March 29, 2022: Indian cricket fans are all too familiar with the significance of the date June 25, 1983. Yes, that’s the day India notched up that sensational triumph against West Indies in the World Cup final at Lord’s. The date March 29 1983 will not ring a bell as loud as that of the glorious summer day in June but die-hard Indian cricket followers will always remember the importance of the date as it marked a turning point in Indian cricket history. Indeed, the March day was a precursor to the day in June as India defeated West Indies in an ODI at Berbice. It was a totally unexpected victory and as more than one member of that side told me later it gave them the much-needed confidence for the World Cup campaign. The general feeling was that “if we have done it once, we can do it again”.
It is relevant to be aware of the background to that remarkable victory. By early 1983 India had still a long way to go to achieve any sort of credentials in one-day cricket. Despite playing almost 40 ODIs in nearly a decade in India, England, New Zealand, Australia, West Indies and Pakistan, Indian teams had struggled to come to terms with the intricacies of the shorter version of the game then still in its infancy. Test cricket was still the in thing as far as Indian cricketers, spectators and fans were concerned.
Given their woeful record India were given little chance in the three ODIs to be played on the tour of the West Indies from February to May 1983. By the time of the second ODI at Berbice they were one down in the Test series and one down in the ODI contests as well having lost the first match at Port of Spain by 52 runs. The West Indies were then the undisputed No 1 team in the world. Having won the World Cup in 1975 and 1979 they had steamrolled their opponents in ODIs. Their team was held in awe and why not? With batsmen of the striking calibre of Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes, Vivian Richards, Clive Lloyd, Faoud Bacchus, Gus Logie, Larry Gomes and Jeff Dujon they had a line-up that could give any bowling line up bad dreams. And there were bad dreams for opposing batsmen too with the fearsome pace quintet of Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Malcolm Marshall, Joel Garner and Winston Davis to confront.
It was taken for granted that the West Indies would wrap up the series in Berbice and then go on to make it a clean sweep in the final match at Grenada. This feeling was strengthened when Lloyd won the toss and invited the Indians to bat on a pitch that could be exploited by his quartet of fast bowlers. But Holding and Roberts were harshly dealt with by Sunil Gavaskar. The Indian opening batsman had built his game over the past dozen years on his superb technique and monk-like concentration. He displayed his anathema for limited overs cricket in no uncertain terms and yet here he was hitting out at the fastest of bowlers and playing unorthodox strokes that were anything but straight from the textbook. He dominated the first wicket partnership of 93 runs with Ravi Shastri (30) reaching his half century off 52 deliveries.
Joined by the in-form Mohinder Amarnath, Gavaskar outscored his opponent during a second wicket stand of 59 and by the time he was run out at 152 he had scored 90 off 117 balls with eight hits to the ropes. It was a rather extraordinary performance given Gavaskar’s unimpressive record in ODIs.
Kapil Dev did the right thing in promoting himself. He and Amarnath gave the scoring rate a further impetus by adding 72 runs for the third wicket in quick time. Amarnath scored 30 off 34 deliveries with two boundary hits but he was put completely in the shade by the 24-year-old Indian captain. By this time the spinners were on and Kapil took a heavy toll off Gomes and Richards. Sixteen overs from the two saw them concede 108 runs even though Richards chipped in with the wicket of Amarnath. But Kapil continued undeterred slamming his way to 72 off just 38 balls with seven fours and three sixes. By the time he was fourth out at 246 India were on their way to a fighting total. Yashpal Sharma (23 off 26 balls) and Dilip Vengsarkar (18 from 19) maintained the momentum in the slog overs and India were able to post 282 for five off 47 overs. It was their highest score in ODIs and the highest by any team against West Indies and that in itself was reason to rejoice.
It was reckoned that even for the world champions a target of six an over would be tough going. The bowlers and fielders however would have to back the batsmen for as I said the West Indian line-up was quite awesome. But the pressures of chasing such a seemingly insurmountable target soon started to tell. Haynes was leg before to Balwinder Sandhu for two and Greenidge gave Kapil a return catch when 16.
Twenty-two for two was hardly the start the home team needed particularly in the face of a daunting ask. But Richards settled down without any difficulty and with Lloyd added 40 runs before the captain was caught by Amarnath off Madanlal for eight. Richards however seemed hell bent on trying to achieve the impossible and as long as he was at the crease the Indians knew they could not take anything for granted. But after hitting 64 off 51 balls with eleven fours and a six he was bowled by Madanlal. West Indies were now 98 for four and India were well on course towards a famous victory.
Bacchus and Gomes however kept the West Indies in the hunt with a fifth wicket partnership of 56 runs. But the dismissal of Gomes for 26 meant that West Indies at 154 for five were up against it. Jeff Dujon ever the fighter commenced a brilliant counter attack but when Bacchus was out for 52 off 65 balls it was obvious there could be only one result. West Indies were now 181 for six and Dujon had only the four fast bowlers for company. Refusing to accept the inevitable the plucky wicket keeper continued to play daring strokes but he could do little to prevent wickets falling at the other end. Marshall, Roberts and Holding all fell after token resistance and the last cheer for the West Indian camp was Dujon’s half century. He finished with 53 not out off 64 balls with three fours and a six but after 47 overs the West Indian score was 255 for nine.
The quartet of Kapil, Sandhu, Madanlal and Shastri backed up the batsmen admirably and the result against all expectations was a famous 27-run victory. It was India’s first win over West Indies and a breakthrough victory. Even today 39 years later the unforgettable events occupy a hallowed place in Indian cricket history especially against the backdrop of the World Cup triumph just three months later. Even though time has lengthened the gallery of notable wins the significance of Berbice, March 1983 will never fade away.
(Partab Ramchand is a veteran sports journalist, the views expressed here are personal.)