John McEnroe was running into trouble with Wimbledon officials for verbal abuse, the U.S. dollar was quoting at Rs. 10.12 and the British pound was Rs. 15.15, Ronald Reagan was writing to Indira Gandhi about “security concerns,” the only Tendulkar who was part of popular culture was Priya — the late TV actress — and Munuswamy, a rickshaw puller who couldn't tell Kapil Dev from McEnroe, was dancing on the Marina beach with a few inebriated young men who were bursting balloons.

You got back small change if you paid Rs. 12 for a bottle of beer, the air fare from Madras to Bangalore was Rs. 201, you didn't need a visa to travel to London, Mahendra Singh Dhoni was just getting into play school, television was still a luxury, and, yes, and the gap-toothed old Munuswamy was dancing with the boys on the beach.

Oh, forgive me, something's been left out, a tiny little detail of the time, of that day: India won the Prudential World Cup!

Etched in memory

Before the readers get ready to kill me, here is a confession: every little detail listed out above is etched in memory simply because of that stupendous victory which turned the cricketing world upside down. It was that kind of day, where-were-you-when-Kennedy-was-shot kind of day, where-were-you-when-the-WTC-towers-came-down kind of day, where-were-you-when-Ali-beat-Foreman kind of day.

Ah, what a wonderful day, and night, that was! June 25, 1983 — few days in the entire history of Indian sport can match that.

It was a great triumph for cricket itself on that day. In the larger picture, the Indian success was secondary. It was a triumph of faith, faith in the fact that everything great about the great game would be vindicated on the big stage, a triumph of faith in teamwork, a triumph of the age-old belief that David can always conquer Goliath with self-belief and commitment.

A few of us had gathered in a friend's place, hoping against hope that India would be able to defend a small total. “Get here in time. The match could be over quickly,” warned the friend.

When a batting line-up reads Greenidge, Haynes, Richards, Lloyd and Gomes, you hardly need to be warned. But, yes, many of us did believe it would be over in quick time and our intention was to ‘celebrate' India's participation in the final. Yes, participation and not victory.

Such fools we were. But ecstatic fools at the end of the day, pinching each other to check if it was all real, if we had our feet on the ground.

In hindsight, you can see it more clearly, look at it as a situation where anything was possible, understand that in sport there is no such thing as a sure thing.

No great record

But when a team with no great record to speak of in the limited-over game goes up against the finest one-day side in history, one that was seeking a hat-trick of Cup victories, there seems an absolute limit to what is possible.

But, then, that's the charm of sport. That's the charm of the great game. It makes way for the unsung to stretch the limits of the possible, it makes room for the midget to put on inches and match the giant.

So, hope sneaked in through the drawing room window when Balwinder Sandhu, enjoying his 15 minutes of fame as an international cricketer, dismissed Greenidge with five on the board. Perhaps the only time the great opener lost his wicket shouldering arms!

Then again, instead of hope, what we got next was destruction. As a connoisseur, this writer moved to seat edge. But almost all my friends turned their gaze away from the TV screen as superman with a bat in hand — read that Viv Richards — got down to business. But Kapil took a magnificent running catch off a Richards top-edge at mid-wicket and the West Indies slide had begun

While an Indian victory had looked impossible earlier in the evening, now it was a West Indian triumph that seemed highly unlikely. And when Holding aimed an extravagant pull off Amarnath and was trapped in front, it was all over.

My friends blew balloons and burst them because crackers couldn't be found. Driving to the Marina to celebrate, we met a handful of revellers. But those were days when the game was not yet the religion that it is now.

Munuswamy, the gap-toothed drunk rickshaw puller, was handed a half empty bottle of beer by a friend and he was all too ready for a ‘Rajni' (actor Rajnikant) style dance with my friends. He was told India had won. To this day, I believe that he thought India had won a war. He knew nothing about cricket. But, it was that kind of day really. June 25, 1983 was that kind of day.

Tonight's (Saturday's) famous triumph, achieved at home and in front of a television audience of hundreds of millions, will be celebrated with much greater passion by many, many more millions in this country as well as among the Indian diaspora abroad.

Dhoni's men deserve their success every bit. But they started the tournament as the favourites and beat a side that was their equal. What Kapil's men did 28 years ago was something else.

(This column is adapted from a Comment that appeared in these pages on the day of the 2003 World Cup final between India and Australia in Johannesburg).

Dhoni's men deserve their success every bit. But what Kapil's Devils achieved was a pioneering triumph that can never be matched, writes Nirmal Shekar

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