All Hail the King

Publised in Cricinfo, April 2, 2011

It was like someone had pulled the plug on our sanity. The television screen suddenly blacked out and everything went nuts. It was instant pandemonium.

Parents yelling at kids, they in turn screaming back. The father bellowing incoherent instructions and curses:

“Try turning the bloody fridge off.”

“One of you stand there, touching the antenna connector”

“Goddamned government-controlled television! How can they be trusted with this?”

The mother at the window, shouting into the neighbour’s house, checking if they had miraculously escaped our disaster.

I was put in charge of raising the BBC on our shortwave radio. Like Richard Burton in Where Eagles Dare “Broadsword calling Danny Boy. Come in Danny Boy. Over.” Calling in air support.

June 25, 1983. That day. And that match. And now the inhumanity of it.

Just as we had begun to believe that maybe, just maybe, there was a glimmer of hope: Sandhu had just laid out a banana peel and Greenidge had obliged by stepping on it and landing on his buttocks. That had to be an omen.

But then he had walked out. Walked out with that walk, which screamed out his intent to exorcise any demons that might have wandered into the minds of Lloyd’s heroes. Madan Lal was just beginning to have a bout of existential introspection.

Now the dreaded “Rukhavat ke liye khed hai” (“We apologise for the interruption”) on the black-and-white television screen. Depriving us of what media hacks love to brand the “defining moment of the match”, Kapil Dev’s 25-yard gallop to judge the skier descending over his shoulder. The only time in my life that I had prayed he fail miserably – and he did, after a brief violent burst – and I missed it!

It was years later that I even saw the catch by Kapil that well and truly dictated the rest of the match. I really didn’t need to. The catch had taken on such mythical proportions and imagery that it needed no validation. The passing years definitely hadn’t changed one aspect of it: I have never doubted that had Kapil lost sight of the cherry and spilled it, he would have dropped not just the Cup but also handed him his second consecutive Man-of-the-Match award in a World Cup final.

That final was the first one to manifest itself on our television screens in India. But though bereft of imagery beamed into our living rooms, it is the first two that still glow in my mind, rife with minutiae that leave me convinced I was in the Tavern Stand, viewing the action. I wasn’t. Images from those games flit across the screen of the eyes, their drama so intensely familiar that it is mystifying. How could it have happened?

It was Isaac Vivian Alexander Richards.

Every epoch needs an archetypal hero. In cricket Richards brooked no contest in the years preceding the 1983 final. For someone cutting his teeth on cricket, he utterly dominated the mind.

Vishy might have been the first cricketer whose name had escaped my lips, but when Richards arrived, it was instant capitulation. The intensity of his presence in my mind from those days hasn’t dimmed. “I took interest in cricket the moment I set my eyes on Dennis Lillee” said Mick Jagger. I was a lost cause when I saw Richards.

1974, Bangalore.

As I walked into the KSCA (now Chinnaswamy) Stadium, gripping my father’s shirt-tails, the wonder of watching my first-ever cricket match was intense. It was the first Test of the series between India and Clive Lloyd’s West Indies. Things would never be the same again.

Slack-jawed I sat and gawked at Andy Roberts marking out his run-up from what appeared to be the sight screen, the genius of impish Kallicharran, and the mayhem unleashed by Lloyd: a shot he launched whistled over my head for six.

Oh, there were two debutants in Lloyd’s team that day: a certain Gordon Greenidge wasted no time in stamping himself on cricket with stunning knocks in each innings. Richards was the other, and he made nary a ripple in the match. Superman was still trying his cape on for size.

The 1975 World Cup will forever remain special for its groundbreaking nature, also merely for the quality of the cricket in that final. The breath catches in the throat to this day just thinking of the line-ups: Chappell, Chappell, Walters, Lillee, Marsh, Thomson, Fredericks, Kallicharran, Kanhai, Lloyd, Roberts and Richards. From the moment Fredericks hooked a ball from Lillee into the stands and trod on his stumps, it was a classic for the ages.

Which brings us to the eventual Man of the Match. I am convinced that the Duke of Edinburgh erred that day, turning the wrong way, towards Lloyd, handing him the medallion. Lloyd’s bludgeoning knock did play a role in their victory. But really, what about the heart of the Australian batting ripped out by a muscular forearm? Those swooping direct hits, from side-on to get rid of Turner and Greg Chappell, and another swivelling throw to nail the elder Chappell?

Ian Chappell claims now that he has conclusive proof, inferred from still photographs, that Turner was, in fact, not out. Rubbish, Mr Chappell! You should thank your lucky stars that your one-hit wonder, Gary Gilmour, lucked out in getting Richards out in the first place.

Richards lorded over cricket in the period between the first two World Cups. To the day, I retain a soft spot for Tony Greig for uttering the word that ignited a fire that was to consume England. That memorable series in 1976 sealed it – Richards’ stunning 291 at The Oval dropped Greig to his knees and brought the rest of the world to their feet to acknowledge the presence of greatness. I had by then begun to chew gum as I went out to bat in back-alley cricket matches.

Nineteen seventy-nine was lived courtesy the BBC again. In my neighborhood of Jayanagar in Bangalore, a savvy bookseller laid out his wares next to the Poonam cinema during the final. He had the BBC turned up loud, and did an over-by-over score update on a huge blackboard, causing passing motorists to slow down.

The Duke didn’t err this time around when he handed out the awards. How could he? Even if the irrepressible Collis King had made Richards play second fiddle (by his standards) on the day. What a second fiddle it was! Punctuated by a violent cymbal crash as he deposited Mike Hendrick into the crowds off the last ball of the innings. The impersonation of monks that Boycott and Brearley retaliated with was a damp squib, and the Lord’s turf was awash with Richards’ faithful again that day.

The passage of time has done nothing to dull his imprint on the occasion of a World Cup final. He looms in Patrick Eagar-esque black and white – only his cap in maroon, and the Rastafari colours on his wristbands – forearms glistening with sweat. That silhouette: the goatee and the regal nose below smouldering eyes endure as emblems, as he continues his swagger across the imagination, rendering it hard to not think about him for even a day.

Especially this day.

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