for one couldn’t wait for the contest to begin.

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