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'It doesn't matter I didn't play...'
Sunil Valson directs the question back at you: "So, how was it to watch India win?" When you tell him that you missed India's batting because of one of Kolkata's infamous power cuts, he laughs. Sunil Valson, often, if unfairly, labelled as the least feted hero of India's 1983 World Cup triumph, knows the feeling - of not being a participant. He was watching, though.
Three decades later, the 52-year-old re-tells his story. "The last time the 1983 team met to celebrate the 25 years of our victory, you know, it felt just like yesterday. It was like that evening after the stupendous win over Zimbabwe, when we went out for dinner, " he says.
"I was there in England playing league cricket for Seaham Park, a club in Durham, " says the former left-arm medium fast who turned out for Railways in the Ranji Trophy. "My agent called me up to break the news that I had been selected for the Indian squad. Kirti's (Azad) call came a while later. I was on top of the world. "
Later, the rest of the Indian team returned from their series in West Indies where they had just beaten the two-time world champions in a Onedayer. "Times were different. There was no pressure on us. We lost one of the warm-up games and there was some criticism. But that was it. "
"India was not even considered as one of the contenders. Even Ali Shah (Zimbabwe's opening batsman) had said, 'We are the favourites. '"
But India started with a bang. "In the opening game, we put up 262 riding on Yashpal Sharma's 89 against the attack of Marshall, Holding, Roberts and Garner. We shocked Lloyd's champions. "Everybody considered it to be an upset victory. And honestly, we were only targeting a place in the last four. "
But Valson remembers how the West Indies thrashed India in their next meeting. "Well, they were truly the champions. Viv Richards scored a fabulous century. " India won four of the six group matches to make the semifinals. "Of course that Zimbabwe game was the turnaround one. We were five down for 17 when Kapil walked in. "
He adds, "When I think of it now, I feel how great were the contributions from Syed Kirmani (24*), Roger Binny (22) and young Ravi Shastri (22) Don't go by the runs, their support to Kapil can't be evaluated by the number of runs they scored. "
Till the semifinals, Valson recalls, there was no talk of pressure. "I don't even remember Kapil mentioning stress during the team meetings. " Then something interesting happened. "Before the semifinals, there was a discussion on BBC featuring Ted Dexter, Brian Close and Ray Illingworth. They had gathered to analyse the semifinal games (India vs England and West Indies vs Pakistan). However, they actually talked about how England will match up with the Windies in the final. There was hardly any mention of us. It was as if, India has had a good run and it was over. " Valson happened to watch the show and "later related it to the team. " It was just a day before the semifinal. The message was loud and clear. India was still carrying the also-ran tag.
Did everything change after June 25, 1983? "Yes it did, " agrees Valson, "Not only did cricket evolve but also the tectonic shift from England to India started after the Class of '83 showed that they have mastered the format. " After the semifinal win over England, Valson remembers, the Indian team trooping towards the team bus. "The BBC experts, Brian Close and Ray Illingworth spotted us and fled, almost running towards their car in the parking lot.
During this entire adventure, Valson observes, there was hardly any critical appreciation of the captain's role. "Our team was full of experienced professionals. Kapil did not need to tell anyone what was to be done. They were all seasoned cricketers who did their best as the situation demanded. We never had a huge support staff like today's teams. It was the captain who was solely responsible and once in a while the senior players chipped in. And when the going got tough, the captain showed his mettle. The innings against Zimbabwe or the catch of Viv Richards in the final, Kapil was there, leading from the front. "
So what did the win mean to India as a cricketing nation? "It was the third edition of the World Cup and before the powerhouses like Australia or England could touch the title, unheralded India did it. "Never after June 1983, has India been considered as also-rans. Though our Cup record is not really enviable, still we go into each tournament as contenders. That's its biggest impact."
Subsequently, as the game grew big with the corporates joining the bandwagon and the people's involvement increased manifold, retrospection is logical. The compass points towards that June of 1983. "There may not be any more such summers in Indian cricket. As for myself, I was one among the fortunate 14. It does not matter that I may not have got to play a single game, I did share the dream. I still do. "
Valson hopes that another class will carry out their dream once more. "Looking forward to that day, my friend, " the big man laughs his booming laugh.
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