I was in the UK playing the Lancashire League when I was selected. Early one morning I woke up to a telephone call from my father [former Bihar chief minister Bhagwat Jha Azad] giving me the good news. A bit later, Kapil Dev called.
Jimmy Amarnath was also in England, playing county cricket. So I called him, told him and asked, “How do we report?” He said we could report together at the team hotel. I had been out of the Indian squad for some time, so I quipped to Jimmy: “Paaji ek mahine ka free holiday mil gaya humein! [We have bagged ourselves a month-long paid vacation].” I never thought we would be taking the Cup home.
The team did not have a great record in the World Cup or as an ODI team—put together we had not played a total of 200 matches. However, eight of us, who were playing in England then, were acclimatised. And, the bowlers were perfect for English conditions. At any given time Kapil had around six bowlers to choose from. But, we had only two ace batsmen—Kapil and Sunil Gavaskar, though Jimmy did provide stability to the middle order.
For me, the most important match of the tournament was the very first match against the West Indies, which we won. The momentum built up from that win.
I was the 12th man for the Zimbabwe game at Tunbridge Wells. Everybody knows about Kapil leading the comeback from 17/5. After stabilising the innings with Roger Binny, Kapil started attacking. He asked for a change of bat, and I took it to him. Surprised, I asked, “Paaji, why are you changing the bat, when you are doing just fine?” But he insisted on the change, and the fireworks began. I think that knock was the greatest innings ever in a World Cup!
We were a bunch of characters. Just before the crucial match against Australia, we were at an Indian friend's house for dinner and I took Roger aside. I talked to him about his wonderful performance and strategy, while leading him to the swimming pool. And then, I pushed him in. Ravi Shastri came out to see what was happening, and I pushed him in, too. Then, I ran.
They climbed out of the pool and came for me. Roger, the stronger man, grabbed me by my arms, while Ravi held my legs and they dumped me at the deep end. How were they to know that I could not swim? I came up spluttering and sank, and then came up again. They laughed, thinking I was acting. Then, it dawned on them and they jumped in. So, it was a double ducking for them.
My first turn in the playing eleven came against Australia, and I bowled just two overs. Then came the semi-final against England. Ian Botham was trying to hit me out of the park. So I bowled slow. Frustrated, he reverse swept me for two runs and next delivery punched out his leg stump. The low ball hit the stump just four inches above the ground. Surprised, Kapil asked me how it could stay low and turn so much. How could I tell him that if it had gone any lower it would have missed the wicket? After lunch, Allan Lamb went out on my delivery, thanks to a brilliant throw by Yashpal Sharma. We were into the finals!
Having come that far, the 183 against the West Indies was disappointing. During the innings break, Kapil said it was a fighting total, if not a winning total. The key wicket, of course, was: IVA Richards c Kapil Dev b Madan Lal. You could see Kapil running backwards to catch the ball, shooing away Yashpal, who was running in from fine leg. That is my most memorable moment of the final—the catch, safe in Kapil's hands.
The rest of that night is a blur. But, yes, I remember receiving a congratulatory telegram from my father.
As told to Neeru Bhatia