World Cup 2019 – Kapil’s Devils versus Mahi’s Marauders

If historians were to write India’s cricketing story over the past 100 years, the first thing they would do is divide it into two eras – Before Kapil and After Kapil. And, the strategic inflection point would definitely be our triumph in what has been the cricketing world’s showpiece event for close to five decades now.

Indian team captain Kapil Dev, second from left, hugs Indian bowler Madan Lal while the rest of the Indian team jubilate at Lord's after Gavaskar had caught West Indian, Larry Gomes, for five of the bowling of Madan Lal during the Prudential World Cup Final in London, June 25, 1983. (AP Photo/Peter Kemp)

However, to the modern cricket fanatic, the BK era means little or nothing, while the AK one is limited to the highlights package on YouTube, sporadic conversations with yesteryear superstars on television and the new movie that celebrates 1983, the year when Indian cricket turned the corner.

Comparisons are often odious, more so when it relates to sports and icons from different eras, but fans indulging in dinner conversations find them invaluable and inevitable as their knowledge of the game is limited to their favorite players. Therefore, we attempt now to compare the contexts around which these two teams emerged victorious.

When Kapil Dev was the surprise choice to lead India in the 1983 event, there was hardly any hype, given our dismal performances in the previous two events, remembered ironically for Sunny Gavaskar’s infamous 174-ball crawl to score 36 runs in 1975 and our defeat to the then-minnows of cricket, Sri Lanka, four years later.

Now compare it to the team of 2011 of which Mahendra Singh Dhoni was skipper. He had already won the inaugural T20 World Cup in 2007, and had a team with batting prowess that could bludgeon any bowling attack to submission. Then there was also the small matter of home advantage, though historically none of the host countries had ever won the World Cup title.

Another important piece of data is that prior to 1983, India had only played 40 ODIs, of which they won just 11, a majority of which came after Kapil Dev’s debut in 1978. In the lead up to the tournament, bookies in London were giving 50-1 odds for an Indian victory, even below what Sri Lanka attracted.

By the time Dhoni got to helm the team, India had made significant strides as an ODI team, having participated and won several ODI finals and even making the World Cup knockouts on a couple of occasions. In many ways, Dhoni’s team brought a closure to the billions of fans who couldn’t be faulted for believing that the 1983 win was just a flash in the pan. If India now starts as one of the favorites for the 2019 trophy, the 2011 team was the one that made us believe it.

The following ODI stats provides context around how a bunch of no-hopers suddenly set an entire nation dreaming of cricketing glory:

  1. India was the first team to record a 10-wicket victory in ODIs. They achieved this against East Africa in the 1975 World Cup when Bishen Bedi sent down 12 overs, gave away six runs and took a solitary wicket.

  2. India’s first ODI victory against a Test playing nation was against Pakistan in Quetta where the Amarnath brothers came good with the bat. World Cup hero Mohinder Amarnath showcased his all-round skills with half century and two wickets.

  3. Leading up to the 1983 World Cup, India won matches against Australia, New Zealand, England and the West Indies, with three of these achieved overseas. In the B&H tournament of 1980, India won three matches, courtesy our all-rounders.

  4. No conversation around Kapil Dev is complete without referring to his 175 against Zimbabwe. How many remember his 38-ball 72 against the fearsome West Indian fast bowlers at Guyana (Berbice) when India beat the champions for the first time?

Which brings us to the most important point that differentiates these two teams. Kapil Dev was a brilliant cricketer who inspired players of lesser ability through his sheer audacity of being able to dream of victory. That his colleagues believed him made them a team. For, man-to-man, Kapil’s Devils were no match for their rivals, but as a team they rose above all.

Dhoni’s team were among the favorites in 2011 and had some of India’s biggest ODI stars in the mix, from Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar to the reliable Gautam Gambhir, the effervescent Yuvraj Singh and Dhoni himself. The bowling was potent in Indian conditions with the likes of Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra, Harbhajan Singh and Piyush Chawla being effective without being deadly.

For those who point out that Dhoni’s team won in spite of the pressures of expectations, please remember that it was Kapil and his Devils who even taught us to set expectations.

Because, before that fateful day on June 25, 1983, fans went to see their favorite cricketers, not Indian victories.

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