Kapil’s Devils over Dhoni’s Gods


“NO ONE remembers the second man to step on the moon.”

Professor Virus’ advice for a bunch of engineering freshers including Rancho (Aamir Khan) in Rajkumar Hirani’s 3 Idiots possibly doesn’t apply to the Indian cricket team.

But history will always remember Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s Team India as the second on the World Cup cricket moon. Here’s why.

From the perspective of an Android-armed generation, 1983 was quite primitive. Owning a black-and-white TV then made you feel like a millionaire. And possessing a colour TV guaranteed an income tax raid.

CTVs had debuted in the Indian market the year before thanks to the Asian Games. The countable few who could afford them seldom saw their programmes in colour –Doordarshan, the lone channel, aired almost everything in BW.

The Prudential Cup final from Lord’s was telecast in colour on 25 June 1983. The Chopras were the only neighbour in Gauhati Club – the locality where we stayed in a rented house – with a CTV. But there was something wrong with the antenna; its direction had to be changed to bring the colours back on, albeit temporarily.

In those days of economic non-liberalization, ODIs in England gave Indians the feel of day-night matches. A 60-over match in the Queen’s realm would start around 3pm and end by 11 pm, an acceptable hour-and-a-half after dinner time.

Watching Kapil Dev Nikhanj’s boys take on Clive Lloyd’s titans was fraught with risk. It could mean waking up too late for a crucial high school-leaving exam the following morning.

Mother knew reining in a 15-year-old with his mind in Lord’s was futile. But she let me go only after I did a quick scan of my textbooks and notes.

The ninth Indian wicket – that of Madan Lal – fell the moment I stepped into the Chopras’ living room. Half a dozen people vamoosed after Syed Kirmani got out setting West Indies an easily gettable target of 184 runs. Four more went home when Viv Richards began toying with the Indian bowling. Chopra senior went to sleep too.

That left only 11 cricket crazies – and a 12th man (the Chopras’ Man Friday who fetched us the odd glass of water) – in the room watching, not without a tinge of sadness, the Richards mayhem. An extraordinary catch brought us back into the televised match.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made me miss the Sri Lankan inning in the World Cup final on 2 April 2011; there was no way I could dodge reporting his Assam assembly election campaign for the Congress that day.

The jinx returned after 28 years. I did to Sachin Tendulkar what I had done to Madan Lal then; the Master Blaster edged a Lasith Malinga delivery to Kumar Sangakkara the moment I switched on the TV.

But, as they say, all’s well that ends well.

As Dhoni held aloft the World Cup, a mustachioed man with a toothy grin seemed to nudge him out of the frame. And say: “Hi, I’m Neil Armstrong. But you can call me Kapil Dev.”

The more I watched Dhoni’s Devas (Gods) celebrate, the more I felt they were behind Kapil’s Devils on the moon. And this is not because the number of participating countries increased to just 14 from eight in almost three decades.

The 2011 team, you might argue, endured much more pressure than the 1983 non-entities turned underdogs turned champions. But, you can’t disagree, 2011 happened because of 1983.

Prior to 1983, cricket wasn’t India’s religion. The Indian performance in the 1975 and 1979 editions of the World Cup was as good as Canada’s, and no one expected Kapil’s team to be any better.

But Kapil XI inadvertently ended up teaching the world a few tricks to be ODI champs. Such as going slam-bam Krishnamachari Srikkanth style in the opening overs, playing with bits-and-pieces men and bowling wicket-to-wicket to cut down the flow of runs.

Unlike Dhoni’s, Kapil’s team had no coach, no back-up staff including physiotherapists and psychoanalysts. There was no god among the Devils either.

And the thought that a bookie might appear in the players’ dressing room or dictate a victory or loss never lurked in 1983.

The two captains 28 years apart had a few things in common though – their talent, josh and migrant status. If Partition of India forced Kapil’s father Ram Lal Nikhanj to migrate from Kahuta village (Pakistan) to Chandigarh, job made MSD’s father Pan Singh move from village Lvali in Uttaranchal to Ranchi.

Dhoni XI’s victory has been sweet, but Kapil XI’s was sweeter. Because it changed the way India viewed cricket. And because it divided Indian cricket into two eras – pre-1983 and post-1983.

This era will remain post-1983 despite Dhoni’s Devas. It won’t change even if there’s a third on the moon. And a fourth…

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About rahconteur

A mid-career journalist who's worked horizontally across India - from Arunachal Pradesh to Gujarat
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