In a recent social media activity revolving around the World Championship of Cricket (WCC) played in Australia in 1985, coach Ravi Shastri claimed the Indian team which won that tournament would give the current one under Virat Kohli a “run for its money”.
Shastri is often chided for being bombastic, but in this case it would be imprudent to be dismissive. The 1985 team was quite superb: great depth of talent and excellent mix of experience and youth contributing o a scintillating triumphs.
Shastri himself played a major role in that wonderful victory, as opening batsman and slow left-arm bowler, and was crowned ‘Champion of Champions’. It was an accolade that made him a superstar back home almost overnight.
For the majority of Indians, the WCC was a dazzling spectacle that kept them hooked to the idiot box right through, thanks in large measure to Channel 9's superb coverage. With India performing brilliantly, it became a double treat to relish for cricket buffs. India’s opponents in the final were Pakistan. Having outclassed the arch opponents in the league stage, India were to register an even more emphatic win in the final with almost every player making an important contribution.
When the match ended and presentations were done, Shastri sat at the wheel of the Audi he had won for being named Champion of Champions, all other members somehow got into the car too, and the Indian team went for a spin of the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
It’s an image that remains etched in the minds of everyone who saw that match. In one sense, it capped a fantastic win in the tournament. In a wider context, it showed that India’s victory in the 1983 World Cup was not just a fluke.
This was India’s third major title in three years, beginning with the unexpected victory in the 1983 World Cup. Sandwiched in between was the Asia Cup victory in Sharjah in 1984. Then, after winning the World Championship of Cricket Down Under, India were in Sharjah for the Rothmans Cup where they outplayed Pakistan again, this time in a memorable final. Devastating bowling by Imran Khan bundled India out for a paltry 125. The match looked all but lost. But what transpired subsequently was sensational, almost surreal. Bowling superbly, India defended the modest score with tigerish ferocity to bowl Pakistan out for 87.
This made it four titles in less than three years, which was spectacular when you consider how poorly India was rated till the early 1980s. In fact, before the 1983 World Cup, India were pooh-poohed as the ‘dull dogs’ of international cricket.
Though demeaning, such definition nevertheless spotlighted India’s lack of prowess in one-day cricket. In the 1975 and 1979 World Cups, for instance, India won only one match, and that against minnows East Africa (1979).
Slow to adjust to the demands of instant cricket, India’s stock in the sport boomed after the 1983 win. Four titles in three different parts of the world could hardly be considered coincidence or divine benevolence. If anything, it showed versatility, confidence and ambition. In fact, India won the Asia Cup in Sharjah without the services of ace all-rounder and 1983 World Cup hero Kapil Dev who had to undergo a knee surgery. His absence didn’t prove to be a handicap as the others stepped up.
Incidentally, the Indian squad didn’t see too many changes in this period. From the 1983 World Cup side, the major omissions subsequently were Sandeep Patil, Kirti Azad and Syed Kirmani. The core team remained the same, and some exciting new faces were introduced.
Azharuddin, Sivaramakrishnan, and Sadanand Vishwanath (Chetan Sharma had also arrived, but played very few games) were important factors in India’s wins in the World Championship of Cricket and the Rothmans Cup. Apart from high skills, they provided energy and chutzpah.
The World Championship of Cricket assumes great significance in this period for two reasons. The pressure on the team to deliver was enormous. The 1983 World Cup win was totally unanticipated. Having tasted blood, Indian fans wouldn’t settle for less.
More importantly, this tournament featured all the premier teams in the world. India clinched the trophy without losing a single match. Seeing the scorecards of matches now, you realise the enormity of the achievement considering the strength of rival teams.
Interestingly, the captaincy in this period went back and forth between Kapil Dev (1983 WC, Rothmans Cup) and Sunil Gavaskar (Asia Cup and WCC). Even if this caused tension in the dressing room, it did not have any deleterious effect on team performances.
This highlights the quality of players, composition and balance of the team, not to overlook an aggressive and ambitious mindset without which winning is impossible.
To return then to the crux question: How would the 1985 team square off against Team India today?
Impossible to determine conclusively, of course, but even at the risk of being accused of wallowing in nostalgia, I’d concur with Shastri: Kohli & Co will get a run for its money!
The writer is a senior journalist who has been writing on the sport for over 40 years.