Kapil Dev with 1983 World Cup trophy (left); Bangladesh celebrate victory over India in 2007 (right)
Kapil Dev with 1983 World Cup trophy (left); Bangladesh celebrate victory over India in 2007 (right)

India go into World Cup 2019 as one of the favourites. While they are top heavy in the batting, Virat Kohli possesses arguably the most potent bowling outfit of all participating nations. Over the years, India have tasted both agony and ecstasy at cricket’s premier tournament.

As India aim for glory at the 2019 edition, Renin Wilben looks back at the Men in Blue’s fascinating journey at the World Cup over the years.

Kapil Dev with 1983 World Cup. Pic: @ICC/ Twitter
Kapil Dev with 1983 World Cup. Pic: @ICC/ Twitter

Clueless in ’75-’79 to Champions in 1983: On expected lines India were a big flop in the 1975 edition as they had only just begun playing one-day cricket. In fact the one memory that Indians have of the World Cup is not a memorable one – Sunil Gavaskar’s snail-paced 36 runs off 174 balls. They did manage a victory, but it was against minnows East Africa. Things were worse at the 1979 edition as they lost all three matches, including the one against Sri Lanka, which they were expected to win. India finished last in their group.

When India arrived in 1983 for their third World Cup, under the young Kapil Dev, mostly players were happy to come on an extended vacation. They however stunned the West Indies in their opening encounter by 34 runs. It was seen as a minor aberration for the mighty Windies though who came back to defeat India by 66 runs.

It all changed in the match against Zimbabwe when India were down in the dumps at 17 for 5. A loss would have knocked India out of the tournament. However, in came Kapil Dev and blazed his way to a mesmerising 175 not out. India went on to win the match and from thereon, they were a completely different outfit. They overcame Aussies by a whopping 118 runs to make the semis.

In the semi-finals, India were up against the favoured England. But fifties from Yashpal Sharma and Sandeep Patil and a match-winning all-round effort from Mohinder Amarnath saw them make their first World Cup final. The West Indies were favourites to win, especially after India crumbled to 183. However, India had nothing to lose and Kapil Dev’s spectacular running catch off Madan Lal to dismiss Viv Richards turned the match around. Lal and Amarnath claimed three scalps each as India knocked over West Indies for 140 and became World Champions.

90s of massive disappointments: After failing to defend their title at home, being swept out in the semis in 1987 by Graham Gooch, India entered the 90s with renewed hope and a rising star in Sachin Tendulkar. However, they could never quite make it far enough in the three World Cups played in this decade. India were poor travellers back then and so weren’t expected to do too well in Australia-New Zealand in 1992. That was the case as India managed just two wins in eight matches, including the memorable victory over eventual champions Pakistan.

1996 was one big lost opportunity for India. They controversially decided to field first after winning the toss against Sri Lanka at Eden Gardens in the semis, on what turned out to be a minefield for batsmen in the second half. The image of a stranded Vinod Kambli crying as the match was awarded to Sri Lanka due to crowd trouble was symptomatic of the mood in the country. In 1999, apart from the thrashing of Sri Lanka, India just didn’t seem in it. A poor effort against Australia in the Super Six stage eventually meant they could not qualify further.

Bangladesh celebrate victory over India in 2007 World Cup. Pic: @ICC/ Twitter
Bangladesh celebrate victory over India in 2007 World Cup. Pic: @ICC/ Twitter

(2003-2007) A Forgettable final and a shock upset: India made it to the 2003 final on the back of some fantastic performances by their key players in the tournament. Sachin Tendulkar’s 98 against Pakistan at Centurion was the most memorable of all while Ashish Nehra also made a mark with a brilliant display of 6 for 23 against England at Durban. However, in the final at Johannesburg, they were completely bulldozed by Ricky Ponting’s 140. And, after Tendulkar fell cheaply there was no way back although Virender Sehwag battled hard for his 82.

2007 was the year Indian fans would like to forget as far as the World Cup is concerned. They began their campaign in the most disastrous fashion, losing to Bangladesh at Port of Spain after putting up a terrible batting display. The loss led to massive outburst back home among Indian fans. Another loss to Sri Lanka meant they were dumped out of the tournament much earlier than expected. A team comprising of Tendulkar, Sehwag, Ganguly, skipper Dravid, Dhoni, Harbhajan and Kumble faltered in the most unexpected fashion.

Yuvraj Singh. Pic: Twitter
Yuvraj Singh. Pic: Twitter

Yuvi’s home run: 2011 was the year India recaptured the World Cup crown after 28 years. Yuvraj Singh was the standout performer for India. With 362 runs at an average of 90, with one hundred and four fifties to go with 15 wickets, Yuvraj was the difference between India at the other teams. His performance became all the more incredible after it was learnt that the all-rounder played the tournament while battling cancer. Gautam Gambhir came up with unarguably his most important ODI knock in the final, making 97 to soak up the pressure. And the image of MS Dhoni lofting Nuwan Kulasekara for a mighty six in the grand final at Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai is one for the ages.

Despite an impressive run in 2015, India could not defend their title as Australia proved too good for them at home. Whether they lay their hands on a third World Cup, and a second one in England, we will know soon.