India were not meant to be in the final of the 1983 World Cup. West Indies were not meant to struggle in a run-chase of just 183 to make it a hat-trick of titles. Madan Lal was not supposed to be bowling another over after being hit for three boundaries by Viv Richards. Captain Kapil Dev was not used to fielding at mid-wicket (or close to square leg) for India.
And yet, as destiny would have it, at Lord’s on June 25, 1983, Kapil Dev did indeed field at a position that was unusual for him. Madan Lal did get another over from his captain, against the run of play. Richards did mishit a ball, after looking primed to take West Indies over the finish line with ease.
In a matter of seconds, from when the ball went up in the air and back down into Kapil’s hands near the boundary line, Indian cricket’s destiny was rewritten. From 66 to 1 underdogs before the tournament, India became world champions and it hinged on this moment of brilliance from one of the greatest athletes produced by the country.
“I want to talk about that Kapil Dev catch,” Madan Lal had said at a reunion of the world champions in 2017. “When Viv Richards hit the ball in the air, Kapil Dev was running from midwicket in one direction and from the other direction, Yash was going for it too. I started yelling, “Yash, rukh, rukh! [wait] You don’t go for the catch.”
“Kapil was getting under the ball and I knew Kapil being such a good fielder, he will catch it. But seeing Yashpal also running for it, I prayed that he doesn’t go collide with Kapil. And then you know what happened. That was the best moment of the World Cup. That win was not about one man or the players, it was about the entire nation’s prayers, otherwise there was no way we would have defended 183,” he added.
The legend actually goes that fans in India who were glued to their television sets actually missed out on the magical, match-turning moment live. That was, perhaps, fitting in the Kapil Dev narrative of the World Cup because his epic 175* was only seen by a select few and has since gained mythical proportions.
But, unlike the 175* at Tunbridge Wells against Zimbabwe, the catch to dismiss Richards at Lord’s in the final has been preserved on tape. And replayed over and over, millions of times by Indian fans. So much so that, it would be a safe bet that if you ask someone to narrate the catch, they would do so by adding every possible detail: including Kapil being mobbed by fans stationed at the boundary and trying to evade them before joining his teammates in celebration. Every frame of that sequence is etched in the minds of millions of cricket fans.
West Indies soon started to collapse. Richards’ wicket reduced the two-time defending champions to 57/3 and when Kapil took another catch (one more significant, according to him) at cover to dismiss Clive Lloyd, India began to sense victory. The score was 66/5 at that point, and after some late hiccups, the West Indies were dismissed for 140. The unthinkable had happened, and it was all triggered by that one moment of brilliance by Kapil.
“So this is what happened in the lead-up to that Richards catch,” Kapil Dev said.
“The previous over he bowled, Madan Lal had conceded two-three boundaries. I said to him, ‘Mandi pa, you take a break, I’ll bring you back after a few overs.’ He said, ‘Kapil, give me the ball. I have dismissed Viv Richards once before, I will do it again. One more over, please.’
“He had immense self-belief and I could see he really wanted it. My heart was telling me, no, don’t listen to him. We only have 183 to defend. But I decided to go with his instinct and he got the wicket in that over. And the rest is history.”
More about the catch and how it came about, starting from the 16-minute mark in this video:
Kapil Dev talks about that catch as well another significant moment in the final here:
More about the catch in the videos below:
Bonus viewing: Full highlights of the 1983 World Cup final