City City Bang Bang, Columns, Uncategorized

Why We Need 1983

The live telecast was interrupted, as was the custom those days, by the regional news. At the time of the interruption, the match was going according to script. India had been bowled out for 183, and the West Indies were comfortably ahead, having lost only 1 wicket with 40-odd on the board. Vivian Richards, in the company of Haynes, was cruising along with the casual majesty that was his trademark. As viewers, we had given up hope, although hope is too strong a word to describe the kind of forlorn desire that passed for optimism, given India’s track record in the limited overs game. The news ended and the announcer prefaced the resumption of the telecast by telling us that a dramatic turn had taken place in the game. West Indies had lost 5 wickets including Richards, and suddenly the impossible seemed to be within grasp. As we all know, the miracle then unfolded in a way that the bravest scriptwriter could not have dared imagine.

The path to the final had itself been like out of a dream. Beating two times champion West Indies in the opening match was by itself akin to a World Cup victory, and the team would have been forgiven if it did nothing of note in the tournament  thereafter. A victory over Zimbabwe kept the momentum going. Then came the losses to both Australia and West Indies, and it seemed as if familiar grounds were being reclaimed. The miraculous Indian victory over Zimbabwe fashioned by Kapil Dev’s 175 was a sign of things to come. As we all know, the match was not deemed important enough to be televised and so we have nothing but lore to go by. Then came the crucial match against Australia which we won quite easily. The semi-finals and finals are of course etched into collective memory, certainly for those who followed the match live on screen.

Sitting in front of a television in Baroda 38 years ago, the kind of joy that one felt is impossible to describe. As a young college-going cricket fan, it was mandatory to follow all Indian cricket. Besides, what else was there to do? That was a time when as a country there was not that much to cheer about. In sports, one remembers growing up on stories about near misses (the legend of Milkha Singh) and experiencing occasional victories (the twin cricket wins in 1971 and a few other series wins, largely in home conditions). Draws were on the whole good news, and honourable defeat, ones where ‘we put up a good fight’ were commended. Even outside sport, there was little reason for collective pride.

Things are different now. The current turmoil at the top of the cricket team today is in part a result of ‘not winning the World Cup’, such is the expectation that we have of the team today. Winning is a matter of right and losing a matter of shame. We have a team that has in the last few years been extremely highly rated, and victory now is much more of a habit. Even overseas. There was a time when the 1983 win was a rare instance of achievement in a global arena, but today that is no longer the case.

Then why do we hark back to what was in many ways a freak win in a tournament nearly four decades ago? From all accounts the film 1983 (I haven’t seen it yet) has done a terrific job of bringing alive the emotion of that time. The fact that a film that re-documents moments that are in any case engraved in our memories is getting such a rousing reception says something about our need to relive that joy. Given that we have come to expect to win, why should an improbable win so long ago bring us such joy today? We won the World Cup again in 2011 and that was a victory made sweeter by the fact that the tournament was played in India, but it doesn’t make for as compelling nostalgia, at least not yet.

In many ways 1983 is the perfect story, one that makes us feel good about ourselves in the best possible way. It evokes thankfulness rather than entitlement. It represents the humility of the surprise winner, rather than the smug smirk of the tournament favourite. It celebrates interdependence rather than independence. It makes us believe that sometimes, for no apparent reason, the most improbable miracle can just happen.

The reasons for victory were many. The excellence produced not by individual brilliance but the alchemy of teamwork. Virtually every team member contributed. Players who were never considered stars played vital roles at key moments. Vital breakthroughs came just as things seemed to be going out of hand. Great catches were taken at the right time. Rescue acts were mounted when they were needed most.

The victory of the weak has a very different texture than the victory of the strong. The strong strut, they preen, they underline their superiority. Victory is merely a validation of something that they know and don’t let anyone else forget. Such victors are admired, but rarely liked. Their achievements may be legendary, but their stories can be tiresome.

As fans, we love it when our team in strong and steamrolls every other rival in sight. Vicariously, it makes us feel invincible. But as spectators, we crave improbable victories. There is no story without an underdog, no narrative arc without vulnerability. Even in a Hindi film, the hero needs to be beaten up soundly before he delivers the knockout punch.

However much we talk about the new spirit of India, however much we rejoice that our team is no longer a pushover in the international arena and however vociferously we cheer when an Indian player shows ‘attitude’, the stories that we enjoy most are those where we have something to prove. We can only truly savour what we didn’t expect to have.