India's emphatic victory in the just-concluded Test series was greeted with a flurry of congratulatory messages to the captain and the team that did the nation proud. Virat Kohli did not attempt to hide his emotions saying that this was his proudest moment in his 10 years in international cricket. But what stunned the cricket lovers in the country was the statement of Ravi Shastri, the coach, hailing the win greater than the World Cup victory of 1983 and triumph in the World Championship of Cricket in 1985. This opened a debate on the subject with one prominent contemporary cricket writer terming the statement of the coach as an "outrageous piece of grandstanding, even by his standards!"
Outrageous it might have been, but Shastri’s claim brought forth a debate on which is India’s greatest victory on cricket field. As a person who fell in love with this beautiful game during the 1970s and sustains this passion till date, I can pick out the various instances where triumphs by the national side brought immense joy to an average cricket fan in the country. They are, in chronological order, as follows:
1. Defeating the West Indies and England in Tests in away series in 1971
2. Winning the World Cup in 1983
3. Winning the World Championship of Cricket in 1985
4. Defeating Pakistan in an away Test series in 2004
5. Winning the ICC World Cup in 2011
6. Winning an away Test series against Australia in 2018-19
Though India registered the first victory on overseas soil in a Test series in New Zealand in 1968, the wins recorded over the West Indies and England in 1971 carried a sweeter flavour as these sides were considered to be stronger. Further, the West Indies were led by Gary Sobers, arguably the greatest all-rounder that game has seen, while England, under Ray Illingworth, had won a tightly-fought Ashes series against Australia. Experts did not give India much of a chance in either series, but the Ajit Wadekar side surprised the cricketing world by winning both the encounters with an identical 1-0 margin.
The victory in the West Indies was scripted by the stupendous batting performances of debutant Sunil Gavaskar and veteran Dilip Sardesai while it was B S Chandrasekhar’s dream spell in the fourth afternoon of the last Test against England that clinched the win for India.
Looking back, the significance of these twin triumphs was that it showed that India could aspire to win Test series abroad. Till then, Indian players would showcase their individual brilliance but would stop short of playing as a team with the intention of winning matches. But these back to back victories proved that the national side was capable of playing as a unit that could take on the best, in their backyard. These wins also became a sort of benchmark as the fans of the game started expecting success every time the national side left the shores of the country for a Test series.
If the victories in 1971 was a pleasant surprise, cricketing world was flabbergasted when “Kapil’s Devils” swept all opposition to lift the Prudential World Cup in 1983. India started the tournament as a bunch of no-hopers, having won only one match in their eight outings in the two previous editions of the championship. However, once the tournament started, they played like a champion side, with the bowlers making full use of the conditions and batsmen rising to the occasion. The manner in which India took on a near invincible West Indies side on a pitch with plenty of grass at Lord’s on June 25 and successfully defended a low total of 183 has become the stuff of legends and still brings goosebumps to all those fortunate enough to have watched the match.
One can say with conviction that winning the 1983 World Cup was the defining moment for Indian cricket. For the first time ever, India had become world champions and this acted as a huge boost to the confidence and morale of succeeding generations of cricketers. This victory, which was telecast alive, also led to sudden increase in the popularity of the game and soon cricket became the first sport of choice for boys even in small towns. Players like Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Virender Sehwag, Praveen Kumar etc are products of this cricket revolution that spread across the country in the aftermath of the momentous victory. These cricketers, who had seen India being world champions during their formative years, played with the firm conviction that they were as good, if not better, than their opponents. This chutzpah, combined with their guts and street-smartness saw them take on opposing sides without blinking an eye. It was the change in attitude and approach that these cricketers brought about that saw India climb the ladder in international rankings from the turn of this century.
This victory gave the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) the confidence to host the next edition of the World Cup, along with Pakistan in 1987. With the benefit of hindsight, one can say that this was the first step in the journey that saw the BCCI emerge as the most powerful body in international cricket administration in another decade.
Dream run in WCC
The victory in the 1985 World Championship of Cricket was, in many ways, a continuation of the triumph of 1983. India were helped, to some extent, by the fact that they did not have to play the West Indies in the tournament. The fact that this win came in a season that saw the national side perform poorly at home gave an extra sheen.
The tour of Pakistan in 2004, which involved playing One Day Internationals and Tests was planned at short notice by the BCCI. India had never won even one Test match in Pakistan during the nearly five decades since the first tour to that country in 1954. Poor performance of side during the tour of Pakistan proved to be the Waterloo for Indian captains such as Vinoo Mankad, Bishan Singh Bedi and Sunil Gavaskar. Further, very few sides can claim credit for besting Pakistan in their own den. However, Saurav Ganguly-led India played to their potential to win both the limited overs (3-2) as well as Test series (2-1) in a convincing manner.
The Men in Blue were the favourites to win the 2011 ICC World Cup, which was hosted jointly by India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. The BCCI’s organisation of the event was flawless and the team also played their part to perfection, winning the trophy in style, defeating a doughty Sri Lankan side in the final. En route to the final, India also got the better of Pakistan and Australia but the icing on the cake was the convincing victory in the final, which skipper Dhoni sealed with a sixer, that sailed into the stands.
The victory over Australia in the recently-concluded Test series is the first one recorded by any Asian side Down Under. For India, this win comes at the end of a year where the side tested their wares against South Africa and England in their backyard and returned defeated but not diminished. The progress that the side had made during the last 12 months was evident in the manner they played during the last two Tests where the hosts were outplayed. The reactions of Kohli and Shastri had more to do with the satisfaction over the manner in which they team rallied together during the difficult times and emerged triumphant defying heavy odds.
To this writer, the victory in 1983 World Cup would rank as the greatest victory till date as that event changed the face of Indian cricket forever, transforming the image of the side from that of perennial losers to a champion side. The wins in 1971 would rank as second, and the best in the category of Test matches, as that gave cricket lovers in the country reason to expect victories rather than hope for them. The triumph in the 2011 World Cup would come next as it showed the spirit of a newly resurgent India, with national side composed of players from all parts of the country, to take up challenges and emerge successful. The other successes would only rank after these three epochal triumphs, each of which altered the course of the game in the country.
To conclude, I would rank the victories in the following order:
1. 1983 World Cup win
2. Victories over the West India and England in 1971
3. 2011 ICC World Cup triumph
4. Victory over Pakistan in 2004
5. Defeating Australia in 2018-19
6. Success in the World Championship Cricket in 1985
(The author is a former international umpire and a senior bureaucrat)